Gen Z Burnout


Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. ……….But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Ecclesiasts 4:9-12

This topic is in my wheelhouse – I experienced Burnout – not once, but twice.  I have seen the movie and got the T-shirt, which made me interested in why this was something affecting Gen Z.

I wrote materials on Burnout which I hand out to those that I come in meet who are experiencing symptoms of burnout.  My return to normalcy was aided by friends and family who surrounded me and loved me when I hit the wall.

While I know that Burnout is not limited to any particular age group, the fact that the next generation, and Gen Z in particular, is a targeted demographic should not have surprised me.

I should have connected the dots better. Given their high levels of anxiety, isolation and depression, the next generation is in the bulls eye for burnout.  They are stressed out about everything, even things they shouldn’t be.

While burnout has been viewed as being a millennial phenomenon, it is now an epidemic in Gen Z.  They are “on track to be the most stressed-out generation” according to the American Psychological Association.

Burnout is insidious and misunderstood. Even so, it’s hard to imagine what stresses could impact a demographic group who are all under the age of 22.

So what’s going on?  Stress is not new – it is universal and timeless, but Gen Z faces some “unique challenges” similar to millennials who suffer work-disrupting anxiety at twice the average rate of adults.

Those challenges include constantly changing political and economic climates, 24/7 access to social media which fuels social pressures and competition and leads to isolation. Add to those a  focus on personal achievement both academically and professionally.

All of these occur at a developmentally vulnerable time. They don’t have the proper social, emotional and interpersonal supports to help navigate the through the thicket.

Having friends on Facebook is not the same as having a real friend to help you cope with life.  In fact, the lack of confiding relationships increases the risk of depression (or worse).

A stress inventory test that I have in my materials assigns “point values” to events of life – things like death of a spouse, divorce, financial changes, moving to a new location, or even taking out a loan.  It’s called the Holmes-Rhae test – there is now one for non-adults.

Almost all of the events in the inventory are not within the control of the person being tested. A cumulative score of 300 points in a year puts one in the red zone with a high likelihood for some illness or burnout.

One needs to look for other symptoms too. Things like “errand paralysis” where small tasks get put on the back burner for no reason.

Postponing mailing a letter or registering to vote, or just feeling paralyzed doing particular tasks. One Gen Xer described it as feeling like they had a straitjacket on all the time.

For me, one symptom was the inability to focus on certain activities, even though I was able to maintain focus in other areas. I functioned well professionally. But if you asked me about going to dinner next Friday, and I literally couldn’t respond.

For the record, this is a warning sign – a red flag. It is actually a chemical issue where your body’s defenses prevent your synapses from working as a protective mechanism because you are in overload.

Anthony Rostain, MD notes, “Today’s world may be a more competitive and less forgiving place, but when that assessment yields a constricted definition of personal success, it fans the flames of destructive perfectionism.”

Rostain goes on to provide an antidote for parents and mentors alike. It involves helping young people acquire the skills to avoid obstacles and manage stress in a healthy way.

One of my antidotes includes building “margin” into your life by finding healthy ways to unwind. Exercising more, for example, is a natural antidote to stress. In my materials, I suggest “fishing without bait” or “running without keeping time”.

Sometimes competing is counterproductive particularly if you are stressed out in other parts of your life.

The challenge is to help the next generation and especially Gen Z develop real  friendships and develop “grit” in order to cope with a changing world.  Grit is the sine qua non of success. It is the ability to maintain motivation and persist in spite of hardships, anxiety and stress.

Grit isn’t just manufactured out of thin air. It often requires friends to come alongside when things get tough. Close friends are an invaluable source for maintaining a healthy mental outlook when adversity strikes.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY: Spending time with a member of Gen Z can be instrumental in helping them keep a healthy perspective on life and building “margin” if they don’t have it.

FURTHER RESEARCHHow Gen Z Can Swap Burnout for Breakthroughs, Penn Medicine News

Holmes-Rhae test for Gen Z  A helpful inventory.

Kingdom Nuggets in Dealing with Depression  Faith Magazine

WORSHIP: Listen to Lord I Need You – Passion

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To humans belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the proper answer of the tongue. Proverbs 16:1

 A conflict is brewing among the next generation, particularly in Gen Z. On the one hand, they have bold goals and ambitions for their lives – they are committed to making an impact and are very goal oriented.

But there is something holding them back. They fear responsibility and failure.  Those negative fears cause a level of indecisiveness that puts them in a straightjacket so they can’t pull the trigger on a decision or taking responsibility where they may be accountable.

Their reasoning usually includes reflections like the following:

  • “What if I don’t measure up or fail?”
  • “What if what I wanted to do is actually boring?”
  • “What if a better option that comes along later?”
  • “What if I can’t handle the responsibility placed on me?”

It’s a dilemma for Gen Z according to Tim Elmore. On the one hand, they want the freedom which comes with adolescence and young adulthood. They even aspire to leadership.  That’s a positive.

But they don’t want the problems that might come with “being in control”. They can become overwhelmed.  That’s the negative, and unfortunately, all too often, the negative instinct wins out over doing something or making a decision.

Put in another way, if the negative always wins out, no one would ever run a race else they might lose. But there is a benefit in competing and winning is not everything.

This is the generation that has all the world’s information at their fingertips – literally. But having that information and absorbing it in their brain is a different matter.  This generation is likely to have what is called the Google Effect.

The Google Effect shows that obtaining information from a Google search doesn’t result in retained knowledge. In fact, the studies show that the answer is not retained.

Much of the negative predisposition is a result of making decisions based on emotion rather than facts, analysis or critical thinking.  Fear of failure can be debilitating, yet most people admit that they learned more from failures than successes.

The ability to do critical thinking starts with knowledge already stored in your brain. Knowledge about history or the subject at hand is required, so that one can critically think in context.  This  is a continuing issue for the maturity of Gen Z into adulthood.

Recently, my grandson decided that he wanted to apply to a private school that his father went to in New England. He went so far as to line up taking the SSAT and signed up for an interview. I was pleased with his initiative.

On the trip to take the interview, he balked. He went from a positive – the idea of going to one of the best schools anywhere  – to a negative: “What if I don’t get in?” “What will my family think if I don’t succeed?” Unfortunately, the negative prevailed.

I was disappointed, but mostly for the reason for his decision.  I had seen what the benefit of that academic environment had done in my life, and two of my children. Granted, being accepted at a school of high academics is never certain but failing to get in is not something to be ashamed about.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

His default to the negative is typical of the next generation.  I hope over the next year to spend some time with him and encourage him to reach high.  Every decision in life has stakes, both good and bad. But dwelling on the negative side will not advance the ball.

I hope to remove his fear of failure over the next year by reminding him of the benefits of going to one of the best schools in America. Win or lose, I will be there in his camp. I had a similar issue with my own son when, after spending a year away at school, he hit rock bottom.

We had a long Thanksgiving going over his problems.  I challenged him then (and I would do it again) that I didn’t want him to look back at his decision and say, “if only I had stayed in school.” I used the opposite approach and planted the idea of “what if” you succeed.

“If only” is used in hindsight, but “what if” is looking forward – it is a positive view of possibilities.  Mark Betterson authored the book title “Ifand the theme of the book is how to convert a “if only” attitude  to a “what if” attitude.  Basically, how do you convert a negative to a positive.

Our challenge is to help the next generation take responsibility, ownership and see the world of choices from a  “what if” perspective rather than a negative “if only” attitude. It’s a way to come along side them and help them see a positive outcome rather than a negative downside.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  A mentor is in a key position to encourage the next generation to make good decisions and getting them to look at them from a “what if” vantage point.

FURTHER READING:  If: Trading your ‘If Only’ Regrets for God’s ‘What If’ Possibilities Mark Betterson

Motivating Leaders who don’t want Responsibility  Growing Leaders

WORSHIP: Listen to Set My Heart  Vertical Church Band

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Pushing the Rope


Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me”.  Luke 9:23

 How do you push a rope? If you’ve tried, it doesn’t work well. Pulling it is the answer. This is a principle we use at MentorLink which turned 20 last week.

We celebrated with a dinner, followed by a session with our international leaders from Canada, Argentina, Senegal, Spain and the Philippines.   While listening to the program, it occurred to me that the real story of MentorLink (MLI) has not been told.

For 20 years, we been pulled through doors which opened to us. Much of that was not a result of any grand strategic plan. We never tried to push the rope.

Our vision came from a group of over a dozen ministry leaders in the U.S. They realized that the worldwide growth of Christianity was accelerating faster than the growth of leaders.  The challenge: Quickly develop and multiply leaders around the world.

That’s a big vision for a startup.  But we learned to think big, start small and go deep.  Our vision hasn’t changed although how it expanded surprised us. We knew there is a difference between leadership training and leader development.

Leadership training is like pushing a rope.  Traditional leader training consists of content transfer and skill development. Formal Biblical/theological training fits well into this methodology.

The way of Jesus is the road less traveled. It requires character transformation not content absorption. Developing a Christlike leader requires a focus on the character, motives and attitudes of a leader. It includes some content and skill training as well.

Mentoring is leader development, not just leadership training. It requires deep relationships and trust leading to life transformation. It requires intentionality and accountability.

This is how Jesus developed his disciples: He walked with them throughout Palestine.

MLI created five core values which are the foundation of all our materials. Our original seminar,  Passing It On, was given in 5 cities in Columbia, SA in 2001 where travel between cities was treacherous due to the drug cartels.

Passing It On (PIO) is still used today.  I presented PIO in Nairobi, Kenya last June (see picture). It is the backbone of the ministry, and is complemented by an Institute where leaders can go deeper and even earn a diploma using Skype or Zoom.

In 2019, we trained 5,720 national leaders. Cumulatively over 20 years, we have trained close to 100,000 leaders in at least 70 countries. Those numbers are conservative because we don’t have a large bureaucracy to track this data.

We never tried to monetize our materials by charging for them. They are free on our website. Charging for materials would have been a hindrance in the developing world,.  I still encounter ministries today that make that mistake.

Two watershed moments occurred which were pivotal. Neither of them were in our control.  The first was the U.S. recession which started in 2007.  Overnight, 60% of our funding ceased. We had two choices: either close our doors or drastically change how we operated.

We chose the latter after much reflection and prayer. We all but eliminated staff except to the barest necessity. We operate today without any full-time staff.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that ministry output is a function of financial  input.  From that, you would have expected our ministry to falter.

Instead, it not only flourished, it exploded around the world. That’s when we realized that we had started a movement, not a ministry. Today, we have reached leaders in 180 countries.

Our growth was not a result of our strategic plans. Instead it expanded by relationships of leaders around the globe who connected in ways we could not have imagined nor planned.

The second significant moment occurred in 2010 at the Lausanne Conference in Cape Town, South Africa.  Our founder met with leaders of the Jesus Film, which is now translated into around 1,600 languages.

The producers of the Jesus Film knew that the movie was a great tool of evangelism, but there was no discipleship follow-up.  This is critical to almost 60% of the world that can’t read. Our Founder bravely said,  “We can help you!”.  That’s big thinking again.

It was literally dropped in our lap.  We produced 40 Days with Jesus  (DWJ) using the Jesus Film in English.

If you sat on a ministry board and thought, “What would be the most strategic language after English?”,  I am pretty sure you wouldn’t have picked  Swahili.  But that was the door that opened. Only later did we learn that some 240 churches in Tanzania were planted as a result of DWJ in Swahili.

DWJ is now in 40 languages. Our goal is to cover the top 100 languages.  We are approaching 50 million downloads of DWJ in 181 countries, and those downloads are the only ones that we can track because some occur through DVD’s and other media.

Our ministry thrives in countries where Christianity faces severe restrictions. DWJ is available in languages from North Africa and the Middle East in the west, and  Indonesia in the east.

Our challenge is that we are now looking at ways to improve. That’s big, but we started small and want to go deeper. We want to pull the rope better.

RESOURCES:  Days With Jesus is available on YouVersion, Youtube, The Jesus Film and  

WORSHIP: Listen to Let My Words be Few.

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The Age of Entitlement


“..whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” Matthew 20:26-27

 Most have heard of the Age of Enlightenment which occurred at the end of the 18th century in Europe.  It marked the age of reason and humanism, leading to an elevation of the religion of man. It was the turning point to Post Christianity.

Three centuries later, we are encountering the Age of Entitlement, particularly in the next generation. It is growing and is very real. A recent study revealed that millennial professionals scored 25% higher on entitlement issues than those 40-60, and a remarkable 50% higher than those over 60.

Another study found millennials were 3 times as likely to have a narcissistic personality trait, which is entitlement on steroids.

What does entitlement look like?  It means that a person believes he deserves certain privileges and is often arrogant about it. People have unreasonable expectations as to what they are entitled to or what they believe they deserve.

Things like the sense that one “deserves” a job because they graduated from college.  If they have a job, they think they are underpaid or deserve more perks than co-corkers. Ask any business owner who has encountered this – you usually get an eye-roll response.

My post on  “Arrogance” discussed this issue. One reader suggested that I should repost it every month. Nuff said.

Christopher Caldwell’s book traces the American “genealogy of our current discontent.” He places its roots to the 1960’s when the Great Society was created and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 enacted.

The legislation had unintended consequences.  The reforms unleashed a federal bureaucracy to become the “eyes and ears” of civil rights enforcement causing almost every aspect of life to be inspected for proper racial balance.

The reforms were intended to end racial discrimination; instead, the process “nurtured it”.  Racial neutrality was replaced with racial quotas, disparate impact, and affirmative action.  These policies became the blueprint of change of constitutional culture for women’s rights, sexual preference, and “lately, gender identity.”

The “victims” are now entitled to special preferences, not because they deserve them, but because of who they are.  Discrimination didn’t require intent; it could be inferred by the fact that a group did not have a “proper” racial or gender balance.

It continues today: Goldman Sachs, an investment banker, recently announced that it will not take a company public unless it has “at least one diverse member on its board”. Starting in 2021, they will require two women directors.

There is even a presidential candidate who claimed she was of Cherokee Indian descent to advance her education and career. She gamed the system to advance her own interests, using her “entitlement” as a native American to open doors.  Tests later showed that she had less Indian DNA than most northern Europeans.

I mention all of this because I believe it is a relevant context for the next generation. It has set the stage for their own sense of entitlement. It has become the norm.

Tim Elmore unpacks it this way:  “The source of entitlement is arrogance; the symptom of entitlement is resentment.”

On the flip side, Elmore notes: “The enemy of entitlement is humility; the antidote is gratitude.”  One of MentorLink’s core values is for our leaders to embrace humility – Jesus was a servant leader who led from a position of humility, not strength, power or entitlement.

As one leadership expert notes: “Everything good in leadership starts with humility. Everything bad in leadership is rooted in arrogance.”  “Arrogance demands and expects while humility receives and enjoys.”

The entitlement mentality is frustrating for prior generations who believe in self-reliance and that achievement of success is earned through effort, not position or entitlement.  Those biblical values have been eroded in a post Christian era.

The challenge is that the next generation is sadly confused about what they are entitled to just for existing. They need help to overcome resentment over what they don’t have and learn to appreciate what they do have.   That’s what being humble is all about. It starts with gratitude.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:   Your mentee may be arrogant and not realize it. You can help him develop an attitude of gratitude.

FURTHER READING:  The Age of Entitlement by Caldwell (2020)

How to Overcome the Dangers of Entitlement – Leadership Freak

Five Steps to Reverse a Sense of Entitlement – Growing Leaders

WORSHIP: Listen to Good, Good Father by Chris Tomlin

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Post Christianity

notredameA damaged Notre Dame in Paris.

But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 2 Corinthians 3:16

I often refer to this era as being “post-Christian” without unpacking it.  In his annual Christmas address last month,  Pope Francis stated,  “We are not in Christianity, not anymore.”

Something that is “post” means that it comes after something that existed. For Christianity, it meant that the world before this current era was largely a Christian world.  That statement has broad implications in the mores and political discourse around the globe.

To the western culture, which was based on Judeo-Christian principles, it is a huge earthquake. The Reformation brought cultural values of truth and the rule of law to the top of the list.  In a post-Christian world, those values take a back seat.

Institutions in America at one time were trusted are now not trusted because people see the lack of truthfulness and integrity and it undermines their trust. Politicians openly lie  (“if you want your doctor, you can keep him”).  The euphemism for lying is you “lacked candor”.

John S. Dickerson wrote an article in World Magazine titled “Facing Cultural Storms”. He discusses trends facing the world starting with the decline of Christianity and the drift towards socialism away from capitalism.

Dickerson names other trends:  the fast rise of Islam around the globe and the “civil war” of ideologies in a post-truth era. As for the ideology war, the next generation is being taught that all belief systems are equal and can coexist without conflict. Even someone from ISIS would challenge that statement.

The evolution away from Christianity started with the medieval culture. Norman Cantor, a medieval historian put it this way: “Medieval culture was a culture of the book, and in the middle ages, that book was the Bible.”

What then happened has been described as a macrosocial change. It began with the French Revolution, which established the religion of man. Alex de Tocqueville commented on the process of de-Christianization this way: “In France, Christianity was attacked with almost frenzied violence.”

In 1793, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was formally transformed into the Temple of Reason. Statues of Rousseau and Voltaire replaced statues of saints. The recent fire which destroyed Notre Dame has been met with large support to have it restored.  Most of that support is to rebuild it as a historic tourist site.

The post-Christian change has been gradual, driven by the subculture at the top levels of society – the educational system, the media and top levels of the legal system – which are now mostly secular.

It has been a trickle down change from the top by the “elites” and the courts. Most Universities  embrace gender and race diversity, but not political opinion.

Conservative professors at Yale are pushing back at their isolation because their opinion is treated as non-objective and “invalid”.  Liberal faculty “cull out” conservative graduate students.

A 2014 Stanford study shows a 6-1 ratio of liberal to conservative faculty nationally (28-1 in the Northeast), whereas only 26% of the American population was liberal according to a 2019 Gallup poll.

As one writer cynically noted, the lyrics to the song “My country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of Secularity” is the new national hymn in America.

The Pew Foundation tracks the changes. Christianity declined by 10% between 2007 and 2014, and those professing no religion (the “Nones”) increased by 50%.  Not good trends.

This is a trying age. My friends and I are constantly shaking our heads at where it is headed. Trends like socialism, which is inherently anti-Christian, are worrisome.

As I noted recently, 70% of millennials favor socialism.  They don’t know history and are blinded by the verbiage that sounds good and therefore it must be good.

The problem? Socialism has never worked. This time won’t be different. It has consistently led to major human catastrophes by socialist leaders like Stalin and, more recently, Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.

The decline in Christianity has led to an absence of traditional teaching on social mores. The sexual revolution redefined the nature of sex, gender, relationships and the family unit away from Christian teaching.  Public schools are now being required to add LGBTQ curriculum regarding gender fluidity which is contrary to biology.

Tolerance is now a high cultural value particularly with Gen Z. It collides with any notion of absolute truth   and turns to intolerance in public debate. 

Should we despair? I think not. Christianity has thrived for two millennia through different governments and societies. Notwithstanding a bumper sticker that says, “WE HAVE NO HOPE”, we always have a hope based on a relationship with Jesus.

The challenge is to recognize that things have changed quickly and dramatically over the past 50 years. We have to be strategic in articulating our virtues and values in a culture that has been turning a deaf ear to anything with spiritual overtones.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Your mentee has been raised in a post-Christian world and may need help in navigating through falsehoods to real biblical truth.

FURTHER READING: Hope of Nations: Standing Strong in a Post-Truth, Post-Christian World, James S. Dickerson.

Facing Cultural Storms – World Magazine

WORSHIP: Listen to Glorious Day by Passion.

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Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6

 A phobia is an irrational fear or aversion to something.  It is often used as a description of an anxiety disorder.  An essay by a member of Gen Z, Taylor Brandt,  suggests the term may apply to the next generation.

Things like safe spaces on campuses, trigger warnings, bias response teams were never part of campus life until the last 10 years. To this next generation, these phobias seem real, yet older generations are dismissive because we didn’t experience it. We even call them “snowflakes”.

A 2018 survey by the American College Health Association showed that 63 percent of college students reported feeling overwhelming anxiety over the previous year. Another 42 percent said they felt so depressed it was difficult to function over the previous year, and 12 percent seriously considered suicide.

How did this occur?  Taylor Brandt searched for answers for his own issues.  He read The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting up a Generation for Failure  and found it helpful.

The books’ central thesis is that young people have been “immersed in a world characterized by paranoid concerns for safety”. It leads to a distortion of their thinking and damaged mental well-being.  The next generation has had adversity removed from their lives, leading to unintended consequences.

The authors unpack “Three Great Untruths” which have negatively impacted the next generation.  Each Untruth has three things in common:  each contradicts ancient cultural wisdom as well as modern psychological research and does harm to those who embrace them.

The first Untruth is Fragility: “What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.”  Instead, as Frederich Nietzche noted the truth is “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.”  Just the opposite.

An example comes from biology and the development of the peanut allergy. It is attributed to parents and teachers in the 1990’s who started protecting children from peanuts even though the real incidence of allergy was only 4 out of 1,000 kids under 8.  By 2015, the rate was nearly 32%.

Attempting to protect children from harm might actually cause more harm. What is true in biology extends to economic and political systems, according to Nassim Taleb, author of Antifragil.

The next Untruth:  Emotional Reasoning. This is the triumph of emotional reasoning and decision making. Subjective feelings trump objective truth. Being in touch with your emotions is not always bad, but taken to an extreme, it leads to an overcorrection.

These connections to feelings has led younger people to think they are in constant danger (witness the embrace of climate change through a constant drum beat that the world will end in 12 years).

The last Untruth: Us Versus Them. Life is a battle between good people and evil people. This results in typecasting – you are either good or bad. Nothing in between. It has led to increased tribalism and “common enemy” and tribalism which humanizes people of different groups and sets them against one another.

Ironically, from a Christian worldview, we are all sinners after the fall in the Garden of Eden – broken sinful creatures who need God to save us from ourselves. We are given the opportunity of redemption through Jesus. We are actually a “common humanity”, not “common enemies.”

The authors of Coddling think the last Untruth  is a “Marxist approaches to social and political analysis”. It creates tribalism and class warfare leading to socialism (or worse)  A worldview that identify people as potential threats because of their perceived position of power is toxic. It may be one of the sources of Gen Z’s poor mental health.

The Untruths have resulted in Groupthink largely spawned by social media, something that didn’t exist in prior generations.

Tyler Brandt ends his article with a challenge to his generation:  adopt a worldview which is more generous to other people, seeing them not as just good or bad but being more nuanced than a stark all or none approach.

Finally, Tim Elmore suggests that there is now a normalization of anxiety. Based on the data and studies cited above, he is on to something.  We now have to approach the idea of phobias of the next generation, whether real or imagined, as something to be dealt with.

His suggestion is that we meet those with high anxiety with empathy. Telling them to “grow up” may be counterproductive until you have sympathized with them as a means of helping them withdraw from their emotional crises and bring them hope.

The challenge for parents and mentors alike is that we will need to be sensitive to the needs of the next generation in tackling their high levels of anxiety. The solution, of course, is a spiritual one.

Mentor Takeaway:  Phobia or not, the next generation has a high level of anxiety. Being able to discuss real issues as opposed to perceived threats to their safety may be beneficial to a mentee’s life.

Further Reading:  Antifragile: Things that Gain from DisorderTaleb

3 Harmful Ideas that are Weakening my Generation – Tyler Brandt

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting up a Generation for Failure  Brandt and Lukianoff

WORSHIP: Listen to This We Know by Vertical Worship.

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 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

 I thought I would avoid the sappy New Year’s post about making good resolutions for 2020. Last week, I ended my post on Generosity suggesting that a good resolution would be to try and become more generous in 2020.

I reflected on how few resolutions stand the test of time, and a better idea is to suggest ways to make a resolution a reality.

Most annual resolutions don’t last a month. For decades, I have watched the annual crunch at health clubs and Y’s which occur in early January because people have made a resolution to become more fit.

By mid-February, health clubs have returned to normal. The “fit” resolution is well intended. But instead of becoming a year-long habit to good health, it is put in the rear-view mirror – at least until another New Year when it is likely dusted off and renewed.

Studies show that only 2% of New Year’s resolutions are kept, which means, that there is a 98% failure rate. One reason:  people bite off more than they can handle and set their expectations too high.

The old joke is how do you eat an elephant?  The answer:  One bite at a time. This is more profound than you might think because imbedded in this silly joke is the key to having success at achieving a lot of goals: start with small steps.

One man who had a job that kept him at a desk all day. He had a small paunch around his waist wanted to correct it.  A friend told him to start small by doing 2 pushups a day and to do an exercise called a plank for 20 seconds (it’s an exercise that strengthens stomach muscles).

A year later, he was up to 50  pushups a day and  could hold the plank position for 5 minutes. Oh, and his paunch went away. Why do small steps work?

Mark Twain put it this way: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”  If you focus on small steps to get started, they don’t feel overwhelming. Inertia begins and it’s easier to keep moving ahead.

From a small start, our mind is geared to being positively reinforced by having early success. It’s the ability to see results one step at a time. It also helps create valuable habits, which help us achieve larger goals.

Progress creates its own momentum. Teresa Amabile, author of The Progress Principle, found that progress creates the best work experience. The idea is that forward momentum in meaningful work creates the best result.

Stanford Professor Szu-chi Huang says, “When you are just starting a pursuit, feeling reassured that it is it’s actually doable is important, and achieving a sub-goal increases that sense of attainability.”  Going back to pushups, starting with 2 is achievable. Trying to do 20 might seem impossible.

Small steps which aren’t overwhelming means that they are more likely to last. “Sudden radical transformations don’t have the same staying power” according to Ann Gomez, a productivity and leadership consultant in an article in Thrive Global.

I took up riding a bike when I was 71. I started with short rides in our neighborhood – mostly 5 to 7 miles. From there I steadily increased them. To be honest, I did not set out to do long distances, but as I increased my stamina and strength, I was able to enjoy the experience.  Now, I consider a 20-mile ride a short ride.

The picture above is from the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. It commemorates the first power driven flight by man.

The complete inscription reads: “In commemoration of the conquest of the air by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright conceived by Genius, achieved by Dauntless Resolution and Unconquerable Faith.”

It took the Wright brothers years to achieve success. They started with unpowered glider flights in 1899, leading to the first powered plane flight on December 17, 1903.

Their achievement is really a study of trial and error through small steps.  To get to the powered flight, they had to succeed at glider flights. It was one small step of many incremental steps leading to success.

The challenge is to make goals that we can achieve, like an annual New Year’s resolution. Starting with small steps is the best secret to long term success.

The lesson of starting small should be passed on to the next generation. They often have lofty goals and want to tackle big things, yet they need to realize that the best avenue to success may be to “think” small.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Helping your mentee achieve a larger goal by getting them to focus on small steps may be an important lesson.

FURTHER READING: The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement and Creativity   by Teresa Amabile

WORSHIP: Listen to You Make Me Brave by Bethel Music.

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