Big Rocks

What are your big rocks

There’s this thing my mom used to always tell me, so much so over the years that it’s drilled into my head. “Take care of your big rocks.” she’d always say. She illustrated what she meant one day by setting a jar, some larger rocks, gravel, sand, and water on the table. It ended up being quite a lot of stuff. She asked me if it was possible to fit everything in the jar. I wasn’t sure if it was possible.

She put the gravel in first and that took up almost half the jar only leaving enough for half of the large rocks. Then she took everything out and started over. This time starting with the largest rocks, then the gravel, then sand, and finally water. Amazingly it all fit, by putting the largest things in first, the small things were able to fill up the spaces around the larger items. She explained that the lesson here is that if you prioritize the most important things in life first, your health, relationships, saving for the future, etc. the other things will fall into place. (Aside from universal things like the various aspects of your health you can choose what your big rocks are.) The big rocks are going to be the big cornerstones of your life. Be intentional about how you decide what yours are.

How to make easy and fast progress

Of the hundreds of things we do each day or throughout a given week, there’s only a handful that really give us the results we want. This effect is called the Pareto principle, better known as the 80-20 principle. The principle says that 80% of your results come from 20% of your actions. This 80-20 split holds up pretty well, no matter the scenario. When you consider a goal and the results associated with achieving that goal, you can make some pretty smart decisions around how you approach reaching the goal. 

Consider the seemingly continual goal of many to “get in shape”. The majority of people will tell you that they do want to be in better shape, however they choose to define it. Why aren’t they in “good shape” already if that’s their goal? The answers are simple and I’m sure you are thinking of at least one or two of them already. 

  • Most likely the amount and quality of the food they eat is inconsistent with their goal
  • Another issue is the amount of their activity – both exercise and non-exercise activity

On an individual basis there might be more specific issues but generally these two things are going to be the 20% causing 80% of the problem. Too much food and not enough activity. By focusing on those 2 areas most people will start to see the results they are working to achieve. It can be easy to get bogged down in the weeds when you start looking at how to make these changes (i.e. should I join Crossfit or go to my local big box gym?, Should I cut my calories by 500 or 700 Calories per day?) Instead of worrying about the details just start and start simple. For your first action take the next logical step towards your goal. If you’re not exercising regularly, instead of killing yourself at crossfit 5 times per week, start by going on a 10-20 minute walk every day. If you feel that you are eating too much food, start by reducing the highly processed foods you consume or reducing added sugar. 

Action is key

In a world with any information just one search away, too often we get so focused on optimizing every action that we lose focus of the original purpose for that action and after considering the hundreds of options we don’t do anything because we are fatigued from just considering the possible options. General Patton once said: “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” The key to getting where you want is action. Don’t get caught in the weeds.

Most results that people are trying to achieve in their lives aren’t complicated. Lose some weight, add some of muscle, have enough saved for retirement, spend more time with my friends. These are all simple to achieve: Eat less move more, lift heavy weights, save money every month, schedule a time and stick to it. It takes one step, repeated over time to produce the desired result. These things done consistently, over stretches of time will make someone lean, strong, wealthy, and happy. 

When you combine the 80-20 principle and the fact that most big rock endeavors are simple but not necessarily easy, achieving the success you want, however you define it, becomes very clear. The next action is obvious. Instead of examining the effects of cooking with olive oil vs. avocado oil, you know your time is better spent eating less ultra processed foods because it will make a bigger difference for you and will help move you towards the goal. If you are consistently not eating processed foods and have been for over a year, maybe now the change that will produce the largest effect is determining which oil you should cook with. 

The key to making the changes you want in your life is to accept that it’s a process that needs to be done step by step over time. The smartest way to go about that is to make your big rocks the same things that will be part of the 80-20 in reaching that result. 

Ultimately any step towards a goal is progress so if you have a goal that you aren’t sure what the best way to achieve the result is, just go off of what makes the most sense as the next step for you. Action always beats planning or indecision.

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