I had a surge of optimism as we dumped the box of colorful pieces on our kitchen table. Despite it having been years since the last time I did a puzzle, I eagerly embraced the challenge. I welcomed the family time together, free from the tempting distractions of cell phones or gadgets.

Immediately we set out to find all of the edge-pieces. We started out strong, but several hours later, our enthusiasm waned. By bed time, I found something rather unexpected amidst the puzzle pieces. The puzzle had taken me on a journey from the optimistic enthusiasm, to the “this isn’t possible”, to eventual victory. Suddenly the stages began to feel rather familiar to life itself. When we set out to make a change, embrace a new habit, pursue a new goal or even a new year’s resolution, we go through the same stages as when we complete a puzzle! Recognizing the stages, knowing the path, can encourage us to persevere when we pursue change. See if you recognize the stages too…

The 7 Stages of Completing a Puzzle (aka The 7 Stages of Goals, New Habits and New Year’s Resolutions):

Stage One: Enthusiasm. This will be fun, I thought as we began sifting through the puzzle pieces. Excited about the ‘journey’ I was determined that we were going to be successful and have fun along the way. It’s the same emotion we experience when we identify a change we need or want to make or a new year’s resolution we plan to make. ‘This time I’m going to do this’ we declare. We buy the workout DVD or the gym membership, or the how-to book that will make our dreams come true. Optimistically we look ahead ready to be victorious this time.

Stage Two: This is harder than it looks. A few hours into our puzzle efforts, my kids laughed with me. I must have said “this is harder than I thought it would be” three or four times in a row. It was the only thought I could put together as the reality of the challenge sank in. It’s the same feeling we get a few weeks into a new diet, when we’re trying to learn a new skill, or trying to establish a new habit. Our initial progress slows. We suddenly find forward traction isn’t as easy as we thought it would be.

Stage Three: I think there are some pieces missing I was certain someone at the puzzle factory must have been sleeping on the job. Clearly we had to be missing several pieces in our box. Until the puzzle was fully put together, more than once I was convinced we were missing pieces. There were gaps that didn’t seem possible to fill. There were pieces that just didn’t seem to fit with the others. When we’re trying to make a change in our lives, there will be time when it feels like the pieces aren’t coming together or that we’re missing something we need. If only we had that one piece that gave us the secret to success, we’d be fine. But we don’t see it. When we feel like this, we need to refuse to stop. Continue. Take the next step. Press on.

Stage Four: Discouragement. I can’t do this by myself I thought staring at the disarray on our table. My children had taken a break, but I lingered working by myself for quite some time. Soon I hit the proverbial wall. I felt like I just wasn’t getting anywhere. Thankfully, my son returned to come to my aid. He was able to quickly find a few pieces that had escaped me. The momentum he brought to my effort reminded me that on our journeys we will get discouraged. When we do, we need find support in a friend, family member, or a good counselor who can come along side us and help us see how the pieces fit together.

Stage Five: Identify a strategy. Sometime into our effort, we realized we needed a new strategy or reaffirm an old one. For our puzzle effort we decided to sort the pieces by color. Finding the pieces that connected was much easier when we were dealing with a handful of pieces rather than the entire puzzle all at once. As we tackle changes or setting up new habits, we need to be on the lookout for strategies that can give us the boost we need. Why not check out blogs or YouTube videos on the areas where you have goals to improve? You might just find a strategy that helps you stay the course.

Stage Six: Success! Persistence and perseverance pays off! Victory is sweet. I enjoyed our family time together putting our puzzle together, even despite the stages in the middle of the effort that I think we may have a new tradition. Celebrate success and look ahead. In life, when we accomplish our goals, it’s important to

Stage Seven: Rinse, Wash, and Repeat: The important last stage to the journey is looking back and then looking ahead. What did you learn? What would you do differently? For our puzzle, we learned what size and level of difficulty works. When working towards a goal or resolution, look back. What’s worked and what hasn’t worked in the past? Take the lessons you learned and apply them forward. Then, set a new goal and grow forward.

As you look ahead to the holiday season and the New Year ahead, I hope the wisdom I found in the pieces on my kitchen table can encourage you. Change can seem more challenging than it needs to. Reaching for new goals can feel daunting. My wish for you is that as you start to look ahead and consider the resolutions or habits you hope to pursue next year that you won’t let the middle of the journey derail you. Remember my puzzle and press on. The pieces will come together if you do. Success waits on the other side of perseverance.

I’d love to hear from you. Can you relate to these stages in life, or in putting a puzzle together? How do you encourage yourself to press on? Click and join the conversation. And, if you’ve been encouraged by this post, why not share it with your friends.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like this one about a game of Connect Four.