I love our family dog, Maggie. We trained her early as a pup. She learned to walk well on a leash, do a few tricks, and load up in her kennel for bed each night. We didn’t force her to learn these things. We rewarded her for doing things she already loved.
You can’t drag the puppy on a leash behind you to teach it walk. Also, you can’t toss the puppy in the kennel and say, “load up” and expect the puppy to go into the kennel the next time you said ‘load up.’
No! Lasting results don’t work like that. This is how to train a puppy to load up in a kennel. Use puppy’s interests and desires to get it to go where it needs to be. Puppies love treats. They also love cozy enclosed dens. So space out some treats on the floor. Lay one near the kennel. Lay another closer to the kennel. Then put one in the kennel. Let the puppy’s appetite guide itself. Then reward the puppy for doing something it likes to do, eat treats and be in a cozy den. Soon you find the puppy enjoys going right into the kennel, too.
We can take a cue for our New Year’s resolutions from this lesson. Whether you are trying to change your lifestyle, create a new environment in the workplace, or lead a congregation like me; one of the best ways to change behavior is to use small incremental steps.
Many things are hard to do in life. Changing behaviors and starting a new lifestyle are two of the hardest. Often we attempt to go against the grain to start new things or force a change of direction.
We especially do this with New Year’s Resolutions. We hope to better ourselves. We promise we will start over new. We toss ourselves in a proverbial kennel one time without conditioning and expect to do it again daily on command. Before January ends, we realize we don’t have the energy to keep up the initial force or the stamina to maintain a new direction. The old grooves and comfy ruts lull us back into mediocrity. By February our ambitions are held at bay. The defeat lacks luster. It just is. That’s the way things go. Right?
Isn’t it near impossible to start from scratch or reverse course in reality? No, not at all. Change is possible. But most lasting change doesn’t go against the grain. It isn’t forced. It happens with natural momentum and incremental steps. Then we can defeat old habits without beating ourselves up too much.
My college roommate was a boxer. He loved to get his opponents on the ropes. He was often successful even when the opponents didn’t want to have their backs to the ropes. How did he do that? Did he force them? Shove them? No, he barely used any energy at all. He let them do it. As they stepped into him, he stepped back with small pivots. He would counter with the opposite hand to make them continue in a semi-circle. Before the opponent knew it, they had their back to the ropes. They had also expended a ton of energy to get somewhere they didn’t want to be, while my roommate conserved his strength for a barrage of blows. He would do this incrementally round after round until it was like
clock work. It took remarkable discipline, foot work and psychology. He let the other boxer help him win. They wanted to hit him. So, he let them try over and over until he had them conditioned to be where he wanted them to be. Genius!
So, what if for your New Year’s resolutions you kept moving forward with incremental changes instead of trying to force a change. I call it Spiritual Jijitzu. Here is Jijitzu defined: “verb (used with object) to turn (a situation) to one's advantage by exploiting one's own weaknesses and strengths.” We expect immediate changes of ourselves and others. We beat ourselves up for not keeping up with a new lifestyle or best practices. We slander others for not going from a zero to hero overnight. In truth that rarely works.
Sure, all change takes a first step. But lasting change creates a new pattern in a new direction away from the old ruts. It takes time to get into those new grooves. So what if this New Year, you and I built on the positive momentum and natural inclinations to be even better than the year before? Let’s make it so. Here’s to a New Year of becoming better using our Spiritual Jijitzu in the name of Christ.
Rev. Trey Hegar