There’s an old joke that asks “how do you eat an elephant?”  The answer of course is “one bite at a time.”

This joke comes to mind whenever I confront a problem that seems overwhelming.  It reminds me to not get bogged down in trying to repair everything at once.  Instead, we are called to tackle one small part of the issue which otherwise seems insurmountable.  The question always becomes, where should I start?  What’s the best “first bite of the elephant”?

The advice of many gurus… from business consultants advising you on how to institute change in your company… to personal coaches, advising you on how to get a handle on your life… generally say the same thing — begin with easy wins.  That is, look around and see what the easiest fix is and make that change.  It seems like a no-brainer, but there’s some good reasons for starting this way.  One of the biggest is to build momentum in the direction you wish to move.

Another advantage is that by having some early success to focus your attention upon, it redirects your mind from focusing upon the problem.  Students of metaphysics, familiar with the “Law of Attraction” popularized in the book and movie “The Secret” will most likely see how this principle comes into play here.  That which we focus upon with our mental energy tends to grow.  If we focus on our problems, we grow our problems.  If we focus upon our successes, we grow our successes.

Authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath in their new book “Switch” offer another way to get at this question of where to take the first bite.  They suggest that if you are faced with a situation of solving what appears to be an overwhelming problem, you look around and find somewhere where things are going right.  In other words, you find the “bright spots”, you determine what characteristics are bringing about the success, then you attempt to duplicate those factors elsewhere.

The Heath brothers, in my opinion, are some of the best writers today with the knack of melding stories together that highlight a point, offering you an insight and a connection that is both enlightening and practical.  Their first book, “Made to Stick,” gave us some critical advice on how to ensure that our messaging to others remained in their awareness.  I believe it’s essential reading for teachers, speakers, ministers, public relations specialists and anyone else whose business it is to communicate concepts and ideas.  Before I left my position at the government, I required my public affairs and outreach staff to all to read the book.

The Heaths detail a number of stories where large change was needed but the change agents did not get overwhelmed by the enormous task at hand. Rather they sought where things were working right and shined a light on it.  In one story, an individual working for Save the Children went to Vietnam to fight malnutrition.  Prior studies had pointed at the enormous issues of sanitation, poverty and lack of clean water as the problems.  Rather than tackling these concerns, the worker sought out situations where children were healthy in spite of the conditions.  He studied what was different (mothers were feeding their children more frequently, hand feeding them if necessary to ensure they ate, feeding them when sick, adding extra items into their food which were available locally and gave additional nutrients, etc.).  Armed with this information, he taught these techniques to other mothers.  These small changes reduced the rates of malnutrition.

Another story looked at a student who was failing in school, determining what factors were different in the one class he was passing, and then replicating them in his other classes leading to academic improvement.  The Heath’s also described the process of “solutions focused therapy”, which has been around for many years, and how it does not try to focus energy on uncovering the root cause of psychological or marital issues, but rather drills into the areas where things are going right, determining the factors at play, and growing them.

Once again, we see how this relates to the Law of Attraction.  The idea is to shift energy away from being absorbed “looking at” the problem and rather place energy upon “looking at” the solution.  If we look at the bright spots and focus our attention there, we grow more bright spots.

So where are the elephants in your life?  Where do you see such large problems that you’re stuck on how to tackle them?  Where do you feel paralysis, because you don’t know where to begin?

These elephants show up in all areas of our life.  They can be at our jobs, our relationships, our personal development and so on.  They certainly show up on the world stage in such looming problems as the economy, climate change, lack of political trans-partisanship, etc.

Today I invite you to look around at your life and see the bright spots.  Ask yourself, what is different here that makes it seem “bright”?  Express gratitude for that area where things are going right and then seek to duplicate it in other areas of your life.



Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!