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On Laying Bricks and Climbing Mountains

Jan 4, 2018 Tony Hammack

Many people have started their New Year’s resolutions. Good for them! I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but unfortunately, the statistics are not on their side. According to Forbes, only 8% of people will stick with and achieve their resolutions and goals. That is a small number.

To see how small of a number 8% is, let us crunch some numbers. There are 249,485,228 adults (18 and older) in the United States. 8% of adults in the United States is: 19,958,818 adults. Thus, there are 229,526,410 adults who do not stick with their resolutions. Simply, for every adult who sticks with their resolutions, there are 12 people who do not stay the course.

Wow. It is crazy to think that those people who are so excited about the New Year and becoming the person they want to be are the same people who after three to four weeks will be the ones who gave up. New Year, New You: although it is a new year, it is the same old you.

Now, this article is not about the 5 steps to stick to resolutions, or the 3 simple ways to stick to a diet, or the 10 ways to stick to a workout regime (I mean, we should workout. I will always encourage this.) I want to discuss this phenomena and how it is ever present in our daily lives, not just on New Year’s.

Many people (including myself) resolve to be better versions of ourselves during the week. Some people want to be better at brushing their teeth each night before bed. There are others who want to pack their lunches for the week instead of spending money on restaurants. There are also some who just want to get better at remembering the location of their keys. These are all valid goals. But, we also make different types of goals.

Each day is a new day to improve who we are, the real us. We wear many masks for many people, but alone, we sit unmasked. We are left staring in the mirror at the people we are, and most people are disgusted by themselves (Imagine if helmetless Darth Vader looked in the mirror, that dude looks awful.) We know the person we are in private; we know how dirty, disgusting, and filthy we are. We know who we are when the curtain closes and the performance ends. We know the type of man and woman we are; we are confronted with our own character when we are alone.

In an effort to improve ourselves, we strive for inner change. We resolve to not do the things we do in the shadows. We resolve to live in the light. We resolve to change. Unfortunately (and commonly), we revert back to our old selves. We, once again, accept that we are who we are, and we embrace our old character. We then feel shame for this failure.

I hope you can see that a loop is forming. We rise resolved for inner change, we drop the ball and fail, we give up, we are ashamed of what we done and our lack of progress, we do more things in the shadows that we hate, and then we resolve again to get better.

This is where I have lived for a LONG time. There are things that I, and I alone, know needed to be changed about myself, my inner self. In this quest to change, I essentially end up at the same place more hopeless than before.

This loop is evidenced in many aspects of our lives. For me personally, I see this loop in my depression, in my schooling (cycles of confidence then imposter syndrome), socially (well, trying to be social then being rejected), trying to overcoming past failures, and in my many character flaws.

People talk about solutions to our New Year’s Eve resolutions, but not the inner ones that we, and only we, know. The resolutions that increase the shame more than failing to work out. The ones that create self hate more than meditating daily, and other various superficial ones.

At the end of the day, we are left to confront ourselves. So how can inspire permanent change in that dark, inner person of ourselves?

Many people unknowingly misquote English playwright John Heywood. People say that “Rome was not built in a day.” Well, this is half of the phrase. The full quote is, “Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour.” This quote is amazingly powerful. For it says that we need to learn to be patient. It is impossible to expect change in a week or two. Life is hard, things get in the way, and slowly we drift away from our goals. Knowing this about ourselves, it is important to be patient. Being patient with ourselves brings peace knowing that we can, in due time, succeed in the mission. We do not have to (and cannot) expect permanent change in a small amount of time.

A similar argument can be applied to to showing ourselves grace. We need to be kind to ourselves. All too often I internally verbally assault and abuse myself. Saying that I am worthless or a failure to myself for failing a goal. This is not only destructive but dumb. This only increases shame.

The best basketball player ever, Michael Jordan, said, “If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” We need not focus on the change we expect to see ourselves in a year. We will only be discouraged by how far off the mark we are. We need to focus on changing and ourselves each day. If I can succeed more days than fail, I will see lasting change in myself. Understanding this, I can focus all my energy on changing myself today, then tomorrow I repeat the process, and each day following thereafter.

When those who attempt to climb Mt. Everest, they do not climb the mountain in one continuous ascent. Their focus is reaching the next camp and the one after that, and etc. Before they know it, they have reach the tallest place in the world. If these men and women can climb 29,000 feet (8839 metres for all my non-American friends) in small steps, we too able to change ourselves one day at a time.

“Nobody trips over mountains. It is the small pebble that causes you to stumble. Pass all the pebbles in your path and you will find you have crossed the mountain.” - Author unknown

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