Skip to main content

You Can Move Mountains: Four Steps to Setting and Reaching Goals

Inspirational essays and articles, with a touch of humor, are favorite topics for Ms. Giordano, a writer and public speaker.

If you can't move mountains, try nudging molehills.

Have you heard this old joke? How do you eat an elephant? Answer: One bite at a time.

There is a lot of truth in that joke. It is like the adage from the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

My title for this article goes to the same message: If you can’t move mountains, maybe you can nudge molehills. Sometimes a goal or a task needs to be cut down to size.

If you can't move mountains, maybe you can nudge molehills.

If you can't move mountains, maybe you can nudge molehills.

If you want to reach a destination or achieve a goal, what do you have to do? First you have to start. You have to take the first step. And then, you have to take the next step and the step after that. You have to stick with it.

Sometimes a goal looks like a mountain. It is too big, too heavy, too much. But think of that mountain as just a pile of molehills. You can move one little molehill, can’t you? If not, you can surely nudge that molehill a little, can’t you? So nudge the molehill. You have begun.

What does making “mountains out of molehills” mean?

This phrase is usually used derisively to scold someone who is focusing on petty problems or is making a big deal out of something that is actually very small. The person has exaggerated the importance of something turning a small matter into a major problem.

This phrase goes back at least as far as 1660 when James Howell included it in a book containing a collection of proverbs and idioms from many different languages. One of those proverbs was “Making mountains of molehill."

The mountain-molehill concept may actually date back 100 years earlier. The expression was "making an elephant out of a fly." It’s the same meaning, but different imagery.

Don't Make Mountains Out of Molehills.

A poster to remind you not to make mountains out of molehills.

A poster to remind you not to make mountains out of molehills.

Sometimes molehills really do seem like mountains.

Sometimes a molehill can look like a mountain. In reality, something may be a very small task or small problem, but it looms like a mountain before us.

We need to remember that what is a molehill to one person may indeed be a mountain to another. If we feel someone is making a mountain out of a molehill, we should try to see the issue from the other person’s perspective.

Sometimes we make mountains of our molehills because we are reacting emotionally and not rationally. A small thing may seem enormously important to us because of the emotional connections we have to it. In this case, we need to try approach the issue rationally. We need to ask ourselves how important the issue really is. Is it worth the time and energy we are putting into it? Will it matter in the long term?

Other times we may obsess over the “molehills” as a delaying tactic. We are afraid to take on the big job, so we use the molehills like roadblocks.

When we suspect that mountains are being made out of molehills, it might be best to step back and later return to the issue. When a little time has passed, we may be able to understand the emotional connections. We can then nudge those molehills out of our way.

“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”

— Confucius

What does it mean to “move mountains”?

To move mountains means to accomplish something very difficult or to do something that is very important.

There are four components to accomplishing something, or to continue the metaphor, moving a mountain.

First, we must decide what it is we want.

Scroll to Continue

Second, we must make a start.

Third, we must believe in our ability to reach our goal.

Fourth, we must persevere. We must not quit.

Let’s look at these components one by one. Our goal is to turn mountains into molehills.

1. Decide.

First, we must know what we want. Which mountain do we want to move and where do we want to move it? In other words, what is your goal? What do you really want? Spend some time with this question.

Next, think about how you can get what you want. Figure out what steps you will have to take to get what you want. Form a plan. The plan need not be cast in stone, but having some sort of plan can get you started. As you progress, feel free to modify your plan.

Second, begin to carry out your plan.

Second, begin to carry out your plan.

2. Begin.

Second, we must begin. Sometimes, we don’t know where to begin. It doesn’t matter. Just begin anywhere. The important thing is to start. Once you have made a start, a better plan will emerge. What to do first, second, and third will become clear.

The Chinese philosopher, Confucius said, “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”

Sometimes you may feel overwhelmed. You have a hundred things to do. No, you don’t. You have one thing to do--the thing you are doing right now. Just focus on the one molehill.

3. Believe.

To persist in our task, we must believe that we can accomplish our goal. There will be obstacles and challenges, disappointments and setbacks. These are just molehills.

We need to believe in our ability to move mountains.

The Bible talks about faith.

Matthew 17:20

If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

Mark 11:23

Whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.

The references to faith in the Bible are referring to faith in God and in Jesus, but it could just as well mean faith in your own ability.

Fourth, persevere, don't quit.

Fourth, persevere, don't quit.

4. Persevere.

We must persevere at our task. When we are done with the first molehill, we need to start on the second molehill. We need to just keep working on the molehills.

Sometimes you may feel like you just don’t have what it takes to accomplish the task. Maybe you think that you are not smart enough or skilled enough. When this happens, reread point number three.

What you need are small successes to build your confidence. If you successfully nudge a molehill, it will give you the confidence to move another molehill, and eventually to move a whole mountain.

There will always be another mountain.

When we reach a goal, there is always a new goal. There is always something new to strive for. There is always a higher mountain to climb.

Remember the children’s song--The Bear Went over the Mountain. In the song, when the bear gets over the mountain, all he sees is the other side of the mountain. Allow me to change the lyrics a little. In my version, he sees another mountain. There will always be another mountain.

Sometimes we may feel a little like Sisyphus, rolling a heavy stone up a hill, only to have it come barreling right back down. Some tasks are like that. We empty our in-box only to have more things flow into it. We mow the lawn, only to have the grass grow again. We clean up the kitchen only to have the next meal mess the kitchen up again.

It is just another mountain. There is always another mountain. That’s just how life is. Just keep moving those mountains.

Just for fun

A musical clip: Making Mountains out of Molehills

© 2014 Catherine Giordano

I welcome your comments.

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on December 18, 2014:

tillsontitan, Thank you for your praise. I'm going to take my own advice now, and start writing. Those mountains aren't going to move themselves.

Mary Craig from New York on December 18, 2014:

Catherine you've done it again. You certainly can move mountains and you've shared with us how! Everything seems insurmountable until you study it, break it down, and begin as you have said.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on December 17, 2014:

Thank you so much Kate. I'm so glad you found the advice in my hub both interesting and practical. It makes me feel good to know that I have been helpful.

Kate McBride from Donegal Ireland on December 17, 2014:

I have bookmarked this hub as perhaps the most interesting and practical one I have read here. Thank you for your wisdom and will read this again-often-it is a good message.

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on December 17, 2014:

m abdullah javeda; Thank you for commenting and voting up. I'm so pleased you found it both inspirational and realistic/pragmatic.

muhammad abdullah javed on December 17, 2014:

The ultimate message is as excellent as the beginning of a wonderful write. Thanks Catherine for inspiring us with a realistic approach and pragmatic suggestions. Voted up.

Amelia Griggs from U.S. on December 17, 2014:

Thanks again, Catherine. I honestly do feel like I'm running a marathon and there are spectators cheering me on, thanks!

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on December 17, 2014:

Good for you, easylearningweb. After you climb your first little mountain, the others don't seem so high. I'm glad to inspire you to stay with your 30-day challenge. I admire you for undertaking the project. I find I can only do a max of 3 a week. You are inspiring me.

Amelia Griggs from U.S. on December 17, 2014:

Another great hub, Catherine, and so timely for me. I was just thinking of an analogy for this...I first took baby steps when I slowly started writing hubpages 5 years ago; then this month I am taking larger steps on much higher rocks, writing a hub everyday to complete my 30 day challenge. Then next year, my plan is to climb my first small mountain, which will be my first publishing project. Of course after that, I want to climb even bigger mountains and publish something bigger, my first novel. Thank you for this hub...I am inspired more each day!

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on December 17, 2014:

Thanks, MsDora. I hadn't thought of it as a "New Year's Resolution" kind of thing, but you are right. I could be useful in that way. My hub, "Motto for Life" is the one I think of as a good one to use for choosing a self-improvement prompt for the new year.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on December 17, 2014:

Hooked me too. Great start and a very effective presentation. Thanks for this very important message, very applicable as we face the New Year.

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on December 16, 2014:

Thanks Billybuc. Remember we said writers have 10 seconds to grab interest. I guess I used my 10 seconds well. I' glad you liked the message..

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 16, 2014:

You had me hooked with the title. The rest of the article was icing on the cake. Great message!

Related Articles