“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” – Confucius

“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.” – Abraham Lincoln

There’s no such thing as the perfect system, strategy, or plan for success. I spent a long time on a quest to find it, but the more I looked, the more I realized that no single approach fit every challenge. Instead, different tactics worked for different people in different situations.

What did emerge, however, were common themes and metaphors. For instance, take the metaphor of a large stone boulder representing a big goal or accomplishment:

  • It takes time to shape or move a boulder, like any worthwhile goal.
  • When they fall unexpectedly, boulders can block the path and create new obstacles or challenges.
  • Combining boulders in the right way, over time, can create magnificent monuments.

Each of us has our boulders – those big crazy goals that we dream of accomplishing. Whether it’s a company to start, project to pitch, book to write, weight to lose, or relationship to cultivate, let’s explore a few approaches we can use to conquer the boulders in our lives.

Three Boulder-Sized Strategies For Crushing Epic Goals

A – Persevere: Keep pounding the rock.

When we’re moving towards a large goal bit-by-bit, it sometimes feels like we’re not making any progress. We put in the time and energy for long periods of time seemingly without anything to show for our efforts, and then see the latest “overnight” success on social media and wonder “why not me?”

In times like those, I like to remember the words of Jacob Riis, 19th century Social Reformer. “When nothing seems to help,” writes Riis, “I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”

Riis’s wisdom is echoed by Jim Afremow in The Champion’s Comeback and John Baldoni in Lead by Example. Both of them encourage us to “keep pounding the rock,” being willing to apply our labor and to persevere. And, as Brian Johnson adds, “no one is ‘lucky’ enough to reach any level of excellence without an equally diligent and consistent effort. So, hit the rock. Again. And again. And again. Eventually, it’ll break.”

B – Consistently: One tiny bit at a time.

In his brilliant fable, Be Unstoppable, Alden Mills presents the visual of smashing a goal with a sledgehammer and tackling it one tiny pebble at a time. It’s part of his process for Planning in 3D: define, divide, and do it daily.

  • Define: Identify a specific goal and writing it down somewhere that it will constantly be in mind.
  • Divide: Create an action plan and “divide each action into bite-size daily steps you can take to meet your goal,” he writes. “Think of it as smashing your goal with a sledgehammer in order to reduce it to small pebbles you collect every day.”
  • Do it daily: Work towards your goal every day, tackling it one small pebble at a time. “No matter how small your progress, it’s still progress.”

Mills is a fan of consistency, and of exercise (as am I). He writes:

“Going after a dream takes time, stamina, and momentum. […] You need to build a habit of executing your plan D-A-I-L-Y, your plan is only good if you can execute it. Plans are only plans until you turn them into actions, and exercise can help keep you going when you feel like giving up. I consider exercise part of executing a plan. I do it first thing every morning. It stokes my engine all day as I tackle the intricacies of executing my plans.”

C – Laterally: Approach the problem from a new perspective.

While kayaking in New Zealand’s Milford Sound, our guide told us about how early Maori settlers mined for jade, which they regarded as a treasure of immense spiritual and material value. The South Island, who’s local name, Te Wai Pounamu, loosely translates to “the water in which jade-stone dwelt,”1 has some of the highest-quality greenstone deposits in the world.

As our guide explained, occasionally jade-stone miners would come across a significant quantity of jade trapped in a large boulder. Rather than manually breaking the stone, they took advantage of the natural environment and used a less labor-intensive approach. After building a fire, they pushed the jade-filled boulder into the middle of the flames and left it there. Several days later, when the rock was very hot, they then rolled it from the fire into the frigid water of the Tasman Sea and South Pacific Ocean. The abrupt change in temperature caused the stone to fracture into smaller pieces, which they then transported home.

Sometimes we can use the environment around us, an alternative perspective, and a bit of ingenuity to approach challenges in new ways.

Putting It Into Practice: Connect To Your Why

No matter what your boulder is, you can tackle it with one, or a combination, of the strategies above.

Whatever you choose, remember to connect your efforts to the big picture. Just like the story of the three masons:2

“A man came across three masons who were working at chipping chunks of granite from large blocks. The first seemed unhappy at his job, chipping away and frequently looking at his watch. When the man asked what it was that he was doing, the first mason responded, rather curtly, ‘I’m hammering this stupid rock, and I can’t wait ’til 5 when I can go home.’

A second mason, seemingly more interested in his work, was hammering diligently and when asked what it was that he was doing, answered, ‘Well, I’m molding this block of rock so that it can be used with others to construct a wall. It’s not bad work, but I’ll sure be glad when it’s done.’

A third mason was hammering at his block fervently, taking time to stand back and admire his work. He chipped off small pieces until he was satisfied that it was the best he could do. When he was questioned about his work he stopped, gazed skyward and proudly proclaimed, ‘I…am building a cathedral!'”

Lastly, in case all of this just seems like crazy metaphors, turns out there’s a guy in India, Dashrath Manjhi, who literally spent 22 years chiseling away at the top of a mountain, by himself, to create a road connecting his tiny village to the nearby town. “Thirty feet deep and wide, three hundred and sixty feet long, there was a road where once there was only rock. The nearest hospital was now five miles away instead of fifty. The children of the village could now attend school, suddenly only a couple of miles away instead of dozens. All told, over sixty villages now had a road to the wider world.” You can read more about Dashrath here3

So, what boulder, or mountain, are you going to tackle next?

  1. http://www.kahuart.com/pounamu.html []
  2. https://bestpracticesforbusiness.com/2010/05/07/purpose-in-motivation/ []
  3. http://www.pajiba.com/pajiba_storytellers/the-man-who-literally-moved-a-mountain.php []