Have you ever heard the story about the teacher and his empty glass jar?
I heard it once before but was reminded of it again when I stumbled upon it in a book I was reading over the Christmas holidays, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
The lesson contained within is so beautifully simple, yet so powerful.
As January approached and I naturally started thinking about my intentions for the New Year ahead, I started thinking more about this story and how it would serve as the perfect template for prioritizing my 2015 goals and plans.
And so that’s what I did.
More on that in a minute but first – the story!
There are different versions floating around, but I like the way this one is told the best. Either way the moral remains the same, as the rest is really just details!
I took this (slightly revised) excerpt directly from The Authentic Life by Ezra Bayda.
A Zen teacher stood before his students with a very large and empty glass jar.
He wordlessly picked up some round stones around the size of small plums and proceeded to fill the jar with them. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
The teacher then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the stones. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They said yes.
Next the teacher picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students unanimously agreed. The teacher then produced a glass of water and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.
“Now”, said the teacher, “I want you to recognize this jar represents your life. The stones are the important things – the aspiration to realize your true nature, the wish to live more authentically, the perseverance and commitment to cultivate presence, gratitude, and kindness – and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.
The pebbles are the other things that matter, such as your health, your relationships, and perhaps your job. The sand is everything else – the small stuff, including your house, your car, and your possessions.
If you put the sand into the jar first, there is no room for the stones or the pebbles. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are important for your genuine happiness. Take care of the things that really matter first. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”
One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the water represented. The teacher smiled and said, “I’m glad you asked. The water just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a little more practice, to make your life even fuller.”
So…are you spending your time on the things that matter most to you, or are you focusing all of your energy on the small stuff?
Put this exercise to the test!
It takes as little as 5-10 minutes.
Grab a pencil and paper and start by creating 3 columns with the headings: Stones, Pebbles, and Sand.
Then go ahead and fill them in.
Remember that your “stones” are the areas that are most important to you, followed by “pebbles”, and lastly the “sand”.
There are no right answers. Your priorities are your own!
This is a great exercise to see if you are truly committed to what you say is most important to you.
Are your actions in alignment with what you say you value most in life?
For example, maybe you really want to launch that online business you’ve been dreaming up, yet you spend every night after work watching TV or surfing Facebook.
Or maybe you say your health is most important, yet every day you grab fast-food because you didn’t take the time to pack a healthy lunch the night before.
Or maybe you say you want to cultivate more meaningful relationships with your girlfriends yet you never pick up the phone to call them to see how they are really doing – instead relying on constant texting with no real connection.
Or maybe you really want to cultivate more presence in your life and commit to a daily meditation practice before your workday, yet each and every morning hitting snooze on your alarm clock is much more desirable to you.
When you’re completing this exercise you might first consider your big-picture life priorities, but you can also use this template to zoom in on any specific area of your life that matters to you, such as your health, relationships, spiritual practice or career goals, and fill out the 3 columns pertaining only to that one area.
For example, in addition to prioritizing my big-picture goals I also used it to prioritize my 2015 work and business goals so that I could get a clear idea of how I should be prioritizing my time and efforts if I want to accomplish certain larger projects this year that are important to me.
See I know it’s all too easy to get consumed by the smaller to-dos that if you’re not careful, you never get around to putting a dent in the big-picture goals you want to accomplish. And even if the small things still need to get done at some point, I know it’s still important to prioritize my time accordingly to ensure that the most important stuff takes precedence.
This exercise is a great eye-opener, and even if you don’t complete it in writing you can still take the concept with you throughout the day to serve as a reminder to bring you back to what’s truly important when you find yourself losing focus.
As you lie in bed at night you might reflect back on how you spent your day, week or month.
Did you spend time cultivating the areas that are most important to you?
If not, what needs to shift?
Share your thoughts with me in the comments below!
What areas do you want to spend more time focusing your energy on in 2015?
Lots of love,