Reaching Goals

How to Eat an Elephant

Image courtesy of Exfordy

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. We all know the saying, but we often fail to apply this lesson in our lives. If you view the elephant as one giant goal that your whole life depends on, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Why not enjoy the bites along the way?

If you ask somebody what goal they’re working on, what kind of answer do you think you’ll get? Assuming they even have goals, they’ll probably say they’re working on something really big, maybe even something that will make them feel like they’ve achieved their life purpose.

It’s not just about big goals

Many people make a major mistake in being entirely focused on big goals. If your goal is to become a best-selling novelist, great. But that’s a really big goal. If you base too much of your life satisfaction on achieving it, you’ll be unhappy for a very long time (possibly your whole life).

Long term goals are great, because aiming high lets us strive to be the best we can be. But for every long term goal you have, you want to have many short and medium term goals. If being a best-selling novelist is your long term goal, what smaller goals can you come up with that you should achieve along the way? Maybe for now, you’d be happy to come up with an idea for a character you want to include in your first novel.

The beauty of small goals

When you have small goals like that, there are a couple of advantages. First, a small goal gives you something concrete to focus on. If you want to become a best-selling novelist, how will you make that happen? You can easily be overwhelmed by such a huge task. If you don’t know specifically what to do, you’re only going to get frustrated. As time goes by, you notice over and over that your goal still hasn’t been achieved, yet you’re not sure what to do about it. But it’s a lot easier to come up with an idea for a character. When you know exactly what to do, you’re much more likely to take inspired action.

Second, you enjoy the satisfaction of achieving a goal and enjoying the benefits. Even if it’s a small 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. When you have your idea for a character, that in itself means something, even though you have a long way to go to your ultimate goal.

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. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have big goals, 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.

So 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, that’s wonderful. But don’t forget to enjoy the bites along the way.

About the writer: Hunter Nuttall is an eclectic personal development blogger and author of the free ebook Why We’re Failing the 4-Hour Workweek.

61 Responses to How to Eat an Elephant

  1. Steve Rumsby says:

    I use this technique to keep me cycling. I cycle to keep fit, and a target of 3000 miles a year is enough that I have to try hard all year. But an annual target of 3000 miles is not very motivating in February! So weekly & monthly targets help, as does reaching round numbers. You can construct any number of “micro-targets” to help you reach your big target. More of my thoughts, for a cycling angle, here:

  2. Shanel Yang says:

    Cutting up a huge task into smaller pieces is what Brian Tracy calls “Eat the Salami One Slice at a Time.” I find that imagery more appetizing than an elephant. But, then again, his book is called Eat that Frog!, which I summarize at ; )

  3. Relax says:

    ELEPHANT EATING requires 3 main things:

    1) Leveraging

    2) Resources

    3) Risk taking

    not everyone has those,
    so it’s a good idea to have a series of small goals :)

    your friend Relax ~

  4. obaba says:

    Elephant eating also requires cutlery.

  5. Relax says:

    that makes sense too.

    I would love to mince the meat to make small sausages and share it with everyone here.

    should I fry or BBQ the sausages?

  6. Simona Rich says:

    That’s the way to deal with big goals. Firstly you need to sub-divide them into smaller goals. Then the goal does not seem that big because you realise that step by step you will be able to achieve it.

    Setting deadlines is also as important. You will get lost in the trivial stuff if you do not have any exact date to accomplish the step by.

  7. Jay says:

    So true. The reason why most people fail in goal setting is they focus too much on the end result and do not celebrate the small victories. We have all been trained by the media to expect super results with no effort and when that does not happen, we quit. Take small bites, and you can chew through anything.

  8. Vincent says:

    Hi Hunter,

    Setting huge goals and breaking them down into bite sizes will drastically increase our chance of achieving the goal. Too many times we are overwhelmed by the huge goals that we gave up and by breaking our goals into smaller sizes, we can measure our success easier and celebrate the small milestones which can help to motivate us.

    Personal Development Blogger

  9. Hi

    It’s also great to set up little celebrations along the way.


  10. Mumbai says:

    I used this technique when I wanted to do chinups. I could never do more than 5. So I started off small. Do a total of 10 across 3 sets then do 20 across another 5-6 sets and kept increasing till I could do a total of 50 across multiple sets. It really felt good.

  11. Rob says:

    My top tips for creating effective goals are:

    1. Use a journal to keep track of your goals journey
    2. Get yourself into a positive state before writing your goals
    3. Start brainstorming emotional, mental, physical and spiritual goals
    4. Make sure your goals are SMART

    within a Timeframe

    5. Write in positive terms rather than negative ones
    6. Be sure they’re really YOUR goals
    7. Prioritize your goals in a step-by-step plan

  12. Kevin Touhey says:

    It’s also important to be willing to adjust your goals along the way. That flexibility on the road to achievement allows you to preserve your sanity when you setbacks come along.

  13. Thanks for this post. I think the ideal situation for the purposes of enjoying your work is to have your full attention on the task you’re doing in this moment, rather than part of your mind fantasizing about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (e.g., your bestseller being published). If your attention is 100% focused on the task in this moment, and everything else fades away, it’s actually hard not to feel satisfied.

  14. I’ve always thought small goals were really, really boring. So boring that I wouldn’t even bother setting them.

    I think life is more motivating and interesting when I have a big goal, but then tackle the next steps in that goal as they come up. Big goals = sense of direction, small goals/action steps as they come up = the fun in everything.

    Dressing up your goals to the nines… eh, not so thrilling unless you absolutely need that level of detail. But I think for most people, simply working on the next step their mind and heart tells them to work on is the best choice of action.

  15. How to eat an elephant? Every big goal can be accomplished, so keeping a positive expectancy is important. All big goals need to be broken into smaller manageble parts. This is commonly called chunking down.

    Very often, we look at big goals and are literally scared out of our wits.

    A basic example could be writing an e-book. Writing the e-book itself is a huge goal. It will take time without a doubt and a lot of hard work. At this point, most people will give up on the goal, especially if they have never done it before. This is usually due to fear of the unknown. But what if we knew the step-by-step instructions? Now each step taken at a time is much more managable, right? We might have the confidence to go for it now.

    So, taking action and completing one step at a time builds your self confidence and a very useful habit as well, so eat that elephant 1 step at a time!

  16. We need to set big goals. But that’s gotta be long term goals, say 5 year goals or 10 year goals.

    Then we need to break them down to smaller objectives or milestones to be reached, say 1 week objective, 1 month objective, quarterly objective and so on.

    Too often, people don’t even take that crucial first step simply because their goal is so big they’re intimidated by their own goal.

    So how to overcome that? Simply write down the 3 actions steps to be taken within the next 24 hrs and these have got to be small action steps such as write your resume, call a client, read a book, pay your bills, etc.

    These are meant to get yourself into the momentum. The most important thing is to get started. Nothing happens until you take the first step.



  17. Pingback: How to Find Your True Priorities | PickTheBrain | Motivation and Self Improvement

  18. Pingback: IQ Matrix Blog » Blog Archive » Keys to SMART Goal Setting | IQ Matrix

  19. Pingback: How to Find Your True Priorities | Intuition - Leadership - Self Growth

  20. Pingback: Focus on Mini-Goals « Choosing to Live a Healthy Life

  21. Pingback: What Marketers Can Learn from Walt Disney’s EPCOT Project | MarketingProfs Daily Fix Blog

  22. Pingback: uberVU - social comments

  23. Pingback: Women Grow Business » How Will You Eat That Elephant?

  24. Tai Yuni says:

    Thank you for the tips! I love that saying about how to eat an elephant. A good friend told it to me, and it is really helpful. I always say it to myself when I feel overwhelmed.

  25. My cousin sent me the “elephant…” quote, after reading a recent piece on my blog. I was unfamiliar w/ the quote, & here I am now on your site. Thank U* for the *excellent explanation, & “yes” I now “get it”

    In Peace Always,

    Mother Lightning
    of []

  26. I love the reminder. Especially this time of year as we prepare thoughts of the upcoming new year! thanks for sharing. xo

  27. Pingback: Getting to the moon in manageable phases: Using an MGPP for eLearning development. | Penny For Your Thoughts

  28. Pingback: Day 12. I’m Here. « SoulWornThin

  29. Pingback: Heroic Moment: Power Up! How to Use Your Learning to Transform Your Organization | Building Heroes

  30. Tyler Norman says:

    sometimes i think that is pretty weird

  31. PAUL YEE says:

    Eating a frog raw and cooked is taking life in a positive manner- the bitter will taste sweet. No matter what I eat, elephants, eels, frogs,etc, they will all taste delicious, one bite at a time.

  32. Milana..... says:

    Taking ideas and telling your brain its not that big goal cause if others could do it shouldn’t I be able? But yeah breaking down your thoughts of an goal (mini-goals) is a great idea!

  33. Just some dude says:

    You are stunningly beautiful!

  34. Pingback: Decluttering my mailbox « Diary of a Fly Baby

  35. Pingback: trying to get better

  36. Chef says:

    I thought I would see elephant recipes 

  37. Pingback: » Am I a Man? Or am I a Muppet? Vinita Joseph

  38. Avgrove7 says:

    You should never eat a elephants i love them they are so big. I love you elephants!!!! They are the biggest animal in the whole world. I thought it was going to tell me where and how to eat an elephant but when i started reading and it said that it is just a joke i was happy. Elephants whould eat you if they where mean. Hope you don’t get bit by a elephant.

  39. cbwheeler says:

    Pretty cool website. I stumbled on it searching for quotes about How to Eat an Elephant :) I own a similar site that teaches a lot of the same lessons you do. Hope to read more of your stuff soon and maybe even guest post someday! I’m not going to link drop, but if you want to check out my site, it’s called Academy Success. Keep doing what you’re doing!

  40. Pingback: Jo’s Journey (A Somewhat Irreverent Guide to Doing Anything Better) – Finding Inspiration | JOANA MIRANDA STUDIO

  41. Pingback: There Are No Shortcuts to Success

  42. Pingback: The Legs Fall Off If You Move It » Blog Archive » Things that don’t help

  43. Pingback: Blue Nickel Studios » Blog Archive » slightly cleaner

  44. TuneCity says:

    Great reminder, Hunter. Big goals can be accomplished through regular and consistent effort.

    We recently published a blog post called “A Little Bit Every Day’ on the TuneCity Blog and referenced your work.

  45. Pingback: Pick Three Things (And Stick With ‘Em) | Jody Fisher

  46. Pingback: I ran a marathon |

  47. Pingback: Jak mądrze wyznaczać cele |IQ Matrix

  48. Pingback: – 8 Reasons Why This Blog Exists

  49. Robert Fuller says:

    This saying originated from Rob Fuller who lives on the Gold Coast in Queensland Australia. It was designed originally to help sales staff to take customers on a series of small steps to encourage them to buy the product the company was selling. It was first used in the 1980s when trying to get staff to learn a method of selling termed in those days as “Question & Answer Selling” It has been applied to many areas of life but the meaning is still the same, small bites will enable you to consume ,overcome, reach something that could not be done in only one one time. For more information on its origin you can contact Rob Fuller on

  50. Pingback: Heroic Moment: Power Up! How to Use Your Learning to Transform Your Organization | The Power Button

  51. Pingback: Taking the road to recovery from low self esteem by Steve Boddey | Living Healthy 360

  52. Pingback: How to Eat an Elephant | Anna Goes Ashore

  53. Pingback: It’s a Game | janetkwest

  54. Pingback: Welcome to No ABD for Me | No ABD (All But Dissertation) for Me!

  55. Pingback: Our Part in a Miracle « Missions Beyond Borders

  56. Pingback: I HEARD YOU, I just WAS NOT Listening! | boknowsmortgages

  57. Great post,, thanks for the writer :)

  58. Pingback: Distractions as Fuel for the Fire | OtherThanThat

  59. Pingback: Use ‘eslint-annotated-reset’ to introduce linting to your legacy project | dvolvr

  60. Pingback: 5 Steps on How To Effectively Accomplishing Something

  61. Pingback: Tackling your finances: your elephant in bite size pieces | The Urban Landlady

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *