The 12 Steps of Christmas: A Hero’s Journey

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As we struggle to the end of the year exhausted by the persistence of the pandemic, terrified by the temperature rising across the planet and fed up to the back teeth by the perennial lies of our political leaders we can be forgiven for thinking that this Christmas, more than any other year, we need real and sustainable change.

So, this year on each of the 12 days of Christmas, let’s embrace the 12 steps of change.

Starting on Christmas day with Step 1. The first day of Christmas is a great place to start because, for most, it’s one of the few days of real comfort in our year. We have a bellyful of turkey, a silly paper hat on our head a mind numbed by sherry. As we settle in to watch Elf or It’s a Wonderful Life for the umpteenth time, we can momentarily persuade ourselves that all’s right with the world.

This is the first step of the Change Wheel. Step 1 is the Comfort Zone, where we can enjoy the transient warm haven of Christmas day. There’s no need for change, all seems well with the world. We must appreciate this moment – it won’t last long.

On day 2 we are jolted out of our comfort zone. A family member has said something insensitive, overstayed their welcome, or the turkey pie has burnt. Boxing day has punched us in the face with a dose of reality. Step 2 can be painful and unsettling. All we want to do is go back to the comfort of yesterday. But there’s no going back. We may feel sorry for ourselves, blame someone else for our woes or simply anaesthetise our pain with another sherry or mince pie. But really our pain is a signal. A sign heralding in the start of the journey. It’s our call to adventure.

On day 3, the 27th, we refuse the call. We don’t accept the charges. We hang up and resist change. At Step 3 we often reject whoever might be offering to help us clear up the mess of Step 2 and move forward. We’re in limbo. It’s that time between Christmas and New Year when we can’t go back, we can’t yet go forward. We don’t know what the future holds. We wallow in our discomfort not realising that our resistance is part of the process. 

On day 4, the 28th, if we’re lucky, we start to realise that resistance is futile. No amount of wallowing or narrating how bad things are solves our problems. If we want things to be better, we must BE the change. Our resistance subsides and we start to accept that we must act, we must move, and we must trust that tomorrow could be better. We’re approaching a moment of truth.

On day 5, the 29th, that moment arrives, we have a decision to make. Do we really want to change? Do we have the courage to change? Are we prepared to leap into the unknown and make a resolution for the New Year that we’ll stick to? Will we cross the threshold from procrastination to practice? Will that change be significant enough to sustain? Will we make sure the change is irreversible by burning our bridges so we can’t regress? Are we prepared to go “to infinity and beyond?”

On day 6, the 30th, we must start planning. We must gather resources for the party. We must connect to the people who’ll be our companions for the adventure that awaits us. It’s a day of anticipation of change but nothing yet has really happened. The road ahead is becoming clear. We have made a decision and now we must follow through.

Day 7, the 31st is the day or reckoning. Our first test awaits – the big party. Will we fall back into old habits? Will we lose ourselves in revelry, indulgence, or distraction? Will we be different? The work of change has begun. The trials have started. Do we understand why seven swans are swimming and six gees are laying. Have we fathomed the meaning of five gold rings? Do we see the connection between four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge? Do we get the metaphor? Have we started to look at the “(wo)man in the mirror” and realised that it’s us that must change not others? We are the project.

On day 8, New Years Day we should wake up anew. Something has shifted. The world will never be the same again. We will never be the same again. We put our resolution to the test, and hopefully passed with flying colours. The real voyage of discovery is not seeking new landscapes but having new eyes. We know it and we feel it. On our New Year’s Day walk we reflect. Change is not done with us yet. We are not fully developed. There is still deep work to be done. Why did we need to change in the first place? What change are we really seeking? Have we truly slayed our demons and discovered the treasure?

On day 9, the 2nd day of the New Year and the second day of the new version of us we must consolidate. We must stabilise. Embrace and embody the new version that has emerged from the work and deep work. We radiate. We practice what we preach. There is a spring in our step. We’re excited about the possibility of the future.

Day 10 is the day of return. The holiday’s over. The change has happened, and we must re-engage with the world. But it’s not us it’s the new version of us that returns. The journey back feels different. We’re not seeing swans, calling birds and partridges we’re seeing, with our new eyes, maids milking, ladies dancing and lords leaping.

On day 11, the 4th day of the New Year we start delivering at a whole new level. Why? Because we are a whole new person. We are reborn and rejuvenated. We have step changed our capability. We can now move at new incredible speed. We can go further, faster. Things that used to take hours now take minutes. We can perform at levels we never even dreamed of. It’s a kind of magic. Pipers are piping to celebrate our brilliance.

And on the 12th day of Christmas, we take our 12th step. We realise how far we have come. How much we’ve changed and what we’re now capable of. Our journey of waking up, owning up and growing up means we now show up differently. We’ve inspired ourselves. And our breakthrough and transformation may have inspired others to go on the journey of change. Embrace the next adventure. Can you hear the drummers drumming?

Read Step Change: The Leader’s Journey to discover more about the 12 steps and four phases of change. It explores how leaders can change themselves, their teams, and the performance of their organisation. It describes how we can deliver sustainable change in our lives at any time of the year not just at Christmas.

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