There’s a simple story by the late Stephen Covey that talks about rocks. All kinds of rocks, from the big ones to the small ones to the fine grains of sand that perhaps were once larger rocks, too.
During the tale, Covey explains the idea through the lens of a professor who creates a visual representation for his students.
He first places a glass container on the table and fills it with big, fist-sized rocks to the brim. Ok, is it full? he would ask, looking at the container then up to the students.
Their initial reply was, Yes!
The professor pulls out another vessel of gravel-sized rocks and trickles them into the container, working those smaller rocks into the cracks and crevices of the big rocks.
Is it full?
Probably not. One of the skeptical students was onto him.
Good! The professor knew they were catching on.
He then pulls out a vessel of sand, and once again fills the primary container with more substance. The sand works its way through the smaller gravel pieces and then around the big rocks. From anyone’s perspective, it now seems quite full.
By this time the class caught on, and upon asking once more, they shout: No!
In one last attempt to illustrate his point, the professor pours water, ever so carefully, through the sand, between the gravel, and around the big rocks. Finally, the container was full of everything. Big, small, granular, and even liquid.
Right to the brim.
What I love about this tale is that it forces us to reflect on what our own big rocks of life have become. And, perhaps, what we’d prefer them to be.
As I stare out the window, the wind has already started carrying fall’s leaves to their final destination. The colors are mid-shift and there’s an air of definitive change upon us. A new season is moving in; a new year nearly here.
To reflect on the lion’s share of the year in this moment is not only of benefit, but of great importance. To give self-review; to analyze and to better understand the wins and the losses, can only prepare us better for what is to come next.
What are the grains of sand in your life? The grains that take your time and energy in unfulfilling ways. Perhaps it’s the prevalence with which you must check social networks, or your reliance on thereof. Maybe it’s the unconscious decision to say Yes all too often, or an unsettling feeling from a relationship gone south.
We’re constantly in control of where our energies are placed and where time is spent, both in the physical world but also in our minds. Most of us are in a constant struggle to realize, too, that we can steer the mental ship just the same.
Something I’m very thankful for is the ability to take a step back and look at where my own time and energy is spent. Consistently focusing and re-focusing on the big rocks that make themselves clear as time passes by. This feels good, this feels awkward, this feels terrible. Rinse and repeat. Note and take note again.
The big rocks are the important bits that make up your every day. They energize and inspire. They cause moments of pause and thanks. They spawn action and excite us to do more. They don’t dismantle and take away from our sense of self.
What are those big rocks for you?
My rocks have changed slightly in the last year, but many of them remain the same, if not some yielding greater importance. In no particular order, I’ve decided my big rocks are:
- Family and friends: A sense of “community” wherever my day takes me
- Health and wellness: Focusing on fitness outlets and taking in quality food
- Business: Growth and exciting opportunities for our team
- My partner: Exploration and challenge surrounding love with my beautiful lady
- Japanese studies: Swallowing self-doubt and digging deeper into ひらがな
- Spirituality: Self-study, consciousness, reflectiveness
When I view my list I get excited (Hey, I made a list!) but the fact is, the list doesn’t matter unless I make the time for these things—before the gravel, before the sand, before the water—to allow them to impact my life.
This isn’t easy, and I’m not here to tell you it is. But it is important, and it is a path to personal health. First, in understanding what your big rocks are, and second, knowing how you’ll sincerely make those your priorities.
If this seems whimsical or overwhelming, I invite you to pull a page from the zero fucks handbook and just go for it. Warning: you might radically change who you are. You may lose a few friends. You may be happier than you’ve ever been before.
But in the end, wouldn’t it feel nice to be right where you wanted to be with what’s important? When all’s said and done, no one will be able to fault you for going after what you define as happiness. We see it time and time again.
This season—as the wind picks up and the air begins to carry the scent of a wood stove somewhere in the distance—catch yourself, then align with yourself what is important and grab hold of the big rocks in your life.
And for everyones’ sake, stop trying to hold a fistful of sand.