How many times have you said, “there just isn’t enough time in the day to do the things I really want to do”? We often get so caught up in “life” that we forget to make time for what’s really important to us. Just this morning, as I said those very words, I was reminded of the golf ball story, that I had read not too long ago. The first chapter of The Now Effect by Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D., titled “The Wisdom in Golf Balls“, starts out with this short story:
A professor stood before a philosophy class holding an empty jar. As the students took their seats, she began filling the jar with golf balls. When they reached the top, she asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. The professor then took a bag of pebbles and poured them into the jar, and they made their way into the spaces between the golf balls.
Again she asked the students if the jar was full, and they agreed that it was.
But the professor had another trick up her sleeve. She brought out a bag of sand and proceeded to pour the grains into the jar, filling up more of the remaining space. Again the question came: “It’s full now, correct?” The answer was a resounding “Yes.”
The professor then took a sip of her coffee and dumped the rest into the jar, filling up spaces that no one thought were there.
“So what does it mean?” the professor asked.
A witty student raised his own coffee mug and asked, “There’s always room for coffee?”
The professor, along with the rest of the class, had a good laugh. Then she said, “Imagine that this jar represents the space in your life. The golf balls represent what’s most important — family, children, health, friends, things that you’re passionate about — the things that at the end of your life you would be glad you paid attention to.
“The pebbles are essential but less important, such as your house, your car, maybe your job.
“The sand is all of the small stuff in life that we’re trying not to sweat.
“The coffee, well, you already answered that one. There is always room for a cup of coffee with a friend.”
The professor continued, “There is room for all of this only if you put the golf balls in first. If you put the sand or pebbles in first, there won’t be room for the golf balls. The way we pay attention to our lives works the same way. If you spend your attention or mental space sweating the small stuff in life, you won’t have the capacity to pay attention to what is most important to you.”
It is a great exercise to do every now and then. Ask yourself: what are the “golf balls” in your life, the things that really matter? At the end of the chapter, Dr. Goldstein recommends a “Now Moment” practice to help us identify and remind us of what truly matters in our life.
Find a jar and some golf ball or nice stones. Label each golf ball or stone with something that really matters in your life. If you don’t have a physical jar and golf balls or stones, you can draw a picture of a jar on a piece of paper along with golf balls. Actions speak louder than words, so check to see where in your life you’re bringing action to your values. maybe you’re taking your partner out to dinner, responding to people and yourself with greater kindness and compassion, being less judgmental, playing games with your kids, getting back into exercise or yoga, or spending time in meditation.
Now put that jar in a prominent place somewhere in your home or office where you can’t miss looking at it. Every time you intentionally look at the jar, your mind is likely to incline towards what truly matters. As you do this, you prime your mind to respond to those values during the spaces of your life.
What are the things that truly matter to you?