How Do You Eat An Elephant?

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been a fan of Dr. Phil’s no-nonsense approach to personal development, and whenever I’d hear him say to a guest who was feeling overwhelmed, “How do you eat an elephant? You grab an ear and start chewing!”, I’d smile. First, because the thought of eating an elephant is pretty ridiculous, but moreso because it’s one of those sayings that strikes a chord. Too often, our feeling of overwhelm can be paralyzing. And it can lead us to keep doing the things that have brought us to where we are right now.

But whenever any of us have tackled a big project, we usually don’t have it all figured out when we begin. By breaking it down into smaller tasks, we take something overwhelming and turn it into something manageable and less daunting. And with time, effort and persistence, we can achieve our goals.

Take my drinking, for example. In those early hours after making “the decision“, I had absolutely no clue how I would possibly go through life without wine or vodka or beer. But I didn’t focus on forever; I kept my eye on that day, choosing to simply repeat to myself that I could get through ONE day. I had my boyfriend pick up non-alcoholic beer and fresh limes and I drank them the way I’d drank Corona, and it helped. The habit of opening the cap, hearing that “phstt” of the bottle opening, the cap tinking on the counter, the glug, glug, glug of the liquid pouring down my throat. It all felt familiar and safe and it helped keep my hands busy. Little did I know at the time that I was re-programming my brain, easing away from a habit that was killing me and destroying my life and towards new habits, where liquids going into my body simply made me have to pee, rather than rendering me incapable of driving.

When it comes to our health, too often, we have an unrealistic view of what it means to “be healthy“, and we feel like no matter what we do, it won’t ever be enough to get us to where we want to be–so we start and we stop and we don’t make any lasting changes or, worse, we never even start.

We tend to look outside of ourselves to create goals that are only achieved from the inside. For example, most of us don’t need to make the elephant a set of six-pack abs or a fitness model’s body, and yet when we think about what we want to look like, we cut out pictures or we pine for what others have who have been working at their physique for years and even decades.

What I’ve found is that a powerful first step when it comes to “eating the elephant” is to break down big goals (say, losing a significant amount of weight or fitting into a particular outfit) into smaller goals that can be achieved each and every day. Otherwise, when we don’t see results right away, we can lose motivation.

In my work, I ask my clients to share their health goals. They typically revolve around a desire to conquer addiction, lose weight, cut sugar, control cravings, and move past obstacles that have kept them stuck.

Once we have uncovered the BIG GOAL, we break it down, and we begin with their daily routine; It is ALWAYS where we start. Because our rituals–habits–are where we find our lives. Our rituals create the experiences we have, and our rituals become our results.

For example, if someone’s goal is to feel better, lose weight, improve their numbers (cholesterol, BMI, blood pressure, etc.), have more energy and live with fewer bouts of depression, we start by looking at the way they start their day. If their day starts with chugging coffee before rushing out the door, we know we need to rewind the clock and create a better night time routine so that mornings aren’t so rushed. We work on getting to bed at a decent time and getting restorative sleep so that upon waking, there is a better sense of well-being. We work on those first few moments of wakefulness, perhaps bringing in journaling, meditating, or saying a simple prayer of gratitude before our feet hit the floor and we get started on the day. We bring hydration and nourishment into their morning, along with some movement. Once we have the morning routine nailed down, we work on the rest of the day, where being prepared with the right kinds of foods can help ward off cravings, enhance our mood and keep us feeling satiated. Throughout the process, we educate ourselves on what ‘s going on outside and inside of us when it comes to our food, and we document our feelings as we move towards our goals. Tracking how we feel as we work on health goals, in particular, is key to keeping us motivated.

For those of us who have neglected our health (as I did for so long), we can find ourselves waking up without energy; lacking motivation; questioning our purpose and our passion; wondering if we will ever find it; wondering if it is even possible to live a happy life. But when we can remove the overwhelm of having to eat the entire elephant in one sitting, we can experience the joy that comes from taking care of ourselves in a profound way, even through the smallest of actions.

Because lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. Rather, it happens through a series of decisions we make day after day after day, to achieve our goal.

I encourage you to start with ONE thing that you can do–today–to get closer to your goal. That’s the ear. Once you’ve turned that into a habit, move to the other ear…and just keep chewing.

Because I want you to love your life one bite at a time.


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