I took our now dried and brittle Christmas tree out to the curb the other day, and placed it on top of a snow bank. (Those of you who are not so fortunate to live in a northern, winter climate like Wisconsin, will have to use your imagination.) It wasn’t alone out there as many of our neighbors had recently done the same. Even though Christmas is over, it’s still a sad sight to see all the discarded Christmas trees waiting to be picked up and taken away to be turned into wood chips somewhere.
Even though we are only a week into the new year I have already had three people tell me that they have given up on their resolutions for making a change. It seems that, at least for some people, their resolutions are being discarded, right along with their Christmas trees.
The reason a Christmas tree dries out and needs to be discarded is obvious-the tree has been cut off from its roots. In a similar manner, resolutions to change that are cut off from their roots are also bound to die quickly. Unless we deal with the root of the issue we want to address with our resolution, our efforts to change will rarely succeed. This is true for individuals, couples, families, and organizations as well. Perhaps if you have made a New Year’s resolution you may have already discovered that keeping a a resolution is more complex than you may have thought.
For example, let’s imagine a couple has made a resolution to make a positive change in their relationship. They have been feeling distant from each other so together they resolve to start having a weekly date night. The first date night goes fairly well. They feel good about themselves for acting on this resolution. The second date night, however, does not go so well. One spouse begins to criticize the other’s parenting, creating a reaction of, “I’m sick and tired of always being told what’s wrong with me.” This creates a reaction of, “If you’d ever listen to me, maybe I wouldn’t have to keep repeating myself!” As you can imagine the third date night never happens. Why? Because some of the roots of the problem in the marriage, unhelpful communication patterns, along with old hurts, have not been addressed. Unless that becomes the new focus for their resolution, the weekly date night resolution will most likely not succeed.
This example could easily be applied to any relationship that we seek to improve. Old histories, old patterns-the roots of the problem- will inevitably emerge as we seek to change and grow with each other. Knowing and understanding this is crucial as this helps prevent us from becoming discouraged when our attempts to change are not initially successful. “Failed” attempts at change, usually means we haven’t yet focused on the root of the problem.
As the root of the problem emerges we can make a new resolution to deal with it. In the example above, the couple could go back to the drawing board and create a new resolution to work on their communication. They might resolve to get some coaching or counseling, sign up for a marriage education class, or together read a book on healthy communication.
Remember that any attempt to make meaningful change, in any area of our lives, will eventually surface the challenges that have been preventing the change. If you experience this happening, simply refocus your resolution to work on addressing the roots of the issue. By keeping your resolutions to change connected to their deeper roots, you will improve the chances that your resolutions won’t soon end up on out at the curb, discarded in early January, just like a dried out Christmas tree.