How To Eat The Elephant That Is Your Obstacle

This winter and spring have been quite enjoyable. My wife and I welcomed a new addition in January, and I have appreciated a reprieve from studying for a professional exam because of it. However, looming before me I see an immense problem – passing another actuarial exam. Oh, the studying that will be involved!

Photo Credit: AfricanInspiration via pixabay

The hundreds of hours of study required to pass professional actuarial exams are a large obstacle to overcome. As I was thinking about my dilemma, I was reminded of the Chinese proverb that says, “The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time”. It is time for me to start studying again if I want to be successful next time I take an exam.

As I approach the preparation to study, I begin to wonder if there is an additional application to take from this saying. What elephant traits can be applied to help overcome problems?

  1. Elephants are huge. Various species can range from about 7 to 13 feet tall and weigh anywhere from 4 to 14 thousand pounds! Up close they dwarf a full size adult human. Similarly, when we are so close to our problems we lack perspective. Imagine observing elephants from a plane above the Sahara. They would appear much smaller. The same is true for us. Our problems will appear much smaller as we get a glimpse of the larger picture.
  2. Elephants eat large quantities of food. One source I found indicated that adult elephants eat 300-400 pounds of food per day! If we consistently feed the negative thoughts surrounding our situation they will only grow in significance. In order to overcome these obstacles we must change our thought processes. Starve the fears and worries by focusing on the positive and the elements of the situation you can control such as your attitude.
  3. Elephants use their trunks for multiple purposes. This includes grasping, breathing, feeding, dusting, smelling, drinking, lifting, communicating, defending/protecting, and sensing. Wow – that is one multi-purpose tool! For problem solving, we need to expand our tool kits. This could include a vast array of activities including reading books, engaging friends, attending classes, or researching alternative solutions. The more tools we have for attacking a situation the better prepared we will be to resolve the issue.
  4. Elephants live in herds. The herd forms strong bonds and provides protection. The same is true for us when we associate with a group of people on a regular basis. However, this could also lead to simply following what everyone else is doing. Sometimes it is important, even critical, to think outside the herd mentality. Continuing to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. Inspired, creative ideas are often outside what the herd is willing to attempt.

Completing a monumental task like eating an elephant can be overwhelming. But I am confident that starting one bite at time and practicing the other tips above will facilitate enjoyment of the meal!

Question: What ideas do you have for conquering large obstacles? How do you eat your elephants? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • natalierompella

    I went to junior high and high school with your wife. 🙂 First, congrats on the baby! My tip is that when I have a daunting task, I take the tiniest of bites. If I have to do a freelance writing assignment, the first thing I will do is just find the folder and set it on my desk, then I’ll go do something else. Or for going to workout in the morning–if I”m on the fence, I at least force myself to put on the workout clothes–even if I don’t plan to go. Same with the kids: I will just have them put their homework out but not work on it. I also found assigning a time to each part of the task helps. 🙂

    • Mark Maenche

      Cool Natalie! “the tiniest of bites” – yep, that is absolutely good advice. Thanks for contributing!