Mca blog

How Do You Eat An Elephant?


Shortly after the birth of my first child, we moved interstate for my husband’s work. Even though this would mean that my family and friends would be nearly 900 km away I saw this as an adventure, a challenge for a new mum with a 5-month-old baby. And I’m always up for a challenge!

In spite of the move, my husband still had to travel quite a bit, which meant that when practical things had to be done, like grocery shopping (pre-online shopping), I had to take my ever-wakeful and curious little baby girl with me. I got pretty good at what I called “snatch & grab” shopping, which simply means that you put your baby in the shopping trolley and race around the shop snatching and grabbing whatever you need that is easily within your reach and head straight to the cashier before your little darling has the chance to try to climb out or scream. No meandering around, no retail therapy, there was no time.

Over the years I’ve used the “snatch & grab” concept for many things when I feel short of time. Of course, the reasons for being time-poor have changed but the principle remains the same: do what you need to do in several short burst rather in in one long one. The theory goes back to the old saying: “How do you eat an elephant? One spoonful at a time”. (Please note, although this metaphor may seem politically incorrect, its purpose is to teach, not to offend.)

For example, if I believe that have no time for regular exercise I do “snatch & grab” exercise: walk 10 min from the car to work, take the stairs instead of the elevator, stand at the computer instead of sitting, go for a quick jaunt around the block when I get home. And the amazing thing is that studies show that over time, even these brief physical episodes can contribute to weight loss, reduced blood pressure and other positive health indicators.

After learning to meditate, many of my clients say “I just don’t have the time to do this regularly”. Meditation, like physical exercise, has cumulative benefits. So if you can’t sit for half an hour twice a day, can you do it once? Or can you find some “snatch and grab meditation” opportunities? Here are a few:

  • Before you get out of bed each morning, sit up in bed and take 3 long slow breaths, following both the inward and the outward breath with your full attention (1 min).
  • At each meal during the day notice and focus on the sensation of chewing and swallowing for 2 mins.
  • Any time you get up for something during the day (toilet, coffee, etc), stand for 1 – 2 minutes with your full attention in your feet (you can keep your eyes open and de-focused, so it doesn’t look weird if your seen). If your attention wanders bring it back.
  • Find 5 mins during the day to sit in a quiet space with your eyes closed or de-focused and notice the sounds around you. You don’t need to name the sounds or think about them, just use your sense of hearing to focus on the quality and tone of each sound you hear. If you can’t find 5 mins to do this, do it for 3. And maybe do it more than once.
  • At the end of the day, if you take public transport home, use this time to close your eyes and centre yourself. If you drive home, sit in your car for a few mins before you leave work and after you arrive home to do this.
  • During the evening or before you go to bed make a decision to sit and meditate for just 5 mins. Even if you feel resistance, if you get into the habit of doing this, before long 5 mins will become 10 and so on.

Once you train yourself to look for opportunities for “snatch and grab” meditation you’ll find yourself doing this every chance you get. And as a result, you may find that your focus improves and your emotional resilience increases.

What’s important here is not to beat yourself up every time you miss a meditation, or give up with the old mantra “I have no time”, but rather pat yourself on the back and acknowledge that you’ve just eaten another spoonful of that elephant.

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