Welcome to 2021. For most of us, it couldn’t get here fast enough. This past year was tough of many. Individuals, family units, businesses and churches all faced struggles they had never before experienced. The sunrise of the New Year brings cautious optimism as we contemplate what we want and need in the upcoming weeks. Some of us will have aspirations and make resolutions, half of which will be abandoned by the end of January. Others will formalize goals, complete with action plans and deadlines for achievement. But without maintaining the rigors of daily, incremental steps toward those goals, these too will be unaccomplished.
We are generally comfortable with the idea that we are not perfect, and the largest room in the house is the room for improvement. Herein lies the challenge. I have always identified with the apostle Paul’s words in Romans 7:15-16, where he said, “I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” Sound familiar?
The number one enemy of change, in my opinion, is ambivalence. Ambivalence sees both the reason to change and the reason not to change simultaneously. It is wanting and not wanting something at the same time, or wanting both of two incompatible things. People who are stuck in ambivalence live in the language of “yes, but.” It’s a bit like having a committee inside your head with members who argue back and forth about the proper steps forward. In short, ambivalent people “want to want to change.” I think you’ll agree, ambivalence is a pretty rotten place to be stuck.
The good news is that ambivalence is a normal process on the pathway to change. If you’re ambivalent about a change you need to make in the coming year, well, welcome to the human race. Miller and Rollnick, in their book Motivational Interviewing, offer seven steps out of the muck of ambivalence, the first of which is DESIRE. It is the language of wanting. Next is ABILITY, where one assesses their own ability of achieve the change that is desired. Next comes SPECIFIC REASONS, where a person lists all of the positive outcomes that could be possible in the change is implemented. The fourth step is NEED, where the process shifts from “I want” to “I need.” This transition affixes a sense of urgency.
Step five is COMMITMENT, which begins to signal the possibility of action toward the change. This step is most easily identified by promise making and the solicitation of accountability. Next to last is ACTIVATION, which bridges the commitment to the final step toward action. Activation uses words like “willing” or “ready.” The final step is ACTION, where the person begins to take the necessary steps toward making the change. Action could be something as simple as purchasing a FitBit all the way to checking oneself into a treatment center.
In summary, the likelihood of change is small unless the above steps are taken in order. For the apostle Paul, he recognized as much in his struggle. He carries his struggle in Romans 7 to an important question. Romans 7:24 states, “Oh, what a miserable man I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” Notice he didn’t write, “What will free me.” His question is “who,” and the answer is the person of Jesus Christ (7:25). He realized that he did not have the ability to accomplish the needed and necessary changes in his life without the help of a power that is greater than himself. That is the power he needed, and that is the power I need myself.