It started when I hit 30 and wanted everything to change, I knew it needed to. I’d been considering it for the last couple of years but just didn’t know where to start, it was my job, my career, my relationship, myself, my whole life really – pretty big elephant.
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I wanted to be doing different things and I wanted to be a different person but life had me in this screenplay I couldn’t seem to get out of, acting out all the things I felt I should do and that the rest of society seemed to be doing yet I was desperately unhappy and unfulfilled.
Change can be so daunting it can be a job to know where to start. It’s likened to eating an elephant, where do you start?
It’s such a big beast it takes some figuring out just how we’re going to get to the end point, let alone how we’ll start.
Similar to eating an elephant if we take it one chunk at a time, bite size pieces as we progress the change becomes easier and over time each one of those bite size pieces adds up to the beast that is our goal or the change we wish to make.
Despite the fears and uncertainties that set it I gradually bit by bit began to eat my elephant. I saved up some money, I researched what else I could do, enrolled on some courses, looked after myself better and spent time understanding who I was and what I wanted.
Finally, I quit my job I went on yoga retreats and volunteered overseas, I qualified to be a yoga teacher and completed my Life Coaching certificate.
I ended my relationship and came out.
I left my home and material possessions and traveled the world doing what I love and then I wrote a book all about how I ate the elephant to find happiness (A Rough Guide to a Smooth Life).
Here’s some of what I learned about eating elephants:
The Fastest Way To Make Progress Is To Start
So often we spend time thinking about all the things we’d like to do but can’t seem to get any further than this. Either life takes over and we get busy or we put off action until the ‘time is right’.
For example, when we consider dieting we like to wait until after the weekend, begin on a Monday as I’m out for dinner this weekend. Or it’s my birthday next week I’ll wait until after that, or I’m going on holiday or it’s Christmas, we are always putting things off until everything is just right.
We are under the impression we need to wait for conditions to be perfect before we take that step.
I’d always assumed I couldn’t write a book until I was financially comfortable and living in a country cottage in Tuscany with a writing desk that overlooked the Tuscan landscape and inspiration that flowed 24/7.
Eventually, I realized this was never going to happen so just went with what I had.
We wait for conditions to be perfect but they never are, there’ll always be something that can stop us if we let it.
We can always be wanting more; more savings, more time, to be in a better position when the kids have left home when I’ve lost a bit more weight when I’ve got a new job.
Don’t put it off until conditions are perfect, they never will be. The best time to start is always now.
But What If The Plan Is Not That Clear Yet?
What if there are unknowns I need to realize before I start? It’s common for us to want to see the end point before we begin or plan out all of the details ahead of us but as the saying goes “you don’t need to see the whole staircase to take the first step”.
You don’t need to see the end point before you begin, in fact sometimes the end point doesn’t become clear until you’re half way along and the end point may change as you progress because of what you discover along the way.
I trained to be a yoga teacher because it was a passion of mine and this experience was one I’ll treasure for life.
I don’t actually teach much yoga these days but I do have a chapter in my book on the philosophy of the yogic life and the benefits of living simply which I discovered as part of this process, so the step didn’t take me where I thought it would but it lead to something more.
As long as you’re pointing in the right direction, take that step and see where it leads. There’ll always be many paths and sometimes we need to travel a few to get where we want to be and that can so often unfold along the way.
Face The Fear
So often one of the main reasons we delay starting is fear, even if we tell ourselves it’s the reasons above when we look hard enough there will also be a layer of fear underneath that making excuses helps us allay.
We’re frozen to the spot for fear of moving forward into the unknown. The familiarity of where we are keeps us rooted to that safe, comfortable spot, even if it doesn’t make us happy.
Taking that first step towards our goal is scary, it puts us at risk of all the things we fear. Having the courage to be brave and stick our neck out to get what we want, going into the unknown not knowing if we’ve made the right choice or if we’ll be successful.
Faced with fears of failing, getting it wrong, being made to look a fool, of what people will think, of risking what we have for something we don’t yet fully know will work out.
It’s why it took me a couple of years of thinking about eating the elephant before I made the first move.
I was worried about leaving the security of a regular paycheck, being on my own for the first time in years, not having a home to live in and what people would think about me walking away from a ‘good’ corporate job to live in a yoga ashram (incidentally most of them thought I was crazy!)
I worried about what if I made the wrong choice, what if people didn’t love me, what if I failed?
All too often we’re guilty of playing it safe for fear of losing what we have, our security and the comfort of what we know.
But we’ll never know what we could have had if we stay there and unless we get outside our comfort zone and face our fears to take that first step we’ll never grow into the people we’re capable of being.
Baby Steps; Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day
Once we do start it can be easy to be impatient, to want it all now, especially when the momentum begins and we’re excited at the prospect of this finally happening.
It is also true that we can be hard on ourselves, to think we should be further along than we are, to feel like we’re not making enough progress or that the progress is too slow.
I had a long list of things I wanted to achieve and wanted it all by tomorrow. I’d look at those who were further along than me and think ‘why can’t I do that’ forgetting they’d started 5 years before me on their journey.
I’d think; I should be selling more books by now, why don’t my events sell out and I ought to have more social media followers – all impatient signs of wanting progress to be quicker.
By eating small bits at a time and taking small steps towards our goals we are making progress, we are getting a step closer to the finish line.
It’s important to remember that any progress, regardless of how slow, is progress. It’s a step in the right direction and we should celebrate the successes along the way no matter how small because it’s all these small things added together that make our goal, that bring us success, that eat the elephant.
Set Goals In Bite Size Chunks
Once you start eating the elephant and have taken that first step it’s good to have a plan in place, which bit will you tackle next, how long will that take and then what?
Whilst we don’t need to have it all planned out (and in reality we never can as we don’t know what’s around the next corner) it’s advisable to set some goals to keep you on track and keep the momentum going.
Goals help give us the motivation and belief to achieve, they are key in turning our aspirations into action. It gives us something to commit to and is a process of working out what we may need to do to achieve what we want.
By setting goals we can see the small steps we need to take to put us on the path to achieving our dreams.
When thinking about our goal it can seem too big, like an elephant.
By breaking it down and chewing bite size chunks at a time we set the wheels in motion, what is it you can do today, tomorrow, next week to help you get a step closer.
Putting time frames to the goals helps keep you on track and hold yourself accountable.
Writing them down helps solidify what we’re committing to and also means we can re-read and revisit them.
If we share our goals with others we’re also committing to them further and may often find support and encouragement from those close to us.
Don’t expect it to be easy! If it was we’d have already done it by now. It’s hard to keep motivated when times get tough and we encounter set backs but life has its ups and downs and there will always be challenges that make us want to give up.
So often if we try something and it fails we think that’s the end of the road. Failure is inevitable on this journey and something that rather than being the end of the road is in fact just a bend in the road.
It’s something we learn from and something that takes us a step closer to our success. As Paul Choelho said “straight roads do not make skillful drivers”
For a long time I believed I had to avoid failure at all costs and that would make me successful by default.
It’s only in recent times I’ve learned to embrace failure and see that it’s part of learning and growing and the only way to get to success.
Those who’ve succeeded before us have learned from their mistakes too and navigated failure along the way.
This is why resilience is key to help us navigate those ups and downs and ensuring we never give up on our dreams.
It may not be easy but it is always possible and by following some of these steps we can take small bites and progress towards our big goals.
As Lao Tzu said “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” and if we’re going to tackle something huge like eating an elephant or changing our life then we need to take that first bite, take action, start the ball rolling and begin the journey towards our dreams.
*The author of this blog has never eaten an actual elephant and does not recommend you do so either, in fact would actually recommend a mainly plant based diet for health and happiness.