Goal Setting Lessons From Raising Monarch Caterpillars

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Yesterday I released a Monarch butterfly that I had raised from a caterpillar that I found at a park near my home. It was one of the hundreds that I’ve raised since I first discovered Monarchs when I was seven years old.

As a kid, I spent hours learning about Monarchs. I studied their life cycle, habitat, eating habits, and much more. I was even part of a study that sent me 200 tagged butterflies to help discover how they travel thousands of miles to spend the winter in Mexico and California.

Over all this time I’ve learned a lot of really interesting lessons from these creatures that I love so much. As I’ve thought about it, many of those ideas apply to goal-setting, and in this article, I’m going to share just two of them with you.

Consistent Actions + Rest = Results

A Monarch caterpillar only has two goals: eat and do whatever else is necessary to make it possible to eat more. That means a whole lot of pooping, for one. But it also means taking breaks to expand their skin whenever it becomes too small for them.

In its first few days of life these insects dramatically increase in size. They go from being the size of a pinhead to as large as a human adult’s finger. 

After watching this happen hundreds of times, I’ve realized there are two simple components to this astronomical growth:

  1. Action.
  2. Rest.

For the caterpillar, the action part is eating and the rest part is molting. 

For you, these pieces might look much differently. Chances are, though, that you’ve figured out the work part but taking a break is much harder for you. 

It’s easy to see how action leads to growth. But it’s much harder to see how the rest component, which is just as vital, does the same. 

The reason rest is so crucial to growth is that it provides you a chance to shed your old self and fill into the new person that you’re becoming. When you rest your muscles after lifting weights, for instance, they repair themselves and become stronger. 

This process works the same whether you’re trying to grow spiritually, socially, financially, or physically.

If you want to improve, you have to act a whole lot then rest at the right moments.

Change Can Be Messy But That’s How You Become Amazing

When a Monarch caterpillar is ready to make its chrysalis, it will hang upside down in a “J” shape from the top of its container or a leaf if it’s in the wild. Within a few hours, a tear forms right down the back, and the green chrysalis appears underneath as the caterpillar changes form. 

Once in this final stage, the caterpillar turns into a messy goop of cells. It takes almost two weeks for those cells to rearrange themselves into a butterfly. 

Sometimes, when it feels like your goals and life are all over the place, think of it as just rearranging things so you can reach your full potential.

There may be moments when you fail your goals. You might have to quit some of them. And more often than you’d like to admit, you want to give up.

The middle of every goal is always messy like this. But that’s just another sign you’re on the right path to greatness. 

Keep going, even when it seems like everything around you is more complicated than before. Many times you have to break something before you can put it all together into its perfect form.


I’ve learned a whole lot more from raising all these Monarch caterpillars over the years than I’ve been able to share here. These two are just the most important of those many lessons and the ones that I think will have the biggest impact on your success.