Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Mountain Moving Principles to Help People Change

To You:

I remember it clearly.  The summer sun shown down on me, drying my wet hair from our recent excursion to the neighborhood pool.  I peddled my bike down the middle of our quiet street, but my mind wasn't on the pool or the bike:  it was on my upcoming seventh grade.  I always loved school.  I loved learning and felt confident in my abilities there.  I had friends.  Those weren't the problem.  As I envisioned my problem, the quintessential image is me during a break in 6th grade Social Studies class, and instead of going out with the other kids, I sit at my desk reading a book.  Maybe it was only my perception, maybe I wasn't really shy, but that day I realized that I wanted to be more outgoing; I wanted to be more comfortable in conversation.  So, I went about trying to change.

Fast forward a couple decades, and I have an incredible daughter.  I love this girl.  She is one of my dearest friends.  Much of my central purpose is helping her learn everything I am possibly able to teach her.  Some of those lessons are deep:  You are a beautiful Daughter of God with infinite worth.  Some of those lessons are shallow:  Clothes go in your drawer.  Whatever it is, whatever our age, we are all trying to learn, and real learning is changing.

Change can be hard, really hard.  It may feel like we are being asked to move a mountain.  However, the overarching truth is that we are all capable of change.  Yep, I have zero tolerance for, "That's just the way I am."  I believe we are living this life in order to change.  We are here precisely so that we can utilize our God-given ability to act and to become something better than we were yesterday.  If there is a desire to change, be it in our own lives or to help our children change, there are some principles that will help us eventually move that mountain.   Let's look at those principles with real-life applications.  The purpose of this free printable worksheet and blog post is to help you answer a question:  How can I apply these principles to effect meaningful change in my own life?

Aim to Replace, Not Just Remove

If I really asked you to move a mountain and you started at the bottom, pulling out boulders, that mountain would eventually lose balance and topple, crushing everything below it.  When we are trying to change habits, we cannot leave a void or our efforts will topple.  We need to replace the undesired habit with a good one.  Another common analogy is that we cannot remove darkness; we can only replace it with light.


  • Me:  Instead of "Don't be shy," I strove for new habits like, "Look for someone to meet." "Practice asking people about their lives."  "Be willing to sound foolish sometimes."  (I've gotten really good at that willingness!)
  • Daughter:  Instead of "Don't be messy," think "Put clothes in drawer when I take them off."  "Keep floor clean."

Select Small Rocks

If in the end we want to move a mountain, we have to start with little rocks.  Over time our muscles will be conditioned and we will be able to lift heavier and heavier boulders, but to begin we need to make it manageable.  Start with goals to change that are small.  Progress upon those goals.


  • Me:  Mountain = Be outgoing.  Small Rocks = Before a social situation, brainstorm questions you can ask people.  Do homework at home instead of during breaks.  Talk to one new person each week. 
  • Daughter:  Mountain = Be Neat and Tidy.  Small Rocks =  Clean my bedroom floor when I go to bed with a reminder from Mom.  Clean my floor when I go to bed without a reminder.  Keep my floor clean all the time.

Evaluate, Congratulate, and Reassess

Once in a while, step back and see how things are going.  Are you still working on the same mountain?  Are you making progress?  If you are a visual person, you may want to use a checklist, calendar, or a chart (like the free printable found here) to help track progress.  Congratulate success.  Reassess if things need to change.  Sometimes we realize we really don't want to make the change.  That's okay.  Just be honest with yourself.  Don't say you are going to eat healthy if you really don't want to and you really are not going to do it.  That only leads to a cycle of disappointment and feelings of inadequacy. Maybe you can make the end goal smaller or put it on hold.  Remember: today's goal is progress, not perfection.


  • Me:  This process was entirely mental for me.  I didn't have a chart, but assessed myself by how I felt about myself.  When I realized at the end of 7th grade that I had made a completely new group of friends in addition to my previous ones, I felt that my efforts were working.
  • Daughter:  We have "reminder chats" (aka lectures:) when needed.  After she did a good job cleaning up with reminders, we moved to no reminders.  I remember to give her sincere words of praise for her clean room.  Many kids appreciate stickers or smiley faces on their checklist.

Choose Meaningful Incentives

Sometimes seeing the mountain move is all the incentive we need.  This may be the case if the motivation to change is deep or if the natural negative results are quickly and clearly evident.  However, other times the mountain's movement is so small or the way so difficult that an imposed motivation is helpful.  This may happen if we are trying to change because we know we should rather than because we really want to.  Maybe we know our children need to change even if they don't want to at all.  (That pretty much sums up parenting of some children. :)  In this case, we need to understand what kind of "imposed" incentives are most helpful.

Consequences are results of our actions.  They are both good and bad.  Imposed incentives or consequences that are directly connected to the habit we are trying to change, teach us and our children the true nature of life's consequences.  That true nature is that all actions have consequences: we get to choose our actions, but cannot change the consequences, we can only deal with them.  Choose consequences that are connected to the habit or area of desired change.

Additionally, follow-through is paramount to any successful incentive.  Do not say a consequence either good or bad if you are not prepared to follow-through.  Lack of follow-through in imposed consequences teaches us and our children the opposite lesson of natural consequences (that we can pick and choose the consequences we'll face from our actions), and eventually we will all have to deal with the fall out from that misconception.

For example, if 3-year-old Timmy is refusing to leave the playground, do not threaten him with, "Well, we will just leave without you then!"  Um, really?  You both know you will never leave your young, innocent, beautiful child in a big, public place alone to be ravaged by the scary strangers we hear about in the late night news.  Why say it then?  Choose consequences for which you are both willing and able to follow-through.

In the playground case, the incentive our family has chosen is, "However long it takes you to obey is how long you will miss out on playing the next time we come."  Then look at the watch and follow through.  It only takes one or two times of the child sitting out while everyone else plays for him to remember to leave when asked.  Another option we have used is to ask the kids to leave about five minutes before we really need to go.  If there is no arguing or asking for more, then we praise them and extend the time.


  • Me: All I needed was to feel better about it!  No ulterior incentive needed.
  • Daughter: "All the clothes you put away, you get to keep!"  This child loves clothes!  After bedtime, I collect everything left on the floor and keep it for two weeks.  I am always sure to check-in the next morning.  Depending on the mood:  "I am so excited that I got a new pair of jeans last night!" with a teasing tickle.  OR "What a bummer you won't get to wear that new pair of jeans for a couple weeks," with an understanding hug. OR "Your bedroom was perfectly clean last night.  Great job!"

Keep Eyes on the Peak

I'd like to draw another mountain parallel.  I had the opportunity to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro several years ago.  It was a thrilling and beautiful experience for my sister and me.  Mt. Kilimanjaro is the highest free-standing mountain in the world with an elevation of over 19,000 feet at it's highest, Uhuru Peak.  The climb was 6 days long through an incredible array of climates.  One day we were in the rainforest, the next the desert.  Glaciers cap the mountain.

Each day we strategically increased our elevation and then descended part way to allow our bodies to acclimate to the altitude.  I remember descending one night into camp and seeing the peak that had been hidden from view all day.  Even with this judicious planning, I had a pretty intense headache and nausea one day.  Finally on the way to dinner, I lost it.  I have never been more grateful to vomit: it was sudden relief.  However, one member of our group got extreme altitude sickness and didn't feel better until our final descent.  If we had attempted to hike straight up the mountain, each of us could have been afflicted with headaches, dizziness, confusion, no energy, difficulty breathing, and in severe cases, death.  The gradual increase and decrease of elevation on a steady path forward is what allowed us to summit that great mountain.

Perhaps this life-saving ascending-descending pattern parallels the way we can look at our ability to change.  Uhuru Peak is our goal of how we want to change or what we want to become.  We make a plan shooting for the peak and work hard to get there.  At times, we may feel that we are descending though.  Maybe after working so hard for it, we don't get that new job.  Maybe we forget and yell at the kids again.  Maybe the way forward seems harder than ever.  At these times, we would do well to be kind with ourselves.  We are still on the way; we can still see that beautiful peak looming in the distance.  This may just be the path to get there.  Do not expect yourself to be able to ascend 19,000 feet overnight.  Do not get discouraged and turn around if partial descent occurs.  Keep eyes on the peak and keep progressing.

A Summit-Reaching Truth

We cannot move mountains, or climb them, on our own.  We had an amazing team of local guides and porters on our way up Kilimanjaro.  In fact, the fourth day hiking we came across a dropped and splattered watermelon on the path...someone, in order to feed us, had been carrying a watermelon for four days!  Our friend who suffered pretty severe altitude sickness believes she would not have made it without the guide who diligently stayed with her and assisted her along the way.

In my own efforts to make mountainous changes throughout life, my parents, siblings, closest friends, and husband have been powerful influences for good.  I hope I am the same for my daughter and other kids.

As we we strive to grow and change, we ought to surround ourselves with people who will help us.  These people are uplifting and understanding.  We can turn to them for accountability, encouragement, or an example to follow.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has helped millions overcome addiction.  One of the most basic tenets of AA is that one must come "to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity."  It is also my experience that if we include God, our Greater Power, in our efforts to change, our ability to change will increase and that change will be more lasting.

I hope these principles encourage and aid you in the ways you desire to change.  I stand as one willing to be your porter...I will help you carry that watermelon!  Or listen to your challenges, or encourage you, or celebrate your successes.  Thank you to those who are mine!

Love, Marielle
PS-  I am really proud of the positive changes my daughter is making!  Her floor has been clean every night for over three weeks!  When I told her what I was blogging about today and showed her the messy picture I took when she was at school just over a month ago, she laughed and said, "You've got to post that!"  She's proud of her own progress too.  Now we just have to get little brother in on the "no reminder" plan!

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