Many of you have likely seen this video based on Steven Covey’s “The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fmV0gXpXwDU - skip to 0.54 to pass by the advert). It is not a long video and what I love about it is its simplicity. It makes so much more sense to plan with a whole project, or a whole day…your whole life in mind, rather then taking everything as it comes (because that’s when things stop fitting in the jar). Every time I use this video with a client who hasn’t seen it before I get the same response “Why don’t they teach this stuff in high school?!”. What this video demonstrates is how to ensure that the important things in your project, in your day or in your life get the time and attention they deserve…and how doing that can allow the little things to be attended to too. Looking at it from a business context this video inspires “right action” to get things done via awareness and planning; on a personal level it is really about mindfulness, because only when we know what is important can we attend to it in a wholehearted way. It begs the question; do you know what your “big rocks” are?
It is impossible to plan for them if you do not know what they are. On the surface this looks easy – big rocks are the things that have to be done by the end of the day no matter what, like pre-planned deadlines and commitments. But are they really “big rocks”? The daily swirl of activity and busyness prevents us from seeing what are the most important things we should be giving our time to, like the quality of the time we spend with others and what we do for our own well being and health. How many times have you traded going to bed at a decent hour for something else that “had” to be done? Or on something frivolous, like watching “guilty pleasure” television because all the other parts of your day were so filled with commitments this is the only time you can do something for yourself (even if it is watching re-runs of re-runs)? How many times have we snapped at the people we love/respect because we are on a deadline or over-subscribed with commitments? How many of us have given up hobbies that gave us pleasure and fulfillment to meet the needs of others? Consider the concept of “big rocks” within the context of your whole life. What would your big rocks be? What would they give you if you made room for them? If you are having trouble seeing them, you are not alone, but without being curious about them and planning for them you will always be pushed and pulled about by circumstance and feel frustrated because this is not quite the life you envisioned, professionally or personally. Leverage that frustration – it points to an (as yet unvoiced) alternate vision, one where you get closer to understanding your “big rocks”…frustration is only present when there is an alternate vision (however unformed it may be), sit with that feeling for a while, paying attention to it is how you get to what is important.
But it isn’t just about big rocks is it? I’d love to tell you that it is, but there is something else we need to be aware of as we plan our bright futures, and big rocks are only half of the equation. The other half is about interdependent conditions. Our life is full of interdependent conditions, those circumstances that lead us to constantly make priority calls and decisions about what gets our attention. The beauty of the big rocks video is it tackles one of the biggest interdependent conditions in life…time. The jar is time; you have a finite amount of it in an hour, a day, in a week. Time is constant for everyone and it marches along without caring if we are ready for it’s advance or not. Time is a great example of an interdependent condition. As Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote in his book Full Catastrophe Living we each “only have moments to live”. Life is full of them, how aware are we of most of them? If you feel like you are careening from one thing to the next, to the next, until you lie in bed exhausted each night, you are likely not getting that much out of the millions of moments in your life. What quality is present in your life? Not in terms of what you produce, but in terms of what you experience. What quality would you like to have present in your life?
The answer to the time conundrum is usually “just until this project is wrapped up”… or something similar. We often knowingly trading quality for quantity…but do so without paying attention to the outcomes of that trade. The rational here is simple, nothing in life is forever and it is easy to point to some beautiful, as yet unmarred future vision where everything falls into place and the big rocks and interdependent conditions magically sort themselves out. Possibly because we tell ourselves “I am a good person” and it is the kind of thing that is “just supposed to happen” according to the mythology of raging optimists and others who are completely in denial about the interdependent conditions at play in life and the impact of the quality of our experience (both in moments and over time). Humans are creatures of habit, if we habitually take on more responsibility then we really have time for (at least within the context of life and fitting in everything that is important) there is nothing stopping us from doing it again, and again, as it’s always worked out in the past and we will keep telling ourselves it is “just until…”. This is part of our autopilot conditioning and if you can see yourself in this example then you are likely paying no more attention to your big rocks then you are to the moments in your day. Or maybe you have found a way to fit it all in, but are enjoying none of it.
This comes as a surprise to many. Planning to get personal time (for fitness or a hobby) along with family needs and work commitments all packaged into a day is a miracle! One that many people perform on a daily basis. But are you enjoying any of it? Or are your days so chock-full of responsibility that nothing is soaked in, enjoyed or treasured? Responsibility is another interdependent condition and if we are not careful it pulverizes big rocks (those things that give us fulfillment and well being through experiencing them, or achieving them) into pebbles and sand. Poof! Feeling trapped or overwhelmed, especially if it is consistent (even persistent) is a good indication that the interdependent conditions in life have taken over your big rocks. Interdependent conditions are ever present, and they take many forms. They can be something as easily understood as the finiteness of time, and as complex as your current level of maturity on a given topic in life (road rage anyone?). Or the developmental stage your children are at (you having to dress them, versus them dressing themselves – makes a difference in the mornings doesn’t it?). From workplace attitudes on risk-taking to the weather, interdependent conditions are all around us, some we control, many we don’t.
Awareness of both what is important in our lives (big rocks) as well as the context in which we are living (interdependent conditions) is key to being able to plan for the right things in life, meeting them with right action. There is an analogy here – in sailing it is about being very aware of what is happening around you moment-by-moment, using what you learn to make small adjustments to your sail, subtle course corrections to parry the wind or whatever force is at play, allowing you to maintain your course. Such is life, which is why it is important to know what your big rocks are and be able to realistically plan for them in an ocean of interdependent conditions. There is a great quote from Publilius Cyrus “Anyone can hold the helm while the sea is calm”. Life is rarely calm; life is supposed to be about constant re-adjustment and re-alignment, but if you don’t know what is important, you’ll never get it. Another quote to think about; “A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor” - know we each get better at this with experience and time…but put the big rocks in first.