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How to eat an elephant


It's easy if you know how. Janice Haddon takes on a rather sizeable metaphor to simplify the often daunting task of goal setting. 

“The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.”

Ridiculous saying really, as none of us would actually want to eat an elephant, but it gives a metaphorical picture of how we can get things done without feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes the whole thing just looks too big to tackle, and when something seems too big to tackle often we don’t bother at all as we just don’t know where to start. We simply feel overwhelmed.  If we break it down into smaller chunks however, it seems a lot more feasible for us to achieve it.

So, let’s get to grips with how to do it. 

In reality the level of energy and commitment that you put into your goals will have a direct result on the level of success that you will have. The more you want something, the stronger your motivation will be to achieving it. The more clarity that you have on what you want and how you can go about it, the more chance you will have of getting it. And that’s got to be a good thing hasn’t it?

Here is how to make sure that your goals work for you:

  • Write them down – be specific
  • Break bigger tasks down into manageable chunks
  • Set yourself timescales for achieving things
  • Be realistic – climbing Mount Everest when you don’t have the right shoes won't lead to success
  • Keep the vision of what you want in clear focus
  • Tell someone! When other people know about it, it can spur you on and add to your motivation

Keep your goals close to hand – writing them down and putting them in a draw does not equal achievement. The written word will not morph into reality – you have to take action and do something about it, so keep reviewing them. Keep stretching yourself, keep moving forward, reward yourself for your successes and don’t beat yourself up if things haven’t turned out the way you had hoped. If something isn’t working, doing more and more of the same isn’t always the answer. Remember: you haven't failed – you have simply learnt how not to do it next time. Don’t get stuck into the same loop of things not working – look for alternatives to achieve what you want. It may be that other things are getting in the way. Take a different approach; if you really want something, you can achieve it!

When you are thinking of your goals, think about how you will G.R.O.W. - ask yourself the following questions:

Goal - what do you want?

  • What do you want to achieve (short and long-term?)
  • What is your ideal outcome?
  • Do you need to break your goal down into manageable chunks – one bite at a time?
  • When are you going to achieve it by?
  • Is that challenging, attainable and measureable?
  • How much time have you got?

Reality - what is happening now?

  • What have you done about this before / so far?
  • What results have you produced so far?
  • How much personal control do you have over your goal?
  • Who else is involved?
  • What is happening now?
    • How do you feel?
    • How are other people reacting / responding?
    • What is going on in your environment?

Obstacles/Options - what is in the way?

  • What obstacles could you face and why?
  • If these are people, more than obstacles, what can you do to positively change their lack of support?
  • If you have got stuck previously – why is that?
  • What are the major constraints to finding a way forward?
  • Who are the people blocking you and why?
  • What can you do about it?
  • What options do you have?
  • What else could you do?
  • What is a different perspective?
  • Ask yourself ‘What if …….’
  • What are the benefits of each of your options?
  • What are the costs of each of your options?
  • What might you have to give up to achieve this goal?

Way Forward - what is the way forward? 

  • What actions do you need to take to achieve your goal?
  • What will you do? How and by when?
  • Will this meet your entire goal or elements of it?
  • Who needs to know?
  • What support do you need?
  • How will you get that support and by when?

A bit of advice - it is important to acknowledge your goals with positive thoughts. Often we can find ourselves listing reasons why we can’t achieve things – the little gremlin of fear creeps in and we can talk ourselves out of action a bit too quickly! If you find yourself doing that, check in with yourself as to what you are trying to achieve. What are you avoiding by not getting on with it? What is the worst that could happen if you go for it?

Finally if you have attempted to eat your elephant one bite at a time and it hasn’t quite come off as you had hoped, then try again; don’t give up. Believe in yourself. It may be that other things got in the way that you were not aware of at the start – or other things happened that you had no control over at the time. You can get past it – take a different perspective and work out how.

Janice Haddon is managing director at Morgan Redwood. Janice has over 25 years’ experience in strategic and operational Human Resources and management consultancy. A Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development with a BSc (Hons) in Psychology, an MA in Psychotherapy and an MBA from Henley Management College, Janice is also a Master Practitioner in NLP, a Cognitive Hypnotherapist, Psychotherapy Counsellor and runs a number of businesses including Morgan Redwood

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