“Life is problems. Living is solving problems.” – Raymond E. Feist
It seems that much of our lives is driven by habit; our morning routine, the route that we drive from one place to another, the things we turn to for comfort in times of trouble. Often these habits evolve over a period of time and they do so in a very subtle way, so subtle that we don’t even notice them forming. Sometimes these habits serve us well and sometimes they undermine our best efforts without us even realizing. The same is true for what we focus our energy on; sometimes our focus drives us forward but sometimes we’re just paddling hard with one oar, keeping ourselves spinning in circles.
In last week’s post, I mentioned a story about a university professor who presents his class with a glass jar, some large rocks, some small rocks, some sand and a mug of coffee and asks them to place all the items into the jar. The students try for a while with no success and then ask the professor for the solution. The professor takes the big rocks and puts them into the jar. Then he pours in the small rocks, shaking the jar a little so that they fall between the larger ones. Lastly he takes the sand and tips it into the jar, letting it settle in between the big and small rocks until the jar is full. He explains to the class that his approach to filling the jar is an analogy for achieving balance in life. The big rocks are the really important aspects of life; your health, your family and friends. The smaller rocks are the other things in your life that matter such as your job or your hobbies and the sand is all the other “small stuff” and your material possessions. If you put the sand in the jar first then there is no room for the rocks or the pebbles. The same can be applied to your lives; if you spend all your time and energy managing the ‘small stuff” you’ll never have time to devote to what’s truly important. The students absorb the message and then one raises her hand asking, “Professor, what about the coffee?” The professor smiles, takes the mug of coffee and pours it slowly into the jar where it soaks into the sand. He looks at the class and says, “this is to prove that there is always time for a coffee with friends.”
This story is one which resonates with me and one which I come back to on a regular basis. Last week I explored how the message of the story could be applied to setting our financial priorities. This week I've been thinking about how keeping our life in balance can positively impact our finances:
The story stresses the importance of focusing on the big rocks, then the small rocks and then the sand. When you take care of what’s important first and fit everything else around those important things it’s much easier to build and maintain balance. I’ve written before about how identifying your financial motivator can be a powerful tool in keeping you on track towards achieving your goals and I believe that keeping your life priorities in order can also positively impact your financial health.
When we have financial balance we tend to have less financial stress, we’re less likely to be thrown off track by something that has been forgotten and we have time to relax and enjoy the life that we’ve created with the people who are most important to us. When our life gets thrown off balance we carry more stress, we get behind and we often feel guilty about not spending enough time with family (which adds to our stress). We tend to spend more on eating out, we work more, exercise less and treat our family to extra “stuff” to make up for the lack of quality time. All of this adds to our expenses, creating financial stress and distracting us from our financial goals. If we don’t recognize this pattern it can become a habit and before we know it we’re way off track with no real idea why.
Taking a step back every once in a while to reassess your life priorities and to take an objective look at whether you have your big rocks, small rocks and sand in order can be a powerful thing, both for your personal and your financial life. It not only allows you to make sure that your goals are in line with your priorities but it also encourages you to ensure that you’re making the time to enjoy the life you’re creating while it’s “under construction” and not delaying that enjoyment until all the work is done.
This week, why not take some time to figure out what the big rocks, small rocks and sand are in your life and check to make sure that you’re directing the bulk of your energy into taking care of what really matters and not simply what happens to be shouting the loudest. If you’d like to share your thoughts, I’d love to hear them.