The end of a calendar year is a common time to reflect. Some years we find ourselves celebrating highlights and accomplishments, while others might find us discouraged by a lack of progress. If you are feeling that you’ve fallen short in an area where you had hoped for change, here is a little story to encourage you, plus a few tips to help you achieve your goals in the upcoming year.
About three years ago, my daughter got an illness that kicked off a longstanding battle with tonsillitis. For the next two years she became sick with a high fever and throat infection for about three days each month. In addition, anything “extra” (a night out, a friend’s visit…) could trigger a siege. Over time, she adapted her life around being sick, limiting her activity to minimize her flare-ups. Some might wonder why she didn’t just have her tonsils out. The reason is that adult tonsillectomy is a serious procedure requiring weeks of recovery. Fear of pain, disruption, and the unknown were all powerful deterrents to taking action.
Last November, she finally went in for the surgery, and at this time last year was still recovering. Amazingly, in the year since the surgery, she has not been sick at all. While the process was very difficult, the results were life changing.
I know that many of my readers face challenges that seem large and overwhelming. Walking alongside my daughter taught me a few things about “large scale” change.
- You will probably come to a tipping point.
Momentum is a powerful thing. In the moment, it is easier to adapt and accommodate than to risk drastic change. Nonetheless, persistent problems have consequences that build up over time. Eventually, the negatives become so burdensome that something breaks. This could be an external trigger (e.g. an eviction notice, a lost job) or an internal realization (e.g. “I just cannot stand this one more day!”) In my daughter’s case, this was getting sick on vacation. After months of working hard and working while sick, she was really looking forward to getting a break. Instead, she ended up spending her vacation in a hotel room, feeling awful. This experience opened her eyes to the reality that she was not going to get better without surgery. When she got home, she told me, “I’m ready.” When you reach that moment, take advantage of it. Now is the time to act, and if possible, take a step that will make it hard to fall back into the old pattern. Think, “no turning back!”
- Resources will be required.
Longstanding problems tend to be complex and tenacious. When we are facing a big challenge, especially one we’ve been struggling with or avoiding for a long time, we need to rally others to help. Professionals, friends, spiritual leaders and family can bring financial support, perspective, skills and accountability to the situation. Not everyone in your life will be helpful, so be picky in assembling resources whom you trust to be on your side. Building a team is the #1 way to ensure success.
- New obstacles will emerge.
It is natural to imagine that once we begin tackling a situation it will be smooth sailing. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. In fact, once we start a ball rolling it will likely hit some bumps as it goes. Most people who have a tonsillectomy will suffer pain. My daughter had some additional, unanticipated difficulties that required multiple trips to the emergency room and additional medications. All of this made the journey extremely difficult. We expected she would be feeling close to normal three weeks after surgery. As it turned it, it was more like two months before she was really back on her feet. This type of “pushback” is frustratingly common. When we work toward positive change, it is normal to encounter criticism, complications, injuries, side effects and a plethora of other challenges. This does not mean that it was a mistake to pursue change, only that few roads are short and straight. Realistic expectations are helpful in keeping a positive mindset and battling discouragement.
- Progress will breed motivation, which will further progress.
Making the decision to pursue change isn’t easy. The fear of failure and embarrassment constantly keeps us stuck in neutral. The good news is, even tiny bits of progress can be hugely motivating. During my daughter’s recovery, in spite of the variety of side effects, little steps of progress like eating solid food or waking with no fever were very encouraging. Each day put the problem a bit further behind her. Making strides against a situation that has been hanging over us is freeing and empowering. We begin to realize that we don’t have to continue in the old habit. Admittedly, it may take a long time to enact lasting change, and there may be periods of backsliding. In addition, there may be some aspects of the situation that simply cannot be altered. Nonetheless, the ability to take some measure of control is often enough to keep you going.
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Life can be difficult. Change may not be easy, but in most cases, it is worth the effort. With proper resources and expectations, small steps can have significant results over the course of a year.
Have you effected change in some area of your life? Did you experience any of these realities?