How to Eat an Elephant

One of my favorite uses for Twitter, aside from interacting with brilliant people I’ll likely never meet in real life, or following news in real time, is as a platform for crowdsourcing ideas by asking questions. Even better, the signal-to-noise ratio in the responses is usually pretty high. Inevitably there are always one or two people with annoying, trollish responses, but that’s a bug, not a feature.

Regularly asking questions and receiving thoughtful answers has given me a window into subject I know little about, from how the Great Depression changed farming in the U.S., to why drinking Kombucha can work wonders for your health. Added bonus: being exposed to previously unfamiliar (to me at least) and fascinating thinkers. It’s a classic compounding effect.

“How do you eat an elephant?” the joke starts.

“One bite at a time.”

As it turns out, making lasting changes in your life also tends to happen one bite — one marginally better decision — at a time. Foregoing soda in favor of water for one day isn’t likely to dramatically improve your health. But doing so day after day could help you lose weight, improve your skin, protect your teeth, and provide a host of additional health benefits.

Recently I asked Twitter about other kinds of compounding effects: behaviors which seem insignificant the first few times you do them, but over time, can change your life in meaningful ways.

The responses I received can be grouped into a few broad categories: Interpersonal & Mindfulness, Finances, and Health. You can find the full thread here.

I hope you find something in this list you can use. If you do, feel free shoot me a message about how it helped you.

Interpersonal and Mindfulness

  • Wake up early.
  • Spend time in prayer and/or meditation first thing in the morning. Or, if you can’t fit it in then, find time later in the day. I love using Headspace. If you’re Catholic, pray the Rosary daily.
  • Practice gratitude, and be specific when thanking someone.
  • Keep a personal calendar.
  • Write something, anything, everyday.
  • Study a foreign language for 5, 15, or 25 minutes a day. Here’s a list of 10 great options.
  • Eat meals with people you love.
  • Keep in touch with close friends.
  • Read to your children, and take pictures of them frequently.
  • Read for at least 15 minutes daily.
  • Read or watch something new daily. Ideally something you’re curious about.
  • Ask questions often.
  • Don’t slouch.
  • Learn to dance.
  • Call your parents and grandparents.
  • Go on lots of first dates. Law of large numbers.
  • Introduce yourself to new people.
  • Before dinner, write down tomorrow’s priority list.
  • Restrict your tv time. Or substitute tv time for your most potent distraction. For me that’s Twitter. Here are some practical ways to reduce screen time.
  • For young people, ask people you admire in your area for coffee once, twice, or a few times a month. Email is another option. The likelihood of a positive response in both scenarios is probably higher than you expect.

Finances

  • Negotiate your salary.
  • Practice making money online. For a fun place to start, try PredictIt.
  • Contribute early and often to your IRA/401(k).
  • Invest as you’re able to. (Would welcome reading suggestions in the comments).
  • Save a predetermined percentage from each paycheck.
  • Pay off your credit cards monthly.

Health

  • Sleep 8 hours or more each night. Limiting your blue light exposure after sunset can also improve your sleep quality.
  • Try not to use your cell phone in bed. You can also go even further, and put away your phone 30 minutes, an hour, or even two hours before bedtime.
  • Increase your water consumption, and whenever possible, drink it to the exclusion of everything else.
  • Reduce your sugar, carb, and processed food intake.
  • One way you can do this is by bringing your lunch from home to work rather than ordering take out. Added bonus: saving money.
  • When you do eat out, choose the healthier options.
  • When grocery shopping, check the ingredients of what you’re buying. Try to avoid processed foods with numerous and complicated ingredients.
  • Take the stairs if and when you can. If you live in a fairly walkable area, walk everywhere within a mile.
  • Don’t overeat — stop just before you’re full.
  • If you can, try intermittent fasting at least once a week.
  • Exercise daily. Try exercises that you enjoy, otherwise it’s unlikely that you’ll stick with them.
  • Incorporate resistance weight-training into your routine.
  • Floss!

I’ll admit, some of these steps are easier to implement than others, but none are impossible. After a few (dozen? hundred? thousand?) bites, you just might finish that elephant.