Eating Elephants


Here’s a familiar adage – how would you eat an elephant? In small chunks of course!! So, what would you do with an elephant of a task? Tackle it in small chunks….obviously.

With this in mind, sit down make yourself comfortable and have a jolly good think about the elephant in your life at the moment. What is the biggest challenge coming your way?

If you like to write or draw, make sure you have the materials to hand. For those who use technology to capture thoughts, tasks, schedules and planners then make you’re your equipment is powered up and ready to run. This is thinking that will take you to a place of clarity, with an action plan to take things forward.

Starting with the end in mind, decide what this elephant looks like. It may be the whole programme of activity such as “the festive season” or perhaps it’s just a single event such as Christmas day or another big event such as a Wedding or the launch of a new venture. Consider the facts. Get yourself a clear view of this overwhelming thing, in all its enormousness and complexity.

How does it feel? Ask yourself “How am I feeling at the moment?” Checking in with yourself in this way allows you to release some of the tensions that can build up when we hold onto emotions without taking them out and looking at them afresh.

Allow yourself the luxury of expressing some feelings. This is what Edward De Bono has named “Red Hat” thinking. It can be very therapeutic. Ask yourself, what do I feel about this elephant? Emotions that come to mind might include excitement, worry, anxiety, fear, dread, loathing, guilt, exhilaration…..

But, even the most enormously dreadful elephant will have some positive attributes, and it’s therefore important to balance your thinking with some “Yellow Hat” perspectives. What are some good things about what you see in front of you? What makes this elephant valuable? What do you like about this elephant? What are its benefits? What good things does it bring?

Now spend a few minutes thinking about all the negative things about this elephant. Yes go on….let out all the things that are wrong with it. The problems, challenges, the reasons you wish it would go away. This is “Black Hat” thinking, and it’s useful to write down what comes to mind. Negatives might include the expense, the volume of work, doing things you don’t enjoy…make a list, and don’t worry nobody need see it.

OK, so now you have effectively brain stormed with yourself, and looked at the elephant from positive and negative perspectives. It’s time to generate some options which will make the most of the positive aspects and overcome the negatives. This calls for some “Green Hat” thinking. This is where we use our imagination and creativity to search for alternatives - in particular to re-examine some of the problems highlighted by Red Hat and Black Hat thoughts to see how we can overcome them. Green Hat thinking seeks to move us forward, to take ideas on in order to reach a new idea.

For example, how might we overcome the problem of volume of work? Options might include delegating tasks, spreading activities over a period of time, involving other people etc. This is where your planner comes in; breaking the elephant into chucks and then into bite sized pieces and deciding what will be done by whom, and when.

Now you are developing an action plan. This will enable you to move forward. How does that make you feel? Hopefully more in control. More resourceful and confident. Eating elephants can be fun. Enjoy!!

© Barbara Capstick

Autumn 2014.