Posts Tagged ‘gardening – a metaphor for life’

I am a Gardener. For some people, that may not seem significant that is unless you look at the size of our gardens. A large amount of summertime energy is dedicated to trimming, planting, weeding, grooming and creating, so much so that we rarely choose to travel in this season. Those who visit our home frequently ask us for the name of our gardeners at which point Jim and I simply share that they are looking at them and no, we don’t want any gardening contracts.

Despite the work involved in this rather large project, the garden is a source of many lessons. The most significant of these lessons is what I call, ‘three feet at a time’. This lesson first appeared in 2002 when Jim and I began construction of the Garden Labyrinth.

A labyrinth, in case you are wondering, is in the ‘maze’ family however, designed to lead you in and out without getting lost. It has been used by different cultures to represent a pilgrimage, for walking meditation and for community building. Our labyrinth is 40 feet in diameter, a gravel path separated by gardens filled with thyme and lavender.

Back to the building process; on day one I walked into the back yard where Jim had marked the pathway in the lawn. As I examined the size and the scope of my work for the week, creating the border garden, I felt myself in a state of overwhelm. A few unmentionable expletives erupted from my lips. Panic set in. Where upon Jim appeared with a yard stick, set it down in front of me and gave me the following instruction, “Place the yard stick down, mark off the first three feet, dig up the grass, till and add fresh soil. Pick up the yard stick, mark off the next three feet, repeat. Do not look up; keep moving forward three feet at a time until you are finished.” Four days later I looked up and realized I had completed my assignment.

Three feet at a time comes up every time we begin a new garden project, this year creating a shady glen at one corner of the property where scrappy grass, weeds, moss and wild violets needed to be cleared first. As I looked at the scope of the project, I reached for the yard stick and marked off the first three feet. It works every time.

I actually use this lesson over and over again in all aspects of life. As someone who tends to see the big picture before the individual parts, I can easily get lost in overwhelm. You may notice yourself in this zone as well. Overwhelm can lead to procrastination, a sense of being stalled or send you off in a tail spin.

The principle of three feet at a time can pull you out of both spinning and stalling every time. The idea of three feet is to break down the whole into chewable chunks, those bits which you know you can take on now and which when added together, lead you to accomplishing the whole. Along the way you get to experience a whole bunch of little successes, points in time where you can derive a sense of satisfaction for accomplishing the first steps of the whole. And this builds your sense of accomplishment and your self-esteem.

Much of my coaching practice is dedicated to helping people break down the overwhelming into chewable chunks. For some people it comes naturally. Not so for others. Here are a few suggestions for applying the three feet at a time principle:

1)    Name the project and the outcome you wish to achieve. Visualize it and make it as real as you can.

2)   Work backwards and look at what steps you need to accomplish to get there.

3)   Take each step and ask yourself what the first three feet are. Repeat until you have a sense of what needs to be completed.

4)   Take on the first three feet. Don’t look up – keep repeating until the first chewable chunk is completed.

5)   Celebrate and acknowledge yourself for what you have accomplished.

6)   Take on the next chewable chunk and repeat the process.

7)   Always remember to celebrate each step of the way. This builds you up and fuels the fire to continue.

The Glen - a plce for energizing and reflection

The Glen – a place for energizing and reflection

                  Final Word

I have been very grateful for the garden lessons I have learned and how they have leaked into other aspects of my life. I enjoy resting my head on the pillow at night and reviewing the day behind me and feeling grateful for each three-foot section I have accomplished. While three feet at a time may seem simplistic, trust me, it is a valid and powerful strategy. Are you ready to tackle your life three feet at a time?

Until next time…


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