“There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”
Novak Djokovic, the world’s number 1 tennis player, didn’t start at that position. He was ranked 680th in the world when he first turned pro in 2004. Novak didn’t rise to third place in the world until the conclusion of his third year. In 2011, he became the world’s number one tennis player in the men’s category and has held this position for 334 weeks.
The beauty of this impressive leap in positions is seen in the percentage of game points that he wins.
In 2004, when he was at #680, he won 49% of the matches he was playing. To move to #3 in 2011, the percentage of matches won increased by only 3% to 52%. And to move to the world’s #1, his decision success rate increased to 55%.
While his feats have been remarkable, from the statistics, we can see that to make such a leap and be known as one of the greatest tennis players in the world; he only had to increase his success rate by a marginal percentage.
Another person who portrayed the effect of marginal adjustments is Benjamin Solomon Carson Sr. (Ben Carson).
Benjamin Carson was considered the dumbest student in the class. By report card day, everyone knew who was getting the last position. Today, Benjamin Carson is a retired Neurosurgeon, Author of many award-winning books, and the 17th US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
1. Understand where you are and where you want to be
Both Novak and Ben Carson understood where they were coming from. They couldn’t instantly jump from being #680 or the dumbest student to being #1 and the first in class. Instead, they accepted where they were at that moment and knew where they were going.
2. Make a marginal adjustment
Marginal adjustments are small changes that are sometimes overlooked. For Novak, he had to increase his success rate by 3%. He didn’t need to beat every player he came across.
For Ben Carson, he only had to start reading 2 books in 1 week. These small actions have significant ripple effects in the long run. To achieve your goal, break it down into more minor actions and focus on each one.
3. Never give up
Everyone, no matter how good you are, is met with failure at some point. Novak lost many of his matches in his climb, but he got back up each time and swung his racket again.
Benjamin Carson didn’t graduate top of his class at Yale University. This was after he had gotten several accolades at high school for his educational improvement. In medical school, Benjamin failed so terribly he was advised to drop out. But he didn’t give up. Instead, he continued studying harder and making marginal adjustments till he graduated.
4. Know what works for you
Different things work for different people. While many of us need to be in class to understand a course, Benjamin Carson realized he was better off studying textbooks alone. By doing so, his grades in medical school jumped from the bottom to the top. For Novak, he starts his day with Yoga. While this is unconventional, and many expect him to be swinging rackets in the court, it has transformed his game tremendously.
5. Track your progress
It’s important to know what part of your goal has been achieved and what is remaining. Regularly check in on your goals progress to see where you are and what your next step would be.
How do you eat an elephant?
Ironically, thinking big starts by doing small things. You can achieve your most ambitious goals by breaking them down into smaller actionable plans and getting better at those.
Desmond Tutu once wisely said that “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” This means that everything in life that seems overwhelming or even impossible can be accomplished gradually by taking on just a little at a time.