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Changing the world 'bird by bird'

January 6, 2013

I promised myself all week that I was going to go against the cliche and
write a non-New-Year's-resolutions-based column.

I even had an outline written up about pet peeves of driving.

Yet, as I sat in church just a few hours before my self-imposed writing deadline, a new column came to me, and it just so happened to be related to resolutions.

So, as I wish you a blessed and happy new year, I'll also apologize for not breaking out of the mold.

One of my favorite authors — Anne Lamott — in one of my favorite books — "Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life" — gave me one of my favorite pieces of advice.

I picked up the book shortly after self-publishing my own book — "In a Cracked Mirror: Reflections on Brokenness" — as I was trying to determine if writing was something I wanted to do for more than "just fun."

As I read through the pages, I encountered a story that has proven to be something that's helped me, not just with my writing but also with my life in general.

Lamott — or Annie as I so belovedly call her — tells of some advice her writer father gave her brother, who had been assigned a report on birds in school and given three months to work on it.

Her brother was stressed and close to tears surrounded by all the information and facing a deadline after waiting until the last minute to start.

Anne's father sat down beside her brother, put his hand on his shoulder and said, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird."

The advice wasn't necessarily anything original.

Other expressions exist to remind us of the importance of taking things a step at a time.

Take things one day at a time; brick by brick the house is built; piece by piece, we put the puzzle together.

So, we've heard the message before, but in this case, it resonated with me nonetheless.

When it comes to making resolutions — of the New Year's variety or otherwise — I think that the majority of our problem is that we tend to bite off more than we can chew.

Resolutions that aim to make us better people quickly turn into intimidating goals that loom over our heads until we give up on them completely.

Instead of resolving to cut out a few calories by using portion control or by eating dessert with only two of our three daily meals, we resolve to lose 50 pounds, and by week three, when we're up two pounds from our starting point, we give up completely.

Instead of resolving to stop smoking by cutting back a little bit here and a little bit there, we promise ourselves to quit cold turkey.

Then, after slipping a few times, we're right back to the destructive habit just a few days after we quit.

The problem isn't that we can't meet the ultimate goal we set, but rather that we fail to put it into perspective and realize that resolutions are processes — not just changes of heart.

I've written similar columns before, but here's my suggestion for making resolutions.

Instead of making them every year, then waiting for the calendar to turn again to make new ones after we mess up, let's make the same resolution every day when we wake up: to change the world for the better.

"Now, wait a minute," you may be thinking. "Didn't you just say that the problem is we're biting off more than we can chew? Now, you're saying we should resolve to change the world every day?"

I suppose that, on the surface, it sounds like I'm talking about making huge changes.

But ultimately, the resolution to change the world broadens our scope while narrowing it at the same time.

With all that's going on in the busy world we live in — and all that's going wrong — it's easy to think that the little, positive things that we do aren't making a difference.

But maybe the problem isn't that we are failing to make a difference, but rather that we're failing to put it all into perspective.

If we view each new day we're blessed with as a busy painting, it's hard to see the difference our small brush strokes make.

But if we view the world as a blank canvas each and every day, we can easily see that the possibilities are endless for how we can make noticeable changes.

Today, you can resolve to make one person smile. You'd be amazed the
difference that can make in the world.

Today, you can resolve to smile at one person. Again, you'd be amazed the difference it can make.

Today, you can resolve to say please and thank you to the people around you; to be a positive presence in a negative situation; to help someone in need anonymously; to speak up for someone who's being wronged.

The list goes on and on, and they're all world-changing resolutions that you can make on a daily basis.

Brick by brick, the house is built; piece by piece, the puzzle comes together; bird by bird, the report comes together; resolution by resolution, the world becomes a better place.

We have a choice to make, today and every day.

And no matter what we choose, we'll be changing the world — for the better or the worse.

Every new day brings a new opportunity. The task at hand seems great.

But in those difficult times, always remember to take it "bird by bird."

Zak Lantz is the editor of The Spirit.

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