How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Updated: May 22
First of all, I'm not advocating eating elephants so please don't. As you may or may not have guessed, eating an elephant is a metaphor for achieving a larger goal. First of all, I’m a big advocate of SMART Goals. In particular, I think it's hugely important to set a specific, quantitative (or measurable), time-based goal. The other letters in SMART are important, but I think the S, the M, and the T are the most important. But setting the goal is just the beginning. You then need to break that time-based goal into smaller time-based milestones so you can start feeling progress quicker. Research shows that simply seeing progress toward achieving goals is linked with happiness or specifically "subject well being" or SWB.
In other words, if you focus solely on the end goal, you set yourself to get frustrated or lose your motivation. However, if you break your bigger goal into smaller, time-based mini-goals or "milestones", you create a situation where you increase your SWB or you feel happier more often. For example, if your goal is to pay off $12,000 in debt over 2 years, then start create monthly milestones of paying off $500 worth of debt per month. Now what you did is assuming you can pay off the $500 in that month, is set yourself up to feel really good every month when you hit that milestone. But that’s still not enough, since mostly likely your mom or dad isn't going to just GIVE you $500, you need to have a specific plan on how you are going to pay down $500 debt per month. Are you going to pay the highest interest rate account first (Avalance Method) or the one with the lowest balance (Snowball Method - more on these in a future post)? How are you going to get the money to pay the extra $500 toward debt off? Are you going to earn more money, reduce your expenses, or a combination of the two? If you’re going to earn more money, how are you going to do it? UBER, Upwork? If you’re going to reduce expenses, how are you going to do it? Shop your cell phone bill? Your car insurance? Eat out less? This all takes a plan to accomplish, but by breaking it down in this manner, it becomes manageable.
A few other helpful items you need to make sure you incorporate in your overall plan are: 1) You also need to make sure you have a way to measure your progress. If you don't have a way to measure your progress, then there's no way to enter this "Goal Progress/Happiness Loop". This is a critical component to making all of this work. 2) Research has shown that bringing in accountability partners that you share your goal and progress with is correlated with achieving goals at a high rate. In particular, sharing your goal with someone that you respect is linked to a much higher rate of goal achievement. This is because you care about what they think of you, and you don't want to lose their respect by failing. These are the most effective accountability partners.
I’ll leave you with one final thought: I find the hardest thing to do on these journeys is starting. Once you’ve broken up your goal, find a really small task to start with. In other words, you have to take a tiny little bit of the elephant to start. The example I always give since I hate writing (business plans, blogs, grant applications, etc.) is the first thing I always do when I’m writing an extensive piece is 1.) Open up Microsoft Word (or Google Docs) 2.) Write the title of the document 3.) Save the document. Just that simple act makes me feel like I got started. Then the next day, I’ll set my goal to write a draft of my introduction. I’ll continue to set daily goals, and make bigger and bigger toals, and go from there. Again, I'm leveraging the "Goal Progress/Happiness Loop".
Remember: one bite at a time, and track your progress.