Metaphorically speaking, building a fire can teach a valuable lesson about motivation, confidence and how to build sustained momentum. I first made this connection while staying in a small cabin on the U.S./Canadian border with no electricity, heat, or immediate running water. Consequently, the only way to stay warm at night was to build a fire. My brother, being the impatient person that he is, tried to get the fire started by dousing the logs in gasoline and throwing a match on it. This resulted in a huge flame and a few singed eyebrows. However, after a few minutes of burning, the logs were unable to sustain the fire as it quickly went out.
If you’ve ever been in the boy scouts or Youtube’d the proper way to start a fire, you know that to have a fire successfully lit, you need to start off with small kindling that lights easily and burns long enough to warm the bottom of the fire. Eventually, this small kindling burns long enough to get the bottom of the fire hot and catches a larger log, which burns for much longer. Finally, the fire is hot enough where large logs of wood can be strategically placed to catch, and it becomes self-sustaining. As long as there is fuel added to the fire, it will continue to roar.
So how does this pertain to personal growth?
In every activity that you do, you’re building your own metaphorical fire. The best example I can provide you with is dieting. Ordinarily, from November through December a person will binge eat and drink through the holidays, resolving to lose all the weight they’re gaining and then some when January 1st rolls around. When it finally comes time for them to go on a diet, they’ll throw out the unhealthy food in their kitchen, go to the grocery store and buy rice cakes and slim fast shakes. Fast forward to January 15th, and they’re stopping off at the local fast food restaurant because they’ve eaten nothing but health food for the last two weeks and they’ve finally caved.
This conventional method of creating change in one’s life is usually doomed to fail. 92% of people fail to keep their New Year’s resolution, according to a study published by the University of Scranton Journal. Looking at this through the metaphor of the fire, the conventional plan for change never builds any sustainable elements of the fire; rather, it creates unrealistic expectations (which can be metaphorically thought of as logs), douses them in gasoline, burns hard for two weeks, and then quickly burns out.
Creating real and lasting change starts in the same way that a fire must be started:
Stage 1. Start with small kindling that burns easy
Change your mindset – Acknowledge that you are on a path, and that you will not arrive for a while. Embrace the process. Understand that without hardship, growth cannot happen. To grow, some sort of unpleasant feeling must be endured, including physical pain and/or social pressure, depending on what aspect of your life you are trying to change. Embrace the presence of these unpleasant feelings, and “get comfortable being uncomfortable”. Personally, I have begun to feel a sort of gratitude towards this struggle, because without it, I would never be able to grow. After a while, I actually began to enjoy the challenge of seeing how long I could endure suffering and proving how strong I’ve become.
Set easily accomplished goals – This road starts with small accomplishments. In a sense, you’re teaching yourself how to reach the goals you are setting for yourself. You are cultivating an internal culture of success. The best way to do this is to start easy. Accept setting goals that are realistic and only slightly challenging in the beginning. You’re starting to build your fire, and this is serving to build the small momentum.
Stage 2. Strategically place larger twigs and small logs on the fire
Challenge Yourself – Once you’ve created your internal culture of success and you are consistently showing up to whatever you are trying to better yourself at, it’s time to challenge yourself, and expand your fire. It’s still important to maintain realistic expectations, but you need to understand that as a general rule, you can probably push yourself much further than you think you can. This is where you should start to enter into the world of uncomfortable.
Accept that you will fail sometimes – Inevitably, when you start to push yourself and find your limits, there will be times when you fail to reach your goal. Sometimes, fatigue or pain will win, and you won’t reach your goals. Don’t shy away from failure. Most importantly, do not be discouraged by failure. When you’re truly pushing yourself and testing your limits, by definition, you will fail. Failure is the pathway to growth.
“Everything looks like a failure in the middle.” – Price Pritchett
Stage 3. Eventually, your fire will become self-sustaining.
If you’ve followed this process, eventually, the base of your fire will become hot enough that the only thing left to do is continue to add logs. At this time, you’ll find that it actually feels unnatural to be complacent, and you’ll want to keep challenging yourself. Essentially, you’ve built a positive-outcome habit. Aristotle is credited for saying, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” At this stage, you need to keep adding fuel to your fire, or else it will burn out. If you do not add more wood, the fire will eventually cool, and you have to begin from stage 1. In this metaphor, the fuel in your fire will be the challenges you present yourself with. For instance, if the “fire” you’ve built is running, you can set faster times or longer distances for you to run. Instead of needing to motivate yourself to do whatever activity you’d like to master, the important part is now setting goals that continue to push yourself, while embracing the plateaus that come along with this stage.
To sum it up
Becoming motivated and accomplishing your goals is very similar to the steps taken to build a fire. First, you need to start small to spark the kindling. After that, you need to continue to challenge yourself, more and more, until eventually the fire inside you is self-sustaining, and you’re intrinsically motivated.
Spark Your Growth
Is there a goal or something that you’ve been wanting to do? Start today. Start small, and show up every day to add to your fire.