How do you eat an elephant?

A call to simplicity…

A number of years ago, a friend of mine took his family out to a nearby dam to go boating for the day. When they arrived there however, they were bitterly disappointed that the water level was so low, that it would be almost impossible to launch the boat into the water. There was quite a long stretch of slippery mud & gunk between where edge of the dam and the water level, making it impossible to launch the boat.

Seeing the disappointment in his teenage son’s face, he gave his son a shovel and told him to start clearing the slick area of where they wanted to launch the boat. After the boy cleared a small patch, he told his dad that he was exhausted and that this was way too much for him to handle.

My friend took his son aside and asked him the following question: “how do you eat an elephant?”… after seeing the puzzled look on his son’s face, he told his son… “…one bite at a time”. He then took the shovel himself and proceeded to clear roughly the same size patch compared to what his son had just cleared. Then he asked his son if he would be able to clear another similarly sized patch. To which his son replied, “Yes!” and so they made turns clearing a small patch at a time. Within about an hour they were done and could successfully launch their boat and have a memorable day out on the boat.

This lesson had made such an impact on the boy, that even today, many years later, he still comes back to his dad when faced with major projects and tells him how he had successfully applied the “eating-an-elephant-lesson” to tackling the project.

Such a simple concept, yet such a powerful one!

There are times in every person’s life when you stand before a “mountain”, when you are at the starting point of a “marathon” or when you are facing a “giant” in a war.

If you were to constantly focus on the size of the problem facing you, you might very well become overwhelmed with fear and doubt. Before long you will start doubting your own abilities to overcome the task at hand and you might never even climb the mountain, start the race or begin the battle.

If you were to however break the task at hand down into manageable, sizeable portions and then only focus on one portion at a time, you will accomplish the following things:

1) You will loose your fear. Because you are not focussing on the whole colossal issue and only at what is manageable, you will not be intimidated by it any more.

2) You will get momentum. Starting is often times the most difficult thing to do. Once you are in motion, things tend to become easier.

3) You will gain confidence. Confidence in your own ability is a very important part of success. It is however an emotion and is only built on experience. This is why it is important to start the process, in order for you to start gaining the experience and then the confidence will follow.

4) It allows you to plan your progress. Once you’ve started, you get an idea of how quickly you are making progress and how far along you are on your journey.

Using this principle, has helped me intensely in my student years. I remember vividly in one of my first lectures at university, how the Law lecturer told us that he does not care whether we attended lectures, whether we slept during the lectures or whether we studied for our tests or not…only that the bottom line was that at the end of the year we would write exam on a thousand page book’s content. So the responsibility was squarely on our own shoulders to digest an memorise the content by the end of the year.

The thought of the enourmity of the task at hand (along with all the other subjects with similar workloads) nearly paralised me with fear…until I started breaking it down into daily manageable chunks or pages to work through. This one-bite-at-a-time plan, coupled with a lot of discipline, helped me pull through the huge amount of work and also assisted me in subsequent years of study.

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” – Albert Einstein


~ by Daniel Berg on 22/09/2010.

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