I believe that everybody is born with either an anxiety gene, a depression gene or a denial gene. Setting goals in January, with high expectations for the year, quickly reveals which gene we can thank our parents for passing on. Which one do you claim?

It’s a pretty quick assessment to figure yourself out. Those with the anxiety gene are already worried about how far they have “slipped” from the original goal set on January 1st. They’re projecting concern for future success based on past performances with assistance from common traps like comparison, judgement and fear. This concern and worry will very likely slow down progress and may actually prevent any gains from being made at all.

The depression gene thwarts progress from the get-go. Whether it causes you to sleep your day away, listless and lethargic, or approach every task with dread and angst so that you find yourself taking steps backwards instead of forward, depression can stop you in your tracks before day one has even ended.

Those with the ‘denial’ gene tell everybody else to “just do it.” 

I am formally declaring that I am tired of repeating myself – again and again and again – so listen, as if it’s the last time I will ever say this (but in all reality I will repeat myself again, as those of you who really know me are already thinking)…

— I am whispering now for effect — 

The only way anyone can get from ‘Point A’ (our current reality) to ‘Point Z’ (our envisioned reality) is by taking (drum roll please)… one bite at a time.

ONE step forward.
With ONE new belief to integrate.
ONE experience to solidify.
And, ONE person to encourage us along the way.

This is true for all of us, no matter which gene you were born with. The only way we can get from A to Z is by evaluating what has kept us from moving forward already, and then re-shaping that belief on every level: Heart, mind, soul, body and relational. It’s a five-prong approach to taking steps forward, and it’s the only way. The good news is, it can work for anyone who is willing to do a bit of self-reflection and take baby steps.

Here’s where many of us falter: We stop paying attention to our inside voice, the one whispering truth to us each and every day. The one that feels the tiny changes happening and that has the power to change even the most stubborn of habits. It’s the voice that contains our desire, our hope, our willingness and our most valued priorities. Why does this voice wane so easily? Why does it become so difficult to hear? Here is what I have noticed:

Everything I read or listen to this time of year sends me the same (positive) messages:
“Accomplish your dreams!”

“Just do it!”

“Believe in yourself!”

“Do it!”

As an achiever type, I love all these messages, and inside my head I am yelling, “heck yeah!” I want to jump on the band-wagon and rally the troops to tackle the world, but in reality, I am merely drowning out the quiet voice inside. The one that should be guiding me forward. The one that WILL guide me forward.

Do you ever hear these types of messages and think, “That’s great and all, but…?” Fill in the rest of the statement with any sort of reasoning that rings true to you after many years of real life. We’ve ALL done that at some point. We have all rationalized someone else’s well-intentioned pep talk with a sobering dose of our past inabilities. This tendency pulls on our anxiety. It’s a trigger for depression and it’s simply ignored by those in denial. It is in this manner that the championing encouragement keeps us from even setting a new goal.  Herein is where the problem lies.

Sometimes these messages heap unnecessary shame and discouragement on us rather than reaching their anticipated goal of encouraging us to try. Do you get what I am saying?

We have a quote in our Living Wholehearted Lodge and Retreat center that hits me with its penetrating reality check every time I see it:

“Nothing worth anything has short cuts.”

This is true for building new homes, developing relationships and it is true for resolutions and goals, too. No matter how many pep talks we hear or how many ways we “will” ourselves to change, nothing will happen until we fully and honestly evaluate where we are (our starting point A), and then create a simple but intentional plan of steps (one at a time) to get ourselves to point Z.

Step One: Assess where you are — Point A

If you take a really good look at where ‘Point A’ really is for you, you might recognize that you’re not starting where you thought you were. As a result, you might need to alter your steps ever so slightly to put you on the correct path to ‘Point Z,’ but this can be a zinger to do completely on your own. This is why it is so important to travel this road with one or two others who can help you maintain an accurate view of where you are at, as well as serve as encouragement and accountability for the journey.

No one knows how to love well unless they have been loved well. No one knows how to grieve or comfort well, unless they have processed their own losses and been comforted themselves. No one knows how to be successful and powerful, while still maintaining their true selves, unless they knew clearly who they were from the beginning. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

For example, I would say that I drink a fair amount of water. If you’d asked me a year ago whether I drink enough water, I would have said “YES!” Everyone knows that water is essential to health and wellness. I knew this; I did not think that I needed to set a goal for my water consumption. I had it down, or so I thought.

However, here’s the reality check. I have had chapped lips for a whole year. I am not joking! Every remedy available on the internet has touched my lips with no abatement of the problem. I had not necessarily connected this problem to my water consumption, but the continued and persistent symptoms suggested something different. It caused me to pause and re-assess my evaluation of my water consumption.

“Maybe I actually need to drink more water in 2018?” It was the last, but most basic, remedy for chapped lips! What I thought was my point ‘A’ (where I was starting from with my water consumption), had not been accurately identified a year ago.

As is often the case, when we evaluate our own selves, we begin with biases, pre-conceived ideas and/or desires that may not accurately reflect the reality. It takes time, self-reflection and sometimes feedback from others to really have a clear picture of where we are at.

Step Two: Assess where you want to be (Point Z) and make a list of steps to get there

“Just do it” and “Become all you can be” are wonderful slogans, but these positive affirmations do not hold the all-important explanation of “HOW” to get yourself to the goal. All too often, we fall short and simply settle for something less than we originally hoped for.

All of us have dreams and goals for 2018, whether we have written them down, announced them on social media or kept them quiet within our own hearts.

Both depression and anxiety can overwhelm and cause an individual to veer quickly from the path toward success. Trauma, abuse and challenges in our past breed a belief that you have to do it all on your own. This is extremely overwhelming and it is also just plain false. In fact, 2 Thessalonians 3:3 reminds us that “the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you…” (NIV).

In truth, strong emotions, coupled with time and understanding, can help us have realistic expectations and gauge our accomplishments from a more accurate perspective. Like an old friend, they can give us insight into what is really going on, as well as what our true motivation and level of willingness is, as was the case with my chapped lips. As Kathy Morrissey has reminded me many times, expanding our timelines and lowering our expectations will calm the angst and discouragement we feel. Celebrating the little shifts and movement along the way will keep us progressing forward. One step at a time.

We are all at different starting points. We all need different timelines. And we all need someone to walk with us. Change never happens in isolation.

In order to create movement toward Point Z, try this: Identify and write down three action steps that will move you off of Point A and toward Point B. Then do it again from Point B to Point C, and from Point C to Point D, etc…you get the idea.

Be specific and realistic!

Ignoring reality is rooted in an unhelpful belief system that “dwelling over the past is pointless,” or something to that effect. It is fed by the denial gene. Watch out for this tendency.

And finally, small steps can and should be celebrated.

Laughing with a friend of mine about these little celebrations the other day, we both acknowledged that as moms who are caretakers to the world around us, just going to the bathroom when we have to “go” can feel like the most amazing self-care possible. Who needs a massage when simply going to the restroom (by yourself) can be step “C” toward valuing and respecting yourself more? This big and somewhat general goal may actually start more effectively by noticing your own needs and caring for those as much as you do everyone else’s (this is actually a homework assignment I give to many impactful leaders in the community).

Take it from me, getting to Point Z will be more satisfying and much more likely to occur if all the 26 letters of the alphabet are acknowledged and successfully met each step of the way. Break the big goal down into lots of smaller goals. Grab a friend, a mentor, a counselor, and the Lord; lower the expectations and expand the timelines…and just breathe!  When we rush the process of sanctification, which is really what we are doing as we stretch ourselves to grow in purity and improve areas of our lives, we are really just putting marble over dry rot. It’s a phrase a client of mine once used to describe a growth process she had experienced; one I could relate to after many years of ministry that didn’t always produce the fruit I had hoped for. Yes, we all want the strong and beautiful marble to replace whatever dry rot we may have acquired over the years. But trust me, when you take the proper steps and fully implement the five-prong approach to changing your beliefs, you will arrive at Point Z with a completely re-built foundation. Your starting point (wherever that may be) will not be at the same place it once was. Through little steps of progress, you will ultimately find a strong and fortified finished product. Perhaps it will resemble marble, perhaps it will actually look like something completely new and original. Something you hadn’t even dreamed before. Most certainly, it will not be merely a facade over the dry rot, which is liable to crumble from within, leaving the new top layer weak and hollow.

Fortify yourself today with a look back at the last four weeks of 2018. Notice each and every small step of progress, even the tiniest ones. Cherish them. Thank God for them. Shout celebratory praise for them! If you can’t find one, start again now. One bite at a time…

ONE step forward.
ONE new belief.
ONE experience you will solidify.
And, ONE person to encourage you along the way.

May this slower, gradual process guide you gently through the months ahead. Shortcuts are overrated.


Written by Terra A. Mattson, MA LPC, LMFT , Co-founder & Clinical Director Living Wholehearted


(Edited by Aimee Eckley)