When I was younger, and I would be facing something that completely overwhelmed me, my mom would ask me, “How do you eat an elephant?” Of course, this brought up more questions than answers. WHY would you be eating an elephant in the first place? They are precious animals, not for eating. But beyond that… What condiments go best with elephant? Ketchup? Tabasco? Do you cook it first? Does elephant taste like chicken?
Life often seems to be just one set of challenges after another. Mostly, these challenges are put on us by outside forces. Challenges at work. Challenges with friends. Challenges being adults.
Last week I decided to try a challenge of my own. I have been trying to make little changes in my life, for a lot of different reasons. (For example, trying floating.) I got a Fitbit a couple months ago, but while I find the information interesting, I had yet to really challenge myself with it. My sister does 20,000 steps in a day, my brother almost as much, and it was intimidating to even try to live up to that. (Story of my life, eh?)
But then a new category popped up, one that only required 250 steps an hour, 9 consecutive hours out of the day. I mean. That…that seemed okay. So I committed to it. Every hour I got up and took a lap around the building, paced my office, marched in place. And step by step, hour by hour, I succeeded. On a day of wall to wall meetings, I explained I needed to move around, take a small break. I marched in front of the sink in an empty bathroom, around the lunchroom table as my lunch heated, in the mailroom, flipping through the latest assessments left for me in my box.
And guess what?
It’s been a week, and every day it’s more natural to pause every hour, to get up and walk around for two minutes or more. I have actually been MORE productive, at my dayjob especially. The habit is forming, a good habit that will be beneficial for me, since my two jobs are both fairly sedentary, and take up the majority of my time. But it’s possible. Even on busy days, I can take 2-3 minutes. (Although my 11am hour steps from Sunday are a bit misleading, as most of them came from clapping during worship at church.)
It’s the same for writing. I’m staring down the barrel of the beginning of another book. Around 100,000 words ahead of me. So much story to get through. (I actually outlined this one!) And if I look at it all at once, it gets overwhelming. I start to wonder if I have it in me to do it yet again. This will be my 7th novel, and yet, doubts flood in at the stark whiteness of that first blank page every time.
So I take it one chapter at a time. One scene at a time. One paragraph at a time. One sentence at time. One word at time. Whatever size I need to reduce it to in order to keep moving forward. If I can do one, I can do another, and so on down the line until suddenly I’m typing those beautiful words, “The End.” And then the process starts over with every revision pass, every edit, every read-through. I break my task into small, manageable pieces, until I forget about the overwhelming size of what’s ahead, and can bask in the words going on the page in the moment.
So when you get overwhelmed, and the desire to crawl into your blanket fort and eat cookies for the rest of time is strong, just remember this question.
How do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time.