“Move the big rock”

At first glance, it looks suspiciously like a vague Buddhist proverb, or mis-translated Kung Fu movie, or Native American nugget of wisdom shared only while smoking a peace pipe at a crackling fire.

Nope. That brutally simple piece of advice came from a sales coach. Yep, a stoic, suited, ultra-professional sales guy.

So, I’ve been obsessing lately about this funky idea of unearthing great wisdom from unconventional places. Specifically, people (me included) seem to tell ourselves to seek advice and support in a linear fashion.

Want to lose weight. Seek out a fitness trainer. Study fitness.
Want to write better. Seek out a writing coach. Study good writers.
Want to get comfortable speaking to large groups of people. Seek out a presentation coach. Study TED Talks.
Want to argue less with your kids and spouse. Seek out a Marriage and Family Therapist. Study communication techniques.

You get the idea. And it makes complete sense. Want to solve a problem? Find an expert at solving that particular flavor of problem, and immerse yourself in the topic. Make the changes. Oila!

Here’s the flaw in that reasoning – problems are *not* linear in nature. Our happiness-obstacles are cemented together in oddly-shaped lumps, and the uncomfortable habits that make those rocks so heavy are rooted in strange, hard to reach places. They intertangle with other problems that compound if unaddressed. Think of it like your Christmas box. Christmas tree lights in a tangled mess, little ornament hooks stuck in that lump as well, some unwrapped, sticky candy canes meant for decoration that some drunk idiot (Nate circa 2007) licked for a quick sugar rush. Do you need a master untangler? An expert hook remover? A deep cleaner? A dumpster? All of the above? Some of the above? None of the above?

Instead of trying to solve that emotional calculus problem, I’ve opted for the unapologetically human, non-linear approach.

Here’s a recent example: How did I lose – and keep off – 37-pounds over the past year and a half?

First, my autistic daughter needed a radical change in diet (gluten free), so the food I bought simplified greatly. Then, my belly started hating me for eating greasy and spicy foods to the point where I’d (unwillingly) throw up my favorite meals. Then while studying office productivity, I learned the importance of *measurement* of progress, so I bought a scale. Then a photographer showed me the importance of environment, so I moved the scale next to my front door. I became lonely, so I started producing dances and seeing pictures of my pooch on full display. Then I fell in love with a wonderful woman who’s a brilliant nutritionist and pilates trainer. And she filled in all the gaps. Water. Sleep. Injury-free exercise.Walking. Oh, and more dancing ;^)

Everytime I tried a direct approach – calling a fitness trainer, who recommends “get a smaller plate”, or studied paleo diets and body weight workout routines – the change never stuck. However, the “scenic route” led to permanent change.

Another example: When I was seeking out direct advice on selling to medium-sized organizations, I called up the aforementioned sales mentor. He reminded me that I still need to find my “big rock” and move that first. At the time, my big rock was accepting the fact that my small-biz flavored services just weren’t adequately effective in larger organizations.

Did I work on moving that big rock? Nope.

Instead I applied that concept to solve my erratic moods, performance and overall happiness. After moving medium-sized rocks I thought were big (e.g. budgeting), I stubbed my toe on THE big rock: my Netflix addiction. Late night marathon TV binges were destroying my sleep, my mood, my career and also my family. I moved that rock eventually – got rid of my TV, removed the app from my phone, installed and app to keep me from reinstalling the app. Took a few years, but I eventually broke that boulder into small enough pieces to smuggle them out of the prison cell I’d built for myself – Andy Dufresne-style (he’s the guy in Shawshank Redemption).

Did I ever move that business rock? Sure did. But I had to talk to that fitness trainer (the one I fell in love with) first. My old man knees were getting worse and I wanted to find out why. She patiently explained the critical nature of core strength, and a crash course in stretching complementary muscle groups.

Did I work on that big rock? Nope.

Instead of doing more sit ups and hitting the foam roller, I looked at my business problems through that lens and realized my core business strengths was laughably atrophied. I needed to  grow stronger. That meant more reps of selling, writing and training. My service set became strong enough to go after bigger businesses.

Now that the business rock is manageable, I’ve just started tackling actual core workouts, foam roller rituals, intentional recovery, etc… for my old man knees.

Ok, ok, I suppose we are overdue for the ‘big reveal’ a.k.a. The Point.

1) Rocks are rocks. They don’t care what category they belong to – bad habits, toxic relationships, unhealthy diets, whatever.
2) Rocks are heavy. And the biggest rocks in our lives are likely so heavy that we aren’t strong enough to move them … yet. But if we find the bigger rocks blocking our progress, we will grow increasingly strong enough to move the bigger ones, and so on, so forth.
3) You NEED help to move those rocks. Otherwise, you would have kicked them aside years ago.

Admittedly, I wish the direct route led to stickier change in my own life. It would help me find peace and happiness that much faster. In my case, embracing the detours, examining radically – and seemingly unrelated – perspectives, and patchworking advice and insights, has helped me overcome countless scary large obstacles. I’d like to think that, in time, I’ll learn to practice this form of self-improvement cross training with more deliberate, intentional focus.

Photo Credit: South Dakota Apologetics

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