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.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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