One of Aesop’s most well-known Fables is called the Goose and the Golden Egg. And it goes like this:
“There was once a Countryman who possessed the most wonderful Goose you can imagine, for every day when he visited the nest, the Goose had laid a beautiful, glittering, golden egg.
The Countryman took the eggs to market and soon began to get rich. But it was not long before he grew impatient with the Goose because she gave him only a single golden egg a day. He was not getting rich fast enough.
Then one day, after he had finished counting his money, the idea came to him that he could get all the golden eggs at once by killing the Goose and cutting it open. But when the deed was done, not a single golden egg did he find, and his precious Goose was dead.”
So, what are we to learn from this tragic tale? That greed is deadly? Definitely! That as soon as we get for what we once wanted, we still want more? Absolutely! It’s a call for temperance and a warning against materialism.
But I think there’s another lesson to be learned - and it’s maybe a stretch but it presents an interesting analogy - and that is, The Countryman, either by the sweat of his own brow or good fortune, had for himself a pattern. A process that was, for a time, working; and bringing him and his family substance and prosperity.
All he had to do was continue to follow the pattern, trust in it, and live below his means—simple enough, but certainly not easy.
The Countryman wanted quicker results instead of trusting the process. And, as a society, we’re bombarded with similar messaging—free one-day shipping, instant health, on demand whatever, and immediate results.
So we (again, as a society) continue to play the short game: doing and buying things that add little value with the time and money we don’t have to impress others rather than improving ourselves.
As opposed to the long game: building and sticking to a pattern that requires a high level of discipline and consistency.
How often are we tempted by the shiny objects around us rather than sticking to a pattern that works?
“A pattern (by definition) is a guide or a model. Patterns are used in almost any and every pursuit, whether it be writing sales scripts, perfecting your jump shot, designing a logo, sewing a blanket, building a table, cooking a meal, learning a new language, and the list goes on and on. Patterns help to avoid waste, and unwanted deviations and help us to learn fundamentals and facilitate uniformity that is appropriate and beneficial.”
There’s a book I read recently called Atomic Habits that I highly recommend. It talks about the patterns in our lives and how they shape us. And how you don’t rise to the level of your goals but you fall to the level of your patterns. Which is to say, having a goal is good, I’ve definitely spent my fair share of time thinking about my goals, but having a pattern or a system to implement and execute that goal is better.
In real terms, having a goal to finish a book is good, but having a system or following a pattern to actually read every day, is better. Having a goal to save money is good, but actually implementing an operation to ensure a certain percentage of your paycheck goes into a savings account, is better. Or, having a goal to get a better job is good, but actually spending 10 minutes each day to learn something new and invest in yourself, is better.
It’s amazing what happens as we seek out the best patterns—we not only become proficient temporally but also protected spiritually and emotionally.
There are patterns in all things. If we pay attention, we can begin to understand and discern the good ones from the deceitful ones.
Patterns are now and always have been important aids to discernment and sources of direction and protection for us. They’re evident in the life of our role models, in the history books, and in the teachings of everyday people.
—I once babysat a family that was clearly being brought up according to patterns. They weren’t doing anything particularly spectacular, per se, but the kids were definitely taught about the importance of the small and simple things.
When the clock hit 6:30, they knew it was time for dinner. It still took a while to get everyone assembled, but once they were, they knew they couldn’t eat without first blessing the food and showing gratitude. Afterward, I offered to turn on a show (thinking I would be the fun babysitter who let them watch tv) but they all just kind of looked at me like “no, this isn’t what we do next.” Then they all started picking up their toys and putting things away. I was like like, “oh yeah…good idea.” At that point I realized I wasn’t there to babysit, I was there to learn. I just kept asking what now? Next came family study. Again, there was still plenty of rallying the troops going on, but everyone eventually settled down…for the most part. It wasn’t perfect, but it happened. And I’m sure some evenings are more challenging than others. But the important thing is, that they all knew what they were supposed to do.
To them, it was just another evening, but it impacted me. It reiterated the importance and reminded me of the power of small and simple things.
Ordinary people who diligently and consistently do simple things will bring forth extraordinary results.
I’ve personally found that many, if not all, of the most satisfying and memorable accomplishments in my own home, in my profession, and in my community have been and will continue to be the product of this important pattern—of simple and small things.
I grew up in a very small town in Utah, a dry town in the southern part of the state where it doesn’t rain much. Water is scarce, yet we always had a garden that flourished thanks to an innovative farming technique called drip irrigation.
And we can learn much about the nature and importance of patterns from the technique of drip irrigation that is used in many gardens and in agricultural areas throughout the world. Drip irrigation is sometimes called trickle irrigation and involves dripping water onto the soil at very low rates from a system of small plastic pipes fitted with outlets called emitters or drippers.
Unlike surface and sprinkler irrigation that involves flooding or gushing or spraying large quantities of water where it may not be needed, drip irrigation applies water close to a plant so that only part of the soil in which the roots grow is wetted. With drip irrigation, applications of water are more focused and more frequent than with the other methods. The steady drips of water sink deep into the ground and provide a high moisture level in the soil wherein plants can flourish. In like manner, if we are focused and frequent in receiving consistent drops of nourishment, then roots can sink deep into our soul, can become firmly established and grounded, and can produce extraordinary and delicious fruit.
The pattern of small and simple things bringing forth great things produces willpower, discipline, strength, and confidence beyond what we think we are capable of. As you and I become increasingly steadfast and immovable, we are less prone to zealous and exaggerated spurts of productivity followed by extended periods of slackness. A “spurter” is one who is given to a short burst of spectacular effort followed by frequent and lengthy periods of rest.
A big spurt may appear to be impressive in the short run, but steadiness in small things over time is far more effective, far less dangerous, and produces far better results. Three consecutive days of brushing your teeth will not yield as great as results as brushing your teeth twice a day, every day. A great attempt to train one time for five hours likely will not produce the results of meaningful morning exercise consistently over five weeks or five months—again, small and simple things done consistently well. And a single, great reading marathon cannot produce the same impact of steady study across many months.
In a real-life sense, we need to become intelligent drip irrigators, humble children, and wise Countrymen - and avoid sporadic and shallow spurting. We can avoid or overcome unsustainable spurting as we employ the pattern of small and simple things and become truly intelligent irrigators.