Monday, June 4, 2012

Forest, Trees and Elephant Eaters

The saying ‘can’t see the forest for the trees’ is used to describe those detail-driven, exception-finding, micro-managing types among us. Those who are so consumed with the little things that not only do they miss the forest but often the trees too – focusing instead on the branches, leaves and even the roots! During Thanksgiving, the tree types, concentrate on creating a Martha Stewart-inspired centerpiece or carving the perfect turkey instead of spending time with friends and family or just enjoying the day.

Yet, there isn’t a good adage to describe the opposite phenomenon – those who get so completely overwhelmed by the overall size of the forest until something like a tree seems like a nothing. “Look at that forest! It’s so dense! How could one ever navigate through THAT! You could really get lost in there. I bet it gets really dark and creepy at night too.”

Before Thanksgiving arrives, forest types have already talked themselves out of cooking dinner. Think of the time it takes to cook the turkey, add to that the stuffing, the green beans, the sweet potatoes, the mashed potatoes and the rolls. Oh, and then there’s dessert, too! It’s just too much!

In fact, I maintain that many of us do both. You might be a tree when it comes to your job or scheduling tasks for the kids but hopelessly forest when it comes to being on time or lowering your credit card debt.
Don’t believe me? Review the following statements and see if you hear anything vaguely familiar.
  • “Fifty pounds? I have to lose 50 pounds? That’s a small child! That’s 10 sacks of potatoes.”
  • “I’ve smoked for 20 years, a pack a day. How will I ever change 20 years of smoking 20 cigarettes a day?”
  • “We owe over $50,000. That’s more than I make in a year!”
  • “It takes the average student over 4 years to get a degree going full-time. It’s going to take me a lifetime to finish going part-time.”
  • “I can barely run up the stairs, how can I ever expect to run more than a tub of water?”

The problem with focusing on the forest is that when you see it in its awe-inspiring totality, it is a very scary place. It is massive. It seems impossible to tackle. Somehow we have to strike a balance. We have to see the forest for what it is and then realize that to make it through it will take one step, one tree at a time.
It’s a corny joke, but it’s true. “How do you eat an elephant?”

Easy. One bite at a time.

When it comes to the goals we set for ourselves, we can be very forest. The goal seems so big, so grand, so time-consuming, and so impossible that we could never, ever possibly accomplish it. Like that Thanksgiving dinner, we talk ourselves out of it before we even begin.

Having a plan is one way can be an antidote to overwhelm. Sit down and make a plan, create a path. Your steps become mini-goals and all of the sudden, you goal becomes doable, a lot more manageable.

A plan also helps you improve your focus. Focusing exclusively on the final outcome while ignoring the other, smaller, signs of progress can lead to frustration. Acknowledge when you achieve your smaller goals and you will be motivated to greater successes.

During a television interview, a marathon runner explained his approach to running. He said, “I don’t run 26 miles. I run one mile, 26 times. It’s easier that way.” We can all succeed my running a mile at a time.

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