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Perfecting the Art of Adapting
Navigating Change on the Road to Our Goals
In March of this year, I penned a reflection on the idea of New Year’s Resolutions, taking the idea of a quarterly review to help us reframe those goals and promises into more manageable, near-term habits. The idea was fairly straightforward: if we can make the first step towards achieving a large goal possible, we can start to see the throughline to achieving that longer-term goal and get motivated towards it.
I ended that piece with a promise: “This isn’t the last time we’ll check in on things.” It’s been a few months since that post went up; not quite a quarter, I’ll admit, but as the To The Point team discussed topics for May’s theme “Shift +” I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something worth checking in on here.
So let’s take a moment to regroup: this is “checkpoint number two” on this journey we’re taking together, a reflection on change. I’m sure the past few months have been different for each of us, but one common thread I’m confident we’ve all experienced is either an abundance or a lack of things changing, for better or for worse. But as I noted last time we checked in:
“Much like cultivating a garden, [building habits and rhythms] doesn’t happen overnight… It requires knowing what’s going on… and responding to any changes as they arise.”
If you’re anything like me, your responses are likely a mix of good and not-so-good. So let’s talk about how we deal with the ways we respond to change and how we can use these “checkpoint” moments to reframe and adjust course when we’re faced with the challenge of either change or inertia, the lack thereof.
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TURN AND FACE THE STRANGE (CH-CH-CHANGES)
So perhaps that’s where we need to start – what are the types of change that we face when trying to follow a path or a plan? Simplifying it down a bit, there were four categories I came up with:
Things Don’t Change (For The Better) – The moments when we get those habits and rhythms just right and get into a steady groove that we’re able to carry through good times and bad.
Things Don’t Change (For The Worse) – Inertia, that feeling that we can’t move out of this spot, that despite our best efforts (or perhaps because of things we put in our own way), we can’t progress any further.
Things Change (For The Better) – The opposite of the above, where either our environment changes or we influence our situation to make changes that open up new opportunities for us to step forward and make progress toward our goals.
Things Change (For The Worse) – Circumstances of our situation change, either by our own hand or forces outside of our control, that make our path forward less clear or even untenable to walk.
There’s admittedly a lot of nuance we could get into here (and perhaps I can save that if I turn this into a book 😉), but much of that nuance – such as, “Did we cause it or was it out of our control?” – ultimately doesn’t alter our responsibility for how we respond.
As I was approaching this article, for example, I was facing a number of self-inflicted challenges. I had agreed to get a draft of this done earlier in the month, which, at the time I agreed to it, had seemed very achievable. But in the hustle and bustle of things, I forgot to add it to my to-do list app, and it wasn’t until my deadline had passed that I realized what had happened. Nate was incredibly gracious in allowing me more time to write this piece. Still, my reaction to the situation had already put me on uneven footing, and I found the next steps increasingly difficult to take. Whenever I thought I had it sorted out, I’d catch something that didn’t feel right and start again from scratch.
In this case, the environment I was writing in had changed, both externally (the pressure of a compressed timeline) and internally (my feelings of shame and frustration at being behind schedule). And my negative response to these changes made it all the more challenging to write in this space with a present mind and authenticity. It wasn’t until I finally took some sage advice from my wife, with whom I’d shared a similar sentiment when she had been faced with challenges writing a term paper or a sermon: sleep on it and come back with fresh eyes in the morning.
As simplistic as it sounds, the version of this article you’re reading resulted from that. It was a gamble: I could have easily woken up and not yet been in the frame of mind needed to write today. But sharing the best version I could of this article and getting it done on time were incredibly important to me, and I knew that pushing through wasn’t getting me there, so that was a risk I needed to take.
CREATING THOSE “CHECKPOINT MOMENTS”
The pivotal moment in my scenario came from what ended up being the first “checkpoint moment” I gave myself that day – in this specific situation, taking a break from writing to talk it through with someone. For you, it could be the same – taking a moment of pause to reflect with someone outside of your headspace, be it a friend, family member, therapist, mentor, pastor – or possibly just taking a moment to dump those thoughts onto a written page, externalizing it so you can get a fresh perspective on the things you’ve been telling yourself.
A helpful tool I found recently for this was the concept of “morning pages,” a practice coined by author and artist Julia Cameron in her book The Artist's Way. While many have since riffed on the theme, the central idea is to start the day by writing three full, handwritten pages of stream-of-consciousness, with no prompt or goal except to fill them from beginning to end. The idea is that these pages, not meant to be repurposed or shared, get the fog and noise out of the way and give yourself space to engage actively and creatively with the world and work ahead of you each day.
Whether or not you use this particular practice, a face-to-face conversation, or some alternative method, the important thing is taking that pause: to breathe out of us the noise, the sound and fury that’s holding us in place either through inertia or a fear of the change ahead; and then breathe in new, fresh air to take its place.
The point of these “checkpoint moments” I alluded to in the last post wasn’t to set markers to measure how far you’ve gone but to remind us to take stock of what we’ve done since our last checkpoint, to reflect on what’s working and what isn’t, to consider what’s changed since then and what we might need to do to react and respond to those changes.
If you all are anything like me, you might be reading this and thinking, “This all sounds nice, but you’re not dealing with [insert the things you’re dealing with here]; it’s not so simple.” This was actually a major sticking point for me in trying to write this piece and a part of why I’ve now rewritten it five or six times. As I’ve already shared, I’m on the struggle bus alongside you, and I can’t in good conscience say I’ve got this all figured out just yet. So who am I to spout armchair advice on what you’re going through in your specific, unique situation? Let me answer that question by sharing a quick story.
The same day that I realized I had missed my deadline for this article, I received another less alarming surprise. On the Checkpoint Church Discord, we have a #diy channel where folks from our community share projects they’re taking on themselves, largely folks who are amateurs at a given craft who are trying their hand at something new in pursuit of getting better day-by-day. I was an early proponent of making a space for this type of sharing: I’d been posting some works-in-progress in our #art-only channel but had started to feel like the things I was sharing were less “artwork” and more “things I was doing around the house.”
So in this space we carved out, we share our ups-and-downs, successes and failures, encouraging each other to keep improving our given crafts and skills of choice. And it was in this space that I’d gotten a comment from a fellow LVL2 member, Sneakypigs. I’d recently shared photos of some home office improvements, specifically installing soundproofing and turning an old IKEA countertop fragment into a standing desk. While we regularly give each other thumbs-ups and encouragement, Sneaky’s post that morning was a lot different: in it, Sneaky shared briefly about his feelings of inadequacy as someone “who is not handy” and that he felt “in awe of [my] ideas and skills” after seeing what I’d shared.
MOVING ON TO PERFECTION
My immediate reaction was pretty visceral – I felt like I had to disavow him and anyone else reading of the notion that I or my handiwork deserved their awe. I was, and am, after all, very much an amateur myself, someone who grew up being the opposite of handy, whose abysmal hand-eye coordination kept me on the sidelines and regularly picked in the last rounds in gym class. Who was I to receive this kind of praise for my work?
But as I started penning that response, I paused momentarily, and thought, “What on earth am I doing?” What an absurd response to have to such a kind and thoughtful comment! Sneaky wasn’t trying to heap laud upon me; he wasn’t calling me a master craftsman. There was nothing there I needed to disavow. Going back over his words, it was evident what he was saying: it was, in a way, a thank you. We all share in this space, and the things we share are all works of people who are learning. That’s part of why we share, honestly: to see the process that goes into making something, especially if it’s still our first time.
Our communal creative space gives us an opportunity to see the work that goes into learning a new skill, applying it, and using it to transform one thing into something else.
Consider our Wesleyan heritage at Checkpoint Church: we could reflect on sanctifying grace, the concept that we as Christians are not yet there (with “there” being “embodying perfect love” just as Christ did), but that “we are going on to [that] perfection.” The idea being that, in Jesus, we have the model of perfect love and that we are constantly taking steps towards that goal; further, that we will likely make mistakes along the way, but we have hope to keep moving forward along that path in this lifetime.
When we only look at the final result of years of mastery, whether it be developing skills, achieving our goals, or perfecting love, it can often feel out-of-reach, unattainable. But seeing that early process, the learning and the rough, uneven edges, the mistakes, the failures: it gives an entirely new appreciation for the finished work, in all its perfect imperfections.
“ARE WE THERE YET?” (NOT QUITE)
The ‘series’ of sorts that has emerged from these couple of articles on resolutions, priorities, goals, and habits has created a version of that intentional space, a place where we can share our journeys with each other, giving and receiving sneak peeks into the process of someone else’s experience traveling this path and taking the opportunity to learn alongside them. It was this element, I ultimately realized, that was missing from the initial concept for this article and was a big reason each of my multiple attempts to write it felt flat or impersonal. I wasn’t sharing my story, my own struggles with change and inertia, so each time I started to make suggestions on what to do, I felt like a liar: Who am I to share this as advice when I’m barely following it myself?
But that’s the thing – I am following it, and I’m still very much learning this as I go too. When I wrote the first article in this series back in March, I was in the process of reviving my own resolutions. For me, those were threefold: improving my physical health by exercising more and eating better, improving my mental health by taking individual and group therapy more seriously, and putting time and effort into unpacking what I wanted out of my career/vocation after spending the past year in what I realized was a “liminal space,” unsure what was coming next.
Since then, my journey has had its share of ups-and-downs too. Between scheduling issues, some health-related speed bumps, and a lack of motivation, I’ve been idling when it comes to my physical health goals. But I’ve also maintained some positive habits around my mental health that I’d started earlier in the year. I introduced some change by joining a career fellowship and hiring a career coach to help me shape the next steps of my professional and vocational journey.
Does this mean I have it figured out now? Not at all – that physical health stuff isn’t going to figure itself out, and I’m facing some new challenges with inertia on the professional front. It’s not all sorted out yet, but I’m taking steps forward that I wasn’t just a few days ago. And that’s the thing. We’re all still figuring this out, trying our best to deal with change, battle inertia, and make the most out of the life we’ve been blessed with.
By sharing in this journey together, we have a chance to learn from each other, to see how human this experience is – by which I mean how imperfect it is, how riddled it is with mistakes and missteps and failures, but just as much with insights and epiphanies and opportunities to learn from those same mistakes.
This was ultimately the lesson that came to me from the experience of writing this article: there isn’t one magic answer to the question of how we should deal with and respond to change. Instead, I found an invitation to share the triumphs and failures I’ve encountered in the process of reviving those resolutions, to make space for us to be a little more honest and vulnerable with each other and come out of it a little bit richer and a few steps closer to “perfection.”
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As we wrap up this second checkpoint in our journey together, I invite you into this space again with a few questions:
How are things going with those resolutions?
What’s different since we last checked in on each other? What’s still the same?
How have those changes (or lack thereof) affected your journey these past couple of months?
How would you like things to be (different/the same) going forward from here?
You can sit with these on your own or with a trusted friend or companion, but I also invite you to share as you’re comfortable in the comments here or join us in conversation on Discord. Personally, I’d love to hear how these words I’m sharing are helping or where they might be falling short and to consider what the next step on this journey looks like together. And if there’s enough interest, I’d even be open to setting up a new channel just for sharing in this journey together, a place to gather between the checkpoint moments to encourage each other forward.
However you take these next steps, I have hope for you in your journey, and I look forward to meeting you again at the next checkpoint moment, if not sooner.