A small little holiday tradition has developed in our house. The construction of a thousand-piece puzzle. We bought one a couple years ago and loved doing it. Puzzle-doing is a fine activity in cold weather with a cup of tea or a bowl of soup beside you.
One of the reasons we love puzzles is the challenge. You dump out all the pieces and look at the image on the box and it seems almost impossible. You know you’ll get there, but the challenge is clear as well. You have a mess and the transformation seems far off.
We often view life this way. We have a pile of pieces spread out all over the place. They are fuzzy and blurry. Some of them are solid all the way through. And they all kind of look the same at first glance. How do we consolidate into something that makes sense?
Even if we have a vision for our lives (which is no given), it can be hard to know where to start and concentrate enough to finish the thing.
Step 1: Act
You tackle a puzzle the same way you eat an elephant – one bite at a time.
The same is true for our lives. Goals are challenging, but we start by starting. We do by doing. The end may seem far off or unclear. Look for the edge pieces, the ones that stick out the most, that distinguish themselves from the others.
Research shows that we are twice as likely to achieve goals if we just write them down. And if we tell someone else about our goal, we are even more likely to do it. Why? Because these actions make it real to us. It makes it tangible and plausible. We’re not holding it in a secret vault anymore. The box is open; the pieces are on the table.
Step 2: Learn
The second step is to learn. One of the reasons we are so afraid to act is we are so afraid to fail. Imagine if we took this approach to puzzles! Anyone who does a puzzle knows that most pieces get into place by picking something up and trying it…and putting it down because it didn’t work…and so on until a piece fits.
Learning is an important part of growth. There is no failing in the endeavor of human character. Only learning opportunities. Perhaps said a better way, our failures are not definitive. They are part of the process. And if we avoid it, we avoid growth and progress. The one thing we don’t actually avoid is pain. We just chose a more subtle version.
Step 3: Adjust
The last step of the process is adjust. As we travel down the path of life, we take the lessons we learned and the experience we’ve gained and adjust. Both our failures and our triumphs help us know what to do next. If one piece doesn’t fit here, it might fit there or maybe needs to be set aside for a while.
Working on a puzzle is an exercise of adaptation. We try and learn and try again. Informed perseverance is the friend of the puzzle doer.
And the same is true for us. We’ve got to try.
The pieces are there. The path is tough. There will be missteps and confusion and at least a few bats of irritation. But in the end the beauty we could hardly imagine becomes possible.