Eating an Elephant

  • Published
  • By Col. James W. Barber
  • 42nd Medical Support Squadron commander
Ok, I'll admit two of the things I love most in life are fitness and money. Not necessarily in that order, but they both are high on my list. Unfortunately it seems they are also the hardest to attain. They share many commonalities, but one thing is certain, you can't just wake up one morning and be fit, and unless you're a lottery winner, you can't become financially secure on one day's savings.

The Air Force requires us to be both physically and fiscally fit, so my goals match nicely with my employer. That has not always been the case, so I developed a plan to achieve both over time. This may seem like a daunting task to some, but an analogy I like to use is, how do you eat an elephant? The answer - one bite at a time. By establishing small goals early on to achieve your larger fitness and financial goals, you slowly chip away at what seems an overwhelming task.

Let's look at fitness first. How many people do you know that can complete a marathon or Ironman distance race with zero training? Better yet, how many can maximize the new Air Force fitness requirements with absolutely no workout plan? Some of us are blessed with great genes and may be able to complete both with little training, but the majority of us are stuck creating a plan, watching what we eat, and working out on a continuous basis. The key is to start small. If the run is the challenge in the PT test, try working some walk segments into your run. Run for a couple of minutes then walk a minute to recover. If diet is the issue, try reducing caloric intake slowly over the course of couple of weeks. If your issue is push-ups or sit-ups, try to add one more each day to your workout. The main theme is start slow but be consistent. Remember, as someone once said, "Winners train and losers complain." Over time your body will adapt, and that 3-mile run you dreaded a month ago is now the warm-up for the 5-mile run you now enjoy.

If achieving a high level of fitness is a test, then becoming financially fit can be a doctorate dissertation. In today's "got to have it now" environment, there are too many temptations to list that drive us away from our financial goals. Would you rather save for a rainy day or purchase the latest cell phone? See what I mean? Getting started is the hardest part. The good news is you don't have to start with a significant sum of money to reach your goals. Let's start with $25. I bet you spent over $25 eating out last week. Instead of eating out every night, why not stash away $25 into a savings account? At a modest rate of return of 7 percent, in a month, you'll have a little more than $100, in a year you'll have $1,239, in 20 years you'll have $52,092, and in 50 years you'll have an astonishing $544,807. By skipping a few meals out and putting that money into savings, you'll have over a half million dollars in your bank account!

Olympian gold medalist Emil Zatopek stated it best, "If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon." Achieving a healthy level of fitness and striving for future financial goals should not be a sprint. It is indeed a marathon that will take time. You can't eat an elephant in a day. It takes persistence and dedication to a larger goal. Start small and work your way up. Before you know it you'll be running farther and saving more than you ever dreamed. What's for dessert? Embrace healthy eating for National Nutrition Month.