My ex-husband is in the hospital this week. My son spent last week with him in Orlando and today, we’re expecting results of tests that may indicate liver damage or failure. The thing is, this was generally preventable. It’s the result of the progression of uncontrolled diabetes which itself was brought on by lifestyle choices. Friends, our choices are important. They affect us and those around us.
Certainly, change is hard. Usually, most of our circumstances and habits are stacked against us. But, while it may not feel like a crisis, the changes that we often want to make for our health and well-being, our spirituality or our relationships…these things are crucially important for our lives and the lives of those around us.
In the last mini-series, we identified the five commandments that we want to live by and where we’re falling short. In this mini-series, I’m covering the tools that you need in your toolbox to make those changes successfully. The first was a gear-n-gadget post last week. Mostly, that’s fun helpful stuff, rather than essential. The next few weeks are the essentials. What you must have in your toolbox to make lasting change. And the best part? You don’t need to spend any money. These things are completely free!
The first essential for your toolbox is people. You need the right people around you. People can have either a positive or negative effect on your attempts to make a change. They may intentionally be helpful or unhelpful. Or, they may be affecting your effort un-intentionally. This week, let’s talk about the positive side. What people do you need in your toolbox? There are several roles that people fill that make it much easier to make changes in your life. You need mentors, cheerleaders, and partners.
A mentor may be someone you know personally or someone you don’t. I know some of you who listen to my voice each week, but the vast majority of you I don’t know. But, if you’re listening, learning and putting into practice the things I talk about…I’m functioning as a mentor for you. You may have someone in your life who plays that role casually, occasionally, or unofficially. Someone you look up to and seek out for advice. Or, you may have asked someone specifically to be a mentor to you and you have a relationship built specifically around this purpose. You meet or talk on a consistent basis about the topics or behaviors you’re interested in growing in. You may be mentored by books you read or people you follow online. A mentor is essentially an experienced or trusted adviser.
A cheerleader is an encourager. Someone who is pushing you toward doing the right thing, celebrating when you do it, and encouraging you to try again when you fall short. It’s someone who not only believes in you but is vocal about that belief. When you leave the presence of these people, you feel refreshed, refocused and able to do things you didn’t think possible. They don’t need pom-poms and a back handspring. But, they do need a consistent willingness to be “for you” and to tell you about it.
A partner is someone who will come alongside you and share the journey with you. Maybe they’re working on the very same change you’re working on. Maybe it’s something different. But, they’re willing to share the journey with you. The everyday nitty-gritty of it. The failures, the triumphs and most importantly, the day in and day out work of the journey. The mud-on-your-shoes kind of work of it.
If you think about your change-making as a journey, a mentor is someone you stop and check in with on a regular basis. Like putting fuel in your gas tank, checking a GPS for course corrections or looking something up in a travel book. It’s knowledge, strategies, and wisdom. A cheerleader is someone who pops up around every corner saying, you’ve got this! You can do it! I believe in you! Try again! Like the fans with signs along the side of the road at the Tour de France. Only, not the weird, freaky, war-painted half-naked fans that chase the bikers. The more normal ones. With signs. And a partner is the one walking, biking or driving right next to you every step of the way. Every pedal turn. For every mile of the journey. They share the ups and downs and road dust with you. They experience it alongside you.
These roles don’t have to be different people, they can overlap or be present in the same person. You can have a friend who functions as both a partner and a cheerleader. But, don’t discount how valuable each of these different roles is. Each of them will be necessary to you at different times.
Can you make lasting change without having these roles in your toolbox? Sure. Probably. But, it’s going to be a whole lot harder. Like painting a Michelangelo masterpiece with your feet. I’m sure there are people who can do it, but why work that hard if you don’t have to? There are a lot of things in life that conspire against you making changes. We’ll talk about them in the upcoming series. You want to do everything possible to stack the deck in your favor. And these relationships will help you do that.
Begin to look around you for the people who do or could play these roles in your life. Who would make a great cheerleader? Who already encourages you? Who do you look to as a trusted adviser? Who could you learn from? Who might you know that would be interested in making lasting change, either the same type as you or other changes?
The changes you want to make might not keep you from kidney failure in 10 years. But, then again they might. Maybe they are that critical for you. Maybe they’ll save a marriage or improve a relationship with your kids. Maybe they’ll allow you to succeed in your career. Whatever change you’re interested in making, it is possible. But, it’s going to be a lot easier with the right people around you.
I want to mention one other thing about the people in your circle of influence. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. After combing through 30 years of data from 12,000 residents of Framingham, Massachusetts, Nicholas Christakis, a Harvard sociologist determined that having obese friends increases your chance of obesity by 57%. 57%!
Who you have around you matters! This has a few applications for our discussion of change making. As a child, your friends were chosen for you in large part by proximity…who lived in your neighborhood, was in your class at school or was the child of family friends. You had very little influence on who you spent time with.
Today, you can choose your friends that way too. Who you work with or parents of your kids’ soccer team can become your social circle. But, as an adult, you have the opportunity to do something different. You can pursue friendships with whomever you choose. You can intentionally choose your friends. Thinking about that Framingham study, if you want to be a physically healthy, spiritually mature, fit, person who drives a vintage truck…who do you think you should hang around?
What if you intentionally chose your friends? What if you fill your social circle with mentors, cheerleaders, and partners? Where might you be in five years?
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