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  • Olga Roman

When Eating an Elephant Take One Bite at a Time

Last weekend I completed my first 50-kilometer (31 mile) trail race. I was curious about trail running for several years, but never had a chance to try it. When I met my friend for lunch in the middle of last week, she mentioned that she was planning to run a trail race on the weekend and invited me to join. It sounded like an exciting event and I spontaneously signed up for a 50 kilometer race.


As we got to the start line early on Saturday morning, the idea of running 31 miles suddenly became formidable. I did not have prior experience with trail running and also recognized that I did not train consistently after my last Ironman race in July. As I started feeling anxious, I reminded myself of a saying “when eating an elephant take one bite at a time.”


What that saying means is that even a huge task can be accomplished gradually by taking just small steps. Following this approach, I mentally divided the race into 3 parts (the course included three 10-mile loops) and then just focused on one loop at a time. I further divided a 10-mile loop into two segments of five miles each and within each of those segments I had five one-mile mini goals. Every time during the race when my mind would try to calculate how many miles I still needed to run before the finish, I just refocused my attention on finishing one mile.


We know intellectually that the best way to accomplish big goals is to break them into smaller pieces. However, more often than not, we tend to focus on the immensity of a task, which might be daunting and overwhelming.


Whether you are dealing with a complicated project, a vague idea or just have a lot on your plate, remind yourself to break your commitments or ideas into bite size achievable goals. Start with asking yourself what the next smallest step you can take. Setting small goals and taking actions to achieve them will give you emotional rewards to keep you motivated.


What is your elephant? What tasks have you been avoiding or what big goals do you want to accomplish? Find ten-fifteen minutes this week to take the first bite out of your elephant: decide on the smallest action step that would move your closer to your goal and get it done.


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