For as long as I can remember, when ever I would come about a difficult or arduous task in my life that overwhelmed me, my mother would always ask me the same question: “How do you eat an elephant?”
Although not initially entertained by her lack of immediate and direct advice, this question has since become my mantra. Each time she would smile and respond, “one bite at a time.”
This idea of conquering a large obstacle one step at a time is not a new concept. To approach a giant, daunting task by setting and achieving small and reasonable goals can be found in almost any successful person’s dossier of skills (see Tim Ferris). It has been reimagined as 10,000 hours of practice by Malcolm Gladwell, and as the book Baby Steps in the 1980s Bill Murray movie What About Bob. But somehow in the traffic of life we forget this sentiment, as evidenced by epidemic-like levels of stress and anxiety, or the common and pervasive unwillingness to step outside our comfort zones.
This one-bite-at-a-time sentiment also applies to CrossFit. It is the reason why many people hate chippers or frown upon long workouts with high volume reps of one movement (One hundred burpees? Yeah, I’m not doing that). The obstacle (or elephant) in front of us looks impossibly large and too big to move; our patience for small, incremental change or large task completion runs thin. And who can blame us? Life is too busy for practice, and every Games documentary is mostly a collection of slow-motion shots of heroic moments overlaid with badass music where larger-than-life athletes hit lifetime PRs after four previous workouts in the same day. We rarely see the 1,000 fails that led to the success of that moment.
As it ends up, both life obstacles and CrossFit obstacles are always conquerable and just require the steadfastness to stay the course. It simply requires us to do one small thing many, many times. Call it what you want: water wearing away rock, a journey of a thousand steps, or even more recently, reshaping our brains through the power of neuroplasticity. But when standing in front of the behemoth chipper or life’s biggest obstacle, we have to believe that it can be done. All it requires is one small step, one more burpee, one bite at a time.