In this Wisdom Note we want to determine, the best way to take huge and overwhelming tasks or goals and break them into manageable segments. Or the question we will ask today is, “How do you eat an elephant?” And the answer is always, “One bite at a time.” Let me assure you that no actual elephants were harmed during the creation of this newsletter.
Most of us have heard this saying, probably many times. But that does not lessen its value. I know I have used it with my children throughout the years. Even now that they are all adults, when they come to me with a huge issue that they are facing, I always remind them, “Just eat the elephant one bite at a time.”
Although I have used this phrase hundreds of times, like probably most of you, I often fail to apply this lesson in my life, as I am sure you do, too. If you view the elephant as one giant obstacle or goal that your whole life depends on, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. As we trek through life each day, we need to learn to enjoy the small bites along the way. Let’s break this into three segments.
1. It’s not just about big goals or huge obstacles.
Many people make a major mistake in being entirely overwhelmed by a huge obstacle, or focused on big goals. To keep with our hiking analogy, let’s say your goal is to become a Colorado fourteener, which is to hike all of the 53 Colorado Summits that are 14,000 feet or higher. To look at this goal all at once would be a very big obstacle to overcome, but if you strategically plan to accomplish this goal over a period of months and years, one summit at a time, then it becomes doable. If you plan on becoming a fourteener in a matter of a few weeks or months, then you are probably in for a great disappointment.
Long term goals are great and even huge obstacles can be exciting because of the challenge. For every long term goal you have or for every major obstacle you face, you want to have many short and medium term goals or tasks.
2. The beauty of small goals.
When you have small goals or minor tasks, there are a couple of advantages. First, a small goal or minor task gives you something concrete to focus on. You can easily be overwhelmed by huge tasks. If you don’t know specifically what to do or how you are going to handle it, you’re only going to get frustrated. As time goes by, you notice over and over that your goal or task still hasn’t been achieved, yet you’re not sure what to do about it. When you determine a course of action to overcome that obstacle or to complete that goal, you’re much more likely to take inspired action.
Second, you enjoy the satisfaction of accomplishing a task or achieving a goal and enjoying the benefits. Even if it’s a small task or goal, you feel good for checking it off your to-do list (whether it’s on paper or just in your head). You also get to have something that brings a little satisfaction right now. This will give you a sense of accomplishment, even though you have a long way to go to your ultimate goal or overcoming the entire obstacle.
3. Life is a journey, not a destination.
Your life satisfaction will probably be a lot higher if you view your life as a series of many small milestones instead of one huge milestone that you may or may not ever achieve. This is not to say that you shouldn’t have big goals or face major obstacles, only that you should also have smaller ones to focus on along the way.
If you want to lose 40 pounds, great. But, don’t just focus on that one huge goal. If you do, then every time you get on the scale, you’re only going to notice that you haven’t achieved your goal yet, and so you continually reinforce failure in your mind.
Instead, break it down into smaller goals. There are plenty of goals you can try to accomplish even before losing 1 pound. Maybe you want to read a book about weight loss, or find a support group, or learn a new healthy recipe. A series of small accomplishments will keep you on track and make you feel good about your life, whether or not you eventually go on to accomplish your ultimate goal. If you end up eating the whole elephant over time, that’s wonderful. But don’t forget to enjoy the bites along the way. In fact, when it comes to losing weight, small portions are a requirement.
I have to admit, the past few weeks have been a bit overwhelming for me. With the business issues I faced and the overall ramifications of the projects I am working on, all I could see was the entire elephant in front of me. I have to pause several times throughout each day and remind myself, “One bite at a time.”
This also led me to the letter to the church in Corinth that the Apostle Paul wrote when he was faced with some major obstacles. 1 Corinthians 1:8-11 reads, “We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.”
When you are faced with major obstacles or are trying to accomplish huge goals, think about what Paul endured and draw your strength form the prayers of others. Learn to rely on God.