Ringing in the New Year always calls for a little self-inventory. As we prepare to set new goals for the future, we’re flooded with harsh memories of last year’s attempts at swearing off too much red meat, any excuse not to exercise, and that second piece of cake – all while vowing to start a band and a charity – a recipe of overzealousness only quickening a transformation’s demise.
Much different than challenging comfort zones, I’ve found taking on too much too fast isn’t how change really works – especially for those of us who aren’t superheroes – yet. Instead of major health upgrades or bucket-list item completions, the curse of unrealistic expectations usually only leads me to quick burnout and a lot of sulking back to the couch carrying a cupcake. There was one year I got it right, though. Here’s the story of how reaching a New Year’s goal taught me the dynamics of transformative – and lasting – change.
2012 began with my best friend Brenna’s return from teaching English in Japan. Born and raised in Florida, this lifetime flatlander couldn’t stop raving about her Japanese hiking habit – which culminated with Mt. Fuji’s 12,388 summit. Desiring to experience my own hiking high, we declared a joint New Year’s resolution to hike the Grand Canyon. Truly a “grand” undertaking, I trained for months the best I could in Florida, only to find out that flatlands don’t really prepare you for a hike of this caliber.
The descent was a breeze, as the canyon’s majestic beauty distracted me from realizing just how far down I was. Hiking down was a lot like developing a bad habit, actually; it’s easy, it happens swiftly, and suddenly it dawns on you – you’re in a hole that’s pretty hard to get out of on your own. Unrealistic resolution-setting is a lot like that too – quick and easy to do, but hard to get out of successfully.
Making our way back up and out was a lot different. Much like keeping a resolution, I had to be patient, kind to myself about Brenna’s lack of labored breathing, and most of all, very realistic about a personally-sustainable pace. If I got at all impractical, trying to keep up with professional hikers that had decades of experience, I became totally overwhelmed, failing to catch my breath and wanting nothing but sit down and cry. So I crawled on, slowly but surely, keeping my head down as I focused on putting one foot in front of the other until we reached the rim. It was then I realized what precious life lessons the canyon had given me: worthwhile accomplishments take planning, discipline and humility; and with your best friend by your side, you can do just about anything.
Bad habits sure are easy to make, and nobody arrives at a mile-long list of resolutions overnight, so let’s get real – nobody can tackle them all overnight either. For most, making one lasting, sweeping change at a time is a challenge in and of itself.
My greatest memory, and lesson from the canyon, happened when Brenna reached over and squeezed my hand as I totally overexerted myself trying to lead at a pace I thought was more her speed. “I’m here for you,” she told me, “and we’re in it together, but look inside and be kind; the only person you’re racing in here, is yourself.”
Happy New Year,