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Taking on a humongous goal: One bite at a time

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We humans do big things. It is in our nature to do big things.

The Guinness Book of Records would not exist if it wasn’t for humans not only doing big things but wanting to do big things even bigger.

Some people get to be the fastest, slowest, smartest, smallest, or biggest. Some people make it onto the Forbes top 100 rich list and others pay off their 25-year mortgage. Some people don’t choose their feat, it chooses them, and they survive.

What all these people have in common is that they took on something big and they succeeded. They achieved their goal.

We can train our bodies to be stronger and faster, we can use our intellect to become smarter, but all can be unravelled if we haven’t trained our visceral mind that will try to override that hard work and convince us at every step that we can’t possibly take the next.

It was when I was training for my first Ironman Triathlon that I felt that absolute terror after a huge day of training that only represented a fraction of the event itself. I slumped at the end of the pool lane and blurted out, “If this is how I feel now, how the hell am I ever going to complete an entire Ironman?

My wise training friend replied as he leapt out at the end of the pool, “The same way you eat an elephant,” then left me there to ponder as I ducked under the lane ropes towards the ladder, too exhausted to hoist my body out. Surviving the training was proving tricky.

I’d have to say that giving birth rates pretty high on the ‘I’m a celebrity get me out of here’ scale of facing down an enormous feat as well. That late gestational nesting phase for me was quickly followed by the ‘How is that head going to come out that hole’ phase, that didn’t rate a mention in the birthing books I read.

As I braced for yet another contraction with murderous intent towards my husband, my lovely midwife uttered the words that I grabbed on to like a life-raft. “Every contraction is one contraction less.” This made sense. I started focussing on the end of each contraction as an achievement rather than planning my husband’s demise.

Fast forward a couple of decades and my crazy decision to run 100kms—although backed by a history of athletic endurance feats under my belt—was off the Kelvin Scale of hot-crazy that no amount of training could put to rest. You do not run 100km when training to run 100km, not even close, so I had nothing to draw from except to respect the process and remind myself that I wasn’t the first person to ever have attempted to run that far.

You collect enough of these experiences over time, and you start to build resilience to the panic and defeatism of that initial Goliath and break down that insurmountable feat into smaller steps.

You remember the time when you were a kid and thought you’d never make it through that long drive to visit family, but you did. You remember as a young adult thinking you’d never scrape that deposit together for your first home, but you did. You remember that baby did come out, and your husband lived.

There is an old proverb ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’ which does little to inspire me. In my mind that just leaves a completely outrageous number of steps ahead. Instead, I did find the answer to my clubmate’s cryptic response at my swimming training that exhausting day, and I paraphrased it on a label and taped it to the handlebar of my bike for my first Ironman Triathlon.

“There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”

A quote attributed to Desmond Tutu, South African anti-apartheid leader, human rights activist, and Nobel Prize Winner.

Before I go—I also had HTFU* written on the back of my hand for good measure!

*Contact author for translation!

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