How do you eat an elephant?

For a long time, this was my favourite tool in my day job. The answer (for anyone who hasn’t heard this story before) is — one mouthful at a time.

Any huge, overwhelming task or project can be completed one bite at a time. If you try to eat the whole thing at once, you will choke. If you focus on the sheer size of it, you often psyche yourself out. The trick is to set small goals and keep chipping away, mouthful after mouthful, focusing only on that next bite/goal. The ‘elephant’ will eventually be devoured.

It is extraordinary how often that story helped in my work with people who felt stuck or overwhelmed. A simple shift in perspective (from the elephant to the mouthful) can dramatically shift the energy of a situation. Starting something daunting is usually the hardest part. It’s so easy to lose confidence when confronted with the sheer scale of a problem or situation.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or psyched out, it’s important to put the dots very close together to begin with. In other words, make the mouthfuls small and manageable. This prevents you choking on the first bite or convincing yourself you can’t. There is a huge sense of power and peace that comes from ticking goals off, from feeling your spinning wheels bite against traction.

For decades ‘getting a book published’ was my elephant. I did very little toward that end, hiding in the easy joy of creating and giving up at the first challenge. I drifted along in creative ebbs and flows, amusing myself and avoiding the steps required to create something that was marketable and showing it to the people who would help it become publishable.

2019 saw a huge shift in my strategy. There is a vast landscape of tools and resources that will bring the work I produce closer to being publishable. The first step was ditching my old, secretive, introverted, embarrassed habits.

Every day I take big courageous steps into a world of study and research and workshops and writing groups and events. I drag my dreamy creative energy across a loom of planning and strategy. I prop my mind open to new experiences and techniques and writing styles.

This was achieved one bite at a time. I started with a strategic plan/business plan, breaking down the goals I wanted to achieve into actions. I set goals for the year and break these down into bite-sized chunks for the months, weeks and even days. I achieved more in the past year and a half then I achieved in the thirty years preceding that.

Is there something you’ve been putting off because it feels too vast and daunting? Do you find yourself freezing up, paralysed with how to start?

What could you achieve… one bite at a time?

First published on my website 17 Sept 2020

Nicole writes short stories and novel length speculative fiction and a weekly blog https://nicolewalshauthor.com/ or www.facebook.com/nicolewalshauthor