“How to Eat an Elephant”

By Nicky Vanvalkenburgh


Have you set any goals lately?

It's a little overwhelming. Perhaps you're not sure where to start, or how to make things happen. To cope with these feelings, take a moment to reflect upon the old adage: “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer: One bite at a time.


Elephants are big and heavy animals. An average elephant weighs in at six tons, or 12,000 pounds. Their skin alone weighs a ton and is up to 1 1/2 inches thick. It would take a lot of bites to eat an elephant!


It would be impossible to eat an entire elephant in one sitting. Over time, however, you could eat an entire elephant. The average person eats about 3,000 pounds of food every year. At this rate, it would take about four years to eat an elephant.


It would take years, but it could be done.


We all have elephants in our lives. We have projects or goals that we desperately want to accomplish, but feelings of overwhelm get in the way. Perhaps we feel like we’re not ready, don’t have enough time or resources, or whatever it takes to get the job done. The problem is that we’re looking at the whole elephant rather than bite-size pieces.


We give up before we start.


Rather than take action, we stand still. Like a deer caught in the glare of bright headlights, we become immobilized. We tell ourselves that something is too difficult, demanding or beyond our capabilities.


We’re looking at the whole elephant.


It’s been said that all great achievement begins with desire. We must decide what we really want, and then dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to attaining it. Our desire must be fueled by compelling reasons to take action. After all, we need to stay motivated and focused in order to succeed.


Have you determined the goals you want to accomplish this year? Here is a simple action plan to help you cut your “elephants” into bite-size pieces.


On a piece of paper, write down exactly what you want to do. Perhaps you want to solve a problem, overcome a bad habit, or accomplish a big goal. Whatever it is, you must have confidence that you can do it. You must also have compelling reasons to succeed. In other words, you must have a big purpose. A big "why."


As motivational speaker John DiLemme puts it, “Find your why and fly.” In his seminars and teaching materials, Mr. DiLemme admits that he was a lifelong stutterer. He couldn’t get through a sentence without stammering. What turned things around was writing out his goals on an index card, and carrying it with him everywhere. He read the card several times during the day, especially when anxiety and self-doubt set in. Mr. DiLemme also wrote down compelling reasons why he wanted to stop stuttering.


After two years, Mr. DiLemme accomplished his goal. Not only did he stop stuttering, he also became a millionaire in his business. “If I can do this, anyone can!’ he claims.


stress reduction articlesSuccess begins with writing out your goals as well as compelling reasons to attain them. Even if your goals look like life-size elephants, write them down.


Ask yourself, “what do I need to do to make this happen?” Make a list of action steps to help you break the task into smaller, less intimidating, bite-size pieces.


Next, prioritize your list. Put them in order of importance. What needs to be done first? Also, determine where you can delegate responsibility, or ask others to help. Lastly, set a deadline for accomplishing your goals or completing the project.


With this action plan, you too can face a herd of elephants. When you see them coming, you won’t be lost or trampled in the stampede. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, you will calmly and confidently set goals. Plus, you’ll establish the steps needed to get results. Just remember to take things one step at a time.


Return to Articles page