Put The Big Stuff In First

put in the big stuff first

An Ukrainian folktale called The Mitten relates the story of a lost mitten and a bear. The children in my class enjoyed this story, and they even turned it into a play. There are various versions of this story, and one goes something like this:

One day a bear takes a walk in the woods when it starts to snow. The bear can’t get back to his cave before darkness falls. Fortunately the bear finds a mitten and crawls into the mitten to snuggle for the night.

In a few minutes the bear is disturbed by a fox asking to join him. The bear reluctantly lets the fox inside the mitten. Soon after, a goat asks to enter. Next comes a porcupine. A rabbit. A turtle. A mouse. All the animals manage to squeeze into the mitten and are drifting off to sleep when the voice of an ant enters the mitten. ”May I please come in from the cold?”

The animals in the cramped mitten look at the shivering ant and say, ”Come in.”

The ant crawls in. The mitten explodes, torn to pieces.

Stephen Covey on his The Eighth Habit DVD has a chapter called Big Rocks. During a workshop, Covey asks a participant to fit several rocks into a transparent tub already three-quarters filled with green pebbles. The big rocks represent the important activities in our lives–family, friends, work, vacations, education and more. After several minutes of diligent effort to get the rocks into the tub, Covey suggests looking at the problem in a different way and offers the use of a second tub. When the participant places the big rocks in the tub first and pours the pebbles in last, everything fits.

A mitten. A tub. A bear. Some rocks.

If we put the big stuff, the activities that enrich our life the most, in first, somehow it will all fit, and we’ll find space for little pleasantries also.

When we do it right, it’s not huge issues that cause our lives to go all to pieces; it’s little ants that ruin our picnic, or pretty pebbles that fill up the bucket, leaving no room for vital tasks.

Put the big stuff in first. Determine what are the most important activities and tasks in your life, and base your decisions on these priorities. When we put the big rocks first, we find it easy to say ”yes” to the important and ”no” to the nonessential tasks that interrupt us.

When we put the big stuff first, we have opportunities to use our power of choice, clear principles and our innate intelligence to create our lives.

When we use our imaginations, even a bear can fit inside a lost mitten, and our lives in a bit of eternity.

4 Responses to “Put The Big Stuff In First”

  1. Beautiful way to picture the importance of the important. Thank you for the inspiration,

  2. As a Ukrainian, I’m just pleased to see that our simple tale, which I’ve known since my early childhood, can be used to illustrate important life lessons. Thank you.


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