What’s the best way to eat an elephant?

elephant-in-the-room-audialtempartem Yesterday

So, yesterday was my ‘day off’ – also known as the day I get everything done so our weekend is not solely a time for menial tasks. After dropping the kids off at school, I looked down at my list of ‘to do’ items. My list is always overly ambitious, but that’s ok – it gives me a degree of flexibility. I know I procrastinate, but I also have things I need to do. For some reason, having choice seems to satisfy my procrastination urges (see – I didn’t get THAT item done), while also satisfying my need for completeness (yes – but I did get that OTHER one done). While part of me wonders why my mind can be so easily fooled, the other part is somewhat relieved. At least I got some things done.

Today, though, I became very aware about the flaw with this approach. See, there has been something niggling at me for a while. I am busy doing lots of things – for instance, yesterday I flicked between Christmas preparations, house cleaning, garden preparation, getting my head around elements to do for the school fete which doesn’t take place until next March, making appointments, and so on and so on. I’m pretty clear on WHAT I am trying to do – and also clear that I can’t fit all of these things in every day (and therefore items keep reappearing on the ‘to do’ list).

Part of the reason is that I don’t really know WHY I am doing many of these things – I just decide I need to, or agree to do them, and so, unless they are urgent, I do them in a random, ad hoc way, irrespective of whether or not they are important.

Avoiding the elephant in the room 

I’ve had this little feeling of discontent and restlessness, which I have been trying to avoid for some time now (because it is not urgent, you know – there is not deadline attached). However, the little feeling has become a bigger feeling. To throw in another cliché, it is now the elephant in the room, and as much as I like elephants, they are not what I want to be pushing past and pretending I can’t see. It was time to tackle that elephant – and that elephant goes by the name of ‘values and goals’.

What been happening over a period of time is that I’ve lost track of what I value – what is important to feel fulfilled, to feel that I am contributing in the best way I can, that I am growing in myself and with others, and what I should do to enjoy life to its fullest. As a result, I’ve been feeling kind of dissatisfied. But I haven’t wanted to tackle this dissatisfaction.

One reason is that to do so seemed fairly selfish. I’m aware that I’ve been blessed in so many ways – with family, with work (certainly in terms of flexibility), a nice (if modest) home which doesn’t cause too much stress, and opportunities for recreation and fun, including a great overseas holiday recently. And that’s just a quick snap shot What do I have to complain about?

But the issue isn’t with what I have – it’s with what I am doing with what I have. We all only have one life to live – and to live it in a half hearted way, when there is the opportunity to embrace things more fully – well, when I think about it that way, it just seems wrong to coast along and not try to sort through these issues.

Another reason I’ve avoided this is that it all seems too hard and too overly analytical. I know I have a tendency to over-analyse things, often to avoid actually making a decision. I don’t want to go through an elongated navel-gazing exercise. This needs to be something which results in concrete results, and isn’t too protracted.

Identifying my values and goals – it can be hard work

Thinking about what I really value, rather that what I think I should value, or what might be considered by others as worthy values, is actually quite hard work – if you are someone like me who has tended to go with what others think. It is requiring me to examine my motives, my preferences, be honest with what I am good at or not and why. It is also making me think about why I react to certain events or circumstances. For instance, to I react in a certain way due to my values, or due to previous experiences (sometimes referred to as ‘experiential avoidance’. Yes, I’ve done a bit of reading up on this, as part of my procrastination – or preparation, take your pick).

It’s a challenge, and one I have avoided because I feel like I’ve got enough challenges in my life – in part because I’ve kept it so busy. Again, though, when I really think about it, I know that this is a challenge worth persisting with – and so I will go on. I said I don’t want this value setting process, and the goal setting that flows from it, to become an extended process. However, as I sat down yesterday afternoon and tried to work out my values, I realised it wasn’t going to be a quick process either. I looked at different areas of life – friends, family, career, spiritual, partner, health, enjoyment, etc, etc – and I’m already up to 35 different values. Clearly, that’s ridiculous.

As I work through it some more, get more comfortable with expressing needs (still feels uncomfortable), they will become clearer and tighter. It will take a bit of time. But working out why – that’s worth some time.

So what IS the best way to eat an elephant?

Coming back to the original question

What’s the best way to eat an elephant?

The answer, of course, for those who are not familiar with this expression, is bit by bit.


How about you? Do you have some big, elephant in the room, issues that you are avoiding? Or do you have some good tips on how to tackle them?



* Before anyone takes me to task (for instance, my mother who has some sort of affinity with elephants), of course, this is just an expression about how to tackle a big task. Of course I would never eat a real elephant- just making sure that’s completely clear!

2 thoughts on “What’s the best way to eat an elephant?

  1. We are on a very similar path, you and I. While I am happy with the way I have grown, I’m also seeking to pull out my deep roots and take a look at them for a while. I think in a way I need to declutter my mind – I feel like there is TOO MUCH JUNK in there. Too many conflicting opinions and divergent tactics. I want to know my core a little better so my capacity to focus on the things that matter is sharper. But, you are so right, it’s darn hard work and I keep avoiding it because of that. x


    1. I think that’s absolutely right – we do seem to be on a similar path! I’ve been reading a few good posts on a site I just found today (I seem to be finding things a lot lately just at the right time – this one is called ‘itstartswith.com’) and three quotes stood out (from two separate posts – I put up on facebook today):

      From an architecture lecturer ‘The big design problem is designing your own life (rather than a house, a museum, a book or whatever). It’s by the design of your life that you create the backboard off which you bounce all your thoughts and ideas and creativity.’

      A comment in response: ‘You can’t paint a masterpiece on a cluttered canvas’ (which I don’t think is 100% true, but you do have to paint over a lot of things – so you need to work out what is no longer needed ie. the ‘junk’).

      ‘Your narrative is always changing – don’t cling too hard to the old ones, instead build new ones and grow into future ones’. ‘You are, until you aren’t’ ie, as you tell your story, your story moves. (I find this very hard – I like what is comfortable – but there’s a balance between new and scary but invigorating, and comfortable, and then too comfortable, and dull – or passé). Such a fine balance, isn’t it? (plus effort – sigh – but worthwhile, I know!) x


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