As I was cleaning, I was thinking about new beginnings, the feeling of cleaning out the old, and getting ready for the new. January is one of those times of the year where all of us are reminded to assess, and set our goals for another year. Before I start looking at setting goals for the new year, I have learned that it’s important to look back and see what has really happened, what did change, and what movement was made. Reflection is an important step into changing any future. And honestly, it’s a skill I have to be conscious of doing because my nature is to want to always look forward and keep going. No need to look back. There seems to be no time to celebrate, …or mourn, for that matter.

Cleaning out our homes is similar to cleaning out our souls, our minds, and our hearts. Many of our new year goals tend to be focused on our bodies or belongings. Exercise more. Spend less. Simplify our homes.  However, when we consider the work it takes to become more emotionally and mentally free, joyful, hopeful, resilient, energized, closer to our spouses, closer to our God, it seems like every room of our house is dirty and we don’t know where to start. It can be discouraging to say the least. Most of us choose not to face these parts of our lives until the pain of carrying them outweighs the pain of facing them.

Clients often ask me, “how long will this take?”, when they come into therapy ready to face their emotional closets, repair their hurting marriages, overcome broken dreams, relieve their bodies of depression and anxiety, and heal…really heal. I always return with an analogy.

We can pluck the weeds. Or we can dig up the roots. If we only focus on skill-building and immediate problems, we are plucking weeds. We will need to do this at times for immediate relief, but you will be back in my office again. The weeds only will go away if we start digging deeper. You choose. Let me repeat: you choose. There is my disclaimer. If we start pulling up roots, this work will be slow and steady. It will look worse and messier at first. It won’t be pretty and we will need to get all the roots up before we really start planting new life.

As I was cleaning, and pulling out the “old” in my closets, it felt tedious and at moments, I wanted to quit half-way, shoving it all back in and shutting the doors. House cleaning is something I don’t prefer to do any day of the week, really. My typical cleaning is to wipe down the counters, throw my dishes in the dishwasher (and I am not exaggerating when I say throw…there is no order there), and fluff my pillows on the couch so they look cute. Done. My house looks clean, if you don’t look too closely. Many of us live our lives this way. However, those in our lives who live up close and personal can see the grime. We may appear all put together to the world and we are good at fluffing our own pillows, but the deeper parts of our stories need some house cleaning, digging up roots and a slow and steady diet of small moments of change.

Goals are a very good thing and are necessary for change. Without a vision or hope for something better, we do perish. In fact, many people are really good at setting a goal and not letting anything stand in their way. However, the reality of long-term change takes time and consistency and courage. Nothing worthwhile is results from taking short cuts. After years and years of working in the middle of real-life with clients, leaders, organizations, my children, my own journey, change comes when we pace ourselves and make little bite-size shifts over and over and over again. As Jeff always reminds me, you can only eat an elephant one bite at a time. Time and consistency really is the key.

It’s true about being a great basketball player. It’s true of becoming a great pianist. It’s true of building a larger savings account or tackling large amounts of debt. It’s true about changing our body shapes or health conditions. And it’s true in finding peace, joy, and intimacy in our lives.

Cleaning my house on a deeper level felt truly freeing. There is more to do for sure, but the work I started yesterday has propelled me in the right direction. The only way to maintain it, is to keep consistent in the little things.

Today, I think I will clean out a drawer in my bathroom.  I can see my husband doing a victory dance in the background when he sees this occurring. It’s a real-life miracle in his eyes!

Terra Mattson is the Co-Owner & Founder of Living Wholehearted, LLC.  She also serves as the Clinical Supervisor of Living Wholehearted’s Counseling Team and maintains her own private practice.