The Five Monkeys

Discussion Over Breakfast

Recently whist having breakfast with a colleague I was told a story about an experiment conducted some years ago. It involved 5 monkeys, a ladder, a bunch of bananas & cold water. I sat there intrigued. I am always fascinated by experiments that delve into what makes animals & humans tick.

The story goes that 5 monkeys were placed in a cage. In the middle of the cage was a ladder which led to a bunch of bananas suspended from the top of the cage.

When one of the monkeys went to the top of the ladder and grabbed a banana the scientists sprayed the remaining monkeys with freezing cold water. When the monkey that had grabbed the banana came back down the ladder the remaining 4 monkeys attacked him and beat him up. A couple of the other monkeys decided to go up the ladder but were greeted with the same response. After a while none of the monkeys ventured up the ladder no matter how much temptation there was.

Further Monkeys Bought Into Experiment

The scientists then substituted one of the monkeys with a new monkey and the first thing the new monkey did was climb the ladder and grabbed the banana. When the monkey climbed back down he too was greeted by 4 angry monkeys who beat him up. A second monkey was substituted and the first thing he did was climb the ladder and grab the banana. When he climbed back down he was greeted by 4 angry monkeys who beat him up including the first substituted monkey.

Each of the original monkeys was substituted with another monkey until there were 5 monkeys who had never been subjected to the freezing cold shower. If we could interview each of the last group of monkeys about why they attacked any monkey that went up the ladder the answer would probably be, “I don’t know, it’s how things are done around here”. The experiment was to show that animals and presumably people just follow the herd.

Wanting To Know More About It

I decided that whilst this story sounded good, I wanted to know more about how the experiment was conducted. I found many mentions of the experiment in numerous self development books. I searched scientific journals but to no avail, google scholar couldn’t help.  I searched YouTube and found several videos pertaining to the experiment. I didn’t find any scientific reference to the experiment but found many that questioned the validity of it.

When Is The Truth Not The Truth.

In essence, it seems that a relatively famous “experiment” has been taken as truth by speakers, authors and coaches and spread around the world. It has been quoted in books, presentations and is easily searched on YouTube.

I thought how many of these “facts” are hidden inside our heads as truths. If something like the 5 Monkeys Experiment can be quoted and used by numerous people as fact and spread as truth for all to believe without question, then what about the “facts” we were told whilst growing up. You are not smart enough, you come from an ordinary family, you will never go to university, money is the root of all evil, be happy with your lot etc etc. These “facts” can be cultural, religious, socio economic or come from friends and family.

Many of these facts are so deeply rooted in our minds that we are not even consciously aware of them. Because we are not aware of them we don’t know or gauge how they affect our behaviors.

Our Mind In Survival Mode

Our mind is always in survival mode and wants to protect us from harm. In earlier times this was extremely useful when we were out hunting wild animals for lunch. If we didn’t have the survival mechanism then we may have actually ended up as lunch. Now, we don’t have to hunt wild animals for survival, but we still have this survival mechanism. Unfortunately, this same mechanism keeps up limited or safe. We don’t strive for betterment, we don’t want to put ourselves out there because we don’t want our friends or family to say, “told you so” or “what, you couldn’t run your own business”.

Our “facts” keep us in a life of mediocrity, if we don’t try, we don’t have to face the fact that we may fail. These “facts” are so strong, and they keep us down. If your don’t do something about them then they will keep you down for your whole life. You will live a life far less than what you are capable of.

It All Takes Work

All people who have achieved anything worthwhile in their life have gone to work, they have gone to work on themselves. They have worked tirelessly to rid their mind of the “facts” that have poisoned them for years. They have worked on themselves and their mindset so they can live the life of their dreams. They have proven that the “facts” in their minds are just wrong, much like people quoting the 5 Monkeys Experiment as being fact.

When we come up against challenges in our life our mind kicks in and says, “This is going to make you feel uncomfortable, this is going to take some effort, people might say or think bad things about you, when you fail people will laugh at you, you will look stupid”. That is when you either step up or take a seat. By taking a seat you will be forever caught up in the circle of mediocrity and think “what if”. If you step up, then you will gain confidence and be able to tackle bigger and better challenges in life. You just have to decide. You will need to keep disciplined as discipline will last much longer than motivation alone. 

Living Life On Your Own Terms

Each and every person that is living life on their own terms practices keeping their mindset healthy. Everyone has skeletons in the closet, past challenges to deal with, trauma, no one has had a perfect life. Do not believe everything you think. Yes, you did read that right, do not believe everything you think. Our mind is constantly trying to protect us but be doing so keeps us small. That is the reason that coaches have coaches and mentors have mentors, they constantly challenge the “facts” that are in their minds.


Make the decision to live life on your terms, make that  decision today. A decision is made in an instant, but it is the leadup to that decision that can take decades. A coach will help you break the “facts” that keep you from achieving the life you deserve and will be there every step of the way on your journey.

I want to leave you with one of my favorite quotes by Marianne Williamson,

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous”? Actually, who are you not to be?

Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others”. 

 Marianne Williamson

Be great.