The mason jar story

07.27.18 |

At OPTAVIA Convention 2018, I shared a part of my recent thinking around the Habits of Health, and the response was so powerful that I want to share it with you here. It’s a story I heard many times growing up, and it’s about rocks, pebbles, sand, and a mason jar.

Dr.A’s version of the mason jar story

The version of the story I remember goes like this:

A teacher comes into a classroom and places a mason jar filled with rocks before the class and asks them if the jar is full. ‘Yes’ they respond. ‘Not so’ says the teacher, and he reaches for a pail of smaller pebbles. He pours them into the jar, shaking it until they fill the spaces between the rocks. He asks the class if the jar is full? ‘Yes’ they say again. ‘Not yet’, says the teacher, and he adds a scoop of sand to the jar. He tilts the jar till the sand has run all the way through the gaps to the bottom. Once again, he asks the class if the mason jar is full. The class inspects the jar. They conclude there is no more room for anything else.

Smiling the teacher grabs a pitcher of water and proceeds to fill the jar to the brim.

As he places the jar back on the desk, he explains how the jar is an analogy for our lives. The jar is your life. The rocks are the big things in your life: family, spouse, health, hopes and dreams. The pebbles are the things that give life meaning: friendships, work, hobbies. And the sand and water represent the small stuff that fills the rest of your time.

The point of the story

The point? If your fill your life with small stuff, how will you ever be able to find space for the big, important stuff? Furthermore, the big stuff can be surrounded, supported, and solidified with small specs of sand—the small daily choices you make consciously or unconsciously.

The principal lesson

I love this story for lots of reasons. Its principal lesson is the building block of the Habits of Health System. Life is a series of choices and some of them are more important than others. It’s the prioritization of those choices that creates the proper motivation that drives everything you can accomplish.

Each of these rocks, pebbles, and grains of sand have stories in their own rights—the path you take to transform your Habits of Healthy Sleep for a new rock in your mason jar, for example—but for now, I want you to think about the big picture of your life and your wellbeing. What is filling your life? Is there balance? Is your jar truly full or are their gaps and frustrations you’d like to address?

These questions are deeply personal, and everyone’s answers will be different, but taking the time to reflect on our mason jars and what they could be filled with is a powerful step forward.

Take that step today.