Fitting the Big Rocks in Your Jar

In his book, First Things First, Stephen Covey shares the story of attending a seminar where the instructor set down a wide-mouth gallon jar on a table next to some fist-sized rocks.

“‘How many of these rocks do you think we can get in the jar?’ he asked.

The students made several guesses. The instructor proceeded to fill the jar with the rocks until it looked like it was full. He asked the class, ‘Is this jar full?’ Everyone agreed that it was indeed full.

He then reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel and dumped it into the jar. The gravel went in between all the little places left by the big rocks.

Then he grinned and again asked, ‘Is the jar full?’ By this time, the class was on to him. ‘Probably not,’ several of the students said.

‘Good!’ he replied. He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand and poured it into the jar. It went into all the spaces left by the big rocks and the gravel. Again, he asked the class, ‘Is this jar full?’ ‘No,’ the class shouted.

He said, ‘Good!’ He then grabbed a pitcher of water and poured almost a quart of water into the jar. Then he said, ‘What’s the point?’

Someone said, ‘If you really work at it, you can always squeeze more stuff into your life.’

‘No,’ the instructor responded. ‘That’s not the point. The point is this: if you hadn’t put these big rocks in first, would you ever have gotten any of them in?’”

Unfortunately, this wisdom is often earned after filling your jar with everything but the big rocks under the guise of “someday.” So how exactly do you get all of that other stuff out of your jar so that you can fit your big rocks in?

1. Measure the big rocks that you want to squeeze in your jar.

Those big rocks are heavy and if you’re going to go to the work of partially emptying your jar to fit one in, the mere thought of accomplishing the goal better make you excited enough to dig in right away. Visualize your goal being accomplished and how it would impact your life. If you have several goals that you want to fit in, prioritize them so that you can focus your efforts.

2. Assess what you will need to scoop out to make room.

You need to identify what’s standing in the way of your goals that you are willing to sacrifice. There’s a reason that “stuff” got put in your jar in the first place. Perhaps you took a tedious job so that you could afford a big house. Maybe your “sand” is all that busywork that keeps you sufficiently distracted from your real plans. What are you excited to throw out? What are you willing to sacrifice in the process?

3. Sharpen your shovel and recruit diggers. 

If your jar is packed pretty full after years of adding sand and gravel, you are going to need to practice new skills and dig hard for awhile before you can fit that big rock in. Get your support team on board, whether its your spouse or a friend. Give them permission to hold you accountable to making some changes. Study your habits and routines and begin replacing anything and everything that isn’t important to you with action toward your goal.

4. Start dumping.

An empty jar is the last thing anyone wants. It’s lonely and, well, empty. Many of us threw crap in our jars early on just so that we would have some stuff to cling to. There’s probably a lot of muck in your jar that seemed to add meaning to your life, but is actually just taking up your time, energy, and space. This sand often takes the shape of a Lexus, frequent restaurant outings, a giant camping trailer, 4000+ cable television channels, and other expensive stuff that doesn’t actually add value to our lives. Ruthlessly dump this muck and don’t look back!

5. Be proud of your jar. 

We are all self-conscious of our jars. Most jars are full of crud, but they have fancy lids or are set way up on a hill overlooking the valley. Many jars are full of shiny rocks, but if you look closely there are tiny ropes tied around them that lead back to lenders who would be happy to loan you a shiny rock, too. As you throw off any of your own parasitic rocks and chuck out the dirt that others cling to, you will get some weird looks. Be proud of your jar and the rocks that you have selected. Your jar should never look like someone else’s.

What muck could you clear out of your life to make room for an exciting new rock?

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