I rang in the New Year on my couch, in my pajamas, with my husband. We watched the ball drop on our television screen. And even though I know, I know that nothing instantly changes when we move into another 365-day calendar, I still get pulled in by the possibilities every time.
I make New Year’s resolutions with the best of intentions. Then a few days (or weeks if I’m doing exceptionally well) I’m the one dropping the ball. Old habits creep back in and I find myself saying, “Maybe next year….” Why does this happen?
I discovered a helpful part of the answer in a book, The 12-Week Year, by Brian P. Morgan and Michael Lennington. They explain we all go through an Emotional Cycle of Change (ECOC), which has five phases.
The first phase, uninformed optimism, is like midnight on New Year’s Eve. We’re full of hope and have no idea how hard what we’re attempting will actually be.
Once we get started and confront reality, we slip into informed pessimism. No more starry-eyed, wishful thinking. We now understand how difficult it will be to run the half-marathon, say no to hot fudge sundaes, or be nicer to our cranky neighbor. This eventually shifts us into what the authors call the valley of despair.
Most New Year’s resolutions or other worthwhile changes never make it to the other side of this valley. Instead we give up and go back to the way things used to be, which immediately makes us feel better. We can spend a lifetime repeating phases one through three.
I know this isn’t what the Psalmist meant, but as I looked at this valley familiar words came to mind…
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;
For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4, NKJV
Two new things struck me: First, I’d only considered these words literally. But there are other kinds of deaths. The death of a dream, desire, hope, new beginning. When we give up or turn back, it’s the death of what could have been.
Also, this verse talks about “the shadow.” A shadow isn’t real. It’s not tangible. So many of the things that cause me to become discouraged or quit aren’t either, like the lies I believe or the self-doubt that tells me what I’m pursuing is impossible.
What’s the answer we need in the valley? “For You are with me.” That changes everything.
If we push through the valley then we make it to informed optimism. We run a mile, cook a healthy meal, or don’t lose our temper. “I think I can do this,” we tell ourselves. When we persevere at this point we eventually make it to a breakthrough and reach the final stage: success and fulfillment.
I’ve found the danger of the ECOC is not knowing it exists. Marketing messages and well-meaning motivational speakers make it seem like there is a way to skip the hard parts, that we can go right from uninformed optimism to success and fulfillment. But there is no bridge over that valley for any of us.
What makes it even more confusing is that this part of the journey in the lives of others is often invisible. They’re making mistakes, battling discouragement, and quitting behind closed doors. The valley of despair doesn’t make it on Instagram and so we believe we’re the only one who has ever faced it.
But ECOC is universal. If we undertake anything worthwhile then we will experience frustration, failure, and an intense desire to give up at some point. This doesn’t mean were weak; it means we’re walking forward into something new. It doesn’t mean we’re doing something wrong; it means we’re on the right track. It doesn’t mean we’re stuck; it means we’re closer to success than ever before.
So let’s keep moving forward one awkward, brave, challenging step at a time.
Happy New Year to you—may all your resolutions come true.
Cheering You On,
This week on More than Small Talk we’re kicking off a new series about lies we’re tempted to believe. Listen in as we confess how we each finish this phrase, “I’m the only one who…” then talk through what helps us get back to the truth.