When faced with something we consider to be a mammoth task – and behavioural change can certainly fall into that category – it’s easy to feel daunted, or to find reasons not to make a start. It is particularly difficult when life is hard and everything seems to be going against us. But it is especially when problems appear insurmountable that we must remind ourselves of the importance of taking one step, and the wisdom of what time can do for us. We can, therefore, take great encouragement from this saying:
‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.’
It means that if we wish (or need) to create a new habit, change our behaviour, or improve how we respond to our world, then we probably should have started years ago. If that didn’t happen, however, the next best time to start is now. Right now. The use of the tree as a metaphor is powerful not only because of the tree’s strength and longevity, but also, paradoxically, for the time it takes to grow.
Therein lies the problem for people. It is understandable to feel discouraged by the nature or size of a problem, and to have reservations about the complexity of the solution; but it’s the timescale of the process which delivers the final blow to our motivation. The greater the problem, the further away the goal, and the less likely it is to be pursued.
People want results quickly, and show less patience or willingness to invest in longer-term solutions than any previous generation in our history. There were times, for example, when people worked on cathedrals knowing they would not live to see its final splendour. These days some people find it difficult even to work on themselves. Instead, we tell ourselves we’ll start tomorrow, or next week, or on January 1st, or when the kids have left home, or if things get worse, or when the summer comes around, or when the house is finished, or when work is less busy, or when we have more energy, or when…
All the time we are making those pacts with ourselves, trees are left unplanted. Before we know it, a year has passed… five years… ten years. Throughout that whole time the fertile ground upon which we stand remains fallow, when it may otherwise have become a forest of our own creation. If only we had planted trees when we had the chance.
Even when such a realisation kicks in, there is still one final challenge to overcome. It’s the voice of rationalisation which says, ‘Yes, I should have started years ago, but now it really is too late.’ Regardless of what you might think, now is always a good time for planting trees. After all, if you don’t do anything, nothing will happen and eventually that rationalisation (and others like it) will become your mantra.
So make a start, abandon your expectations, and relax into the gentle rhythm of your daily endeavour. No matter how small your effort – and it need only be small – you will immediately and automatically set in motion a different way of being. Thereafter, all you have to do is focus on taking each step in turn, until one day you look up to find yourself in a different landscape, on the horizon of your original dreams, smiling contentedly at the power of life to nurture every seed you sow.