Eggshells and elephants

Making sure our lovely chickens are well-fed is a priority for us: happy well-nourished chickens lay great eggs. Great eggs need strong shells and strong shells need plenty of calcium. One of the ways in which we provide that calcium is to feed them their own shells – after use, so to speak. We keep the shells, bake them to make sure they’re sterilised and then grind them up. I don’t really like that job – the sound really sets my teeth on edge – so last week I decided to get it over and done with as quickly as possible. I crammed eight shells in the mortar together and set about them with the pestle.

As Julia Roberts says in Pretty Woman, ‘Big mistake. Big. Huge’.  The floor and counter were strewn with coarse fragments as the shells pinged off around the kitchen. Those left in the mortar were too big to be of any real use so I ended up tipping them out and starting all over again. By the time I’d cleared up, the whole thing probably took me about three times as long as it would have done if I’d just tackled the shells one by one.

So what does this have to do with elephants? Well, I’m sure that you’ve heard the old joke – ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!’ Whether it’s eggshells or elephants, we can undermine our own success when we take on too much at once.

This is an issue which comes up often with my coaching clients. My first question is always an equivalent of ‘how come you want to eat an elephant?’ to help me discover and my client to clarify the motivation behind their grand goal. Once we’ve done that, we can chop that grand goal up into smaller goals. A smaller goal has the following advantages:

·        Speed of achievement brings satisfaction and motivation to move onto the next small goal on the path to the grand goal. If you want to run a marathon but can only run a mile right now, a short-term goal of being able to keep going for two miles by the end of the next month seems achievable and realistic. Berating yourself for not being at marathon level straight away will make you feel like a failure.

·        Focusing on one aspect of a longer term goal can keep you from being distracted by the other aspects. Once you’ve planned each stage, you don’t allow yourself to think about the next stage until you’ve finished the current one.

·        It doesn’t take so long! You can even set yourself a time limit and just agree with yourself that you’ll deal with this chunk for the allotted time and then move on, guilt-free.

Whilst crushing eight eggshells is hardly an elephantine goal, if I’d taken into account the motivation behind my task and not been so impatient, I’d have got it done sooner, more effectively and with a heck of a lot less mess!

Today’s pebble for you to contemplate:

Have you set yourself a goal which is so huge it feels overwhelming? What’s the motivation behind that goal? How can you break it down into smaller goals?

What do you think?

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, why not email me to see how we could work together?

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