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Getting To the Next Tree

Q: I had a lot of goals for this year. But ... well, 2020! I'm really discouraged. Where does a person find the strength to keep going?

Jim: Here's one of the secrets to success when life gets tough -- just get to the next tree.

There's a military training school in Vermont that puts soldiers through some of the most unbelievable physical and emotional tests you can imagine. The challenge that produces the highest dropout rate is a rigorous hike up a snow-packed mountain with heavy rucksacks on their backs. The troops aren't given any special equipment. Their only tool for success is determination.

The soldiers trudge up the hill through knee-deep snow, and within 100 yards, some of them find the struggle to be too much. That's when the instructor tells the troops, "If you want to fail, focus on the top of the mountain. If you want to succeed, just get to the next tree. Then the next one. Do that again and again until you reach the top of the mountain."

That's how you reach a big goal. You pursue one small goal at a time. You write a book one word at a time. You stay sober one day at a time. You restore your marriage one counseling session at a time. Some days "the next tree" may be getting through this day, this hour, even this prayer, with hope.

That's how it is when you're struggling. Things are so tough you feel like you're standing at the bottom of a mountain and staring at the very top. This year of all years, for so many of us, the climb might even seem impossible. But you can make it to the top. Just get to that next tree.

We have loads of tips and resources to help -- including trained professional counselors who can come alongside you if need be -- at

Q: Greg, I'm a simple guy. So, I need one simple idea that will help us build a great marriage. What do you say?

Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: Well, there are several things I could suggest, like praying together. But I think I'll toss this one out: Laugh together.

Studies show that couples who laugh together are healthier, happier and more connected. Even little giggles between you and your spouse create relational bonds that draw you closer together. That's because laughter is a powerful connecter.

In fact, laughter is only partially about humor -- it's mostly about connection. Studies show that we laugh more when we're with someone than when we're alone.

My wife, Erin, and I have discovered that to be true. As anyone who knows us can attest, some of our greatest memories involve us laughing together. Occasionally -- OK, often -- it's been tough to stop. We've laughed so hard for so long that we started laughing at each other's laughing.

So, Simple Guy, there you go: Laugh. And the more the better. A friend of mine, author Ted Cunningham, encourages couples to strive for a laughter-to-conflict ratio of 100 to 1. That sounds like a lot -- and it is! -- but it's the heart behind the numbers that counts. The important thing is that you want your marriage to have as many points of connection as possible. And laughter is a great one.

By the way, if you're worried that you have to be a comedian to fill your marriage with laughter, don't sweat it. The point isn't about telling jokes to one another. It's about finding the humor in everyday life. It's about enjoying your life as much as possible -- together -- with smiles on your faces.

Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at or at




(EDITORS: For editorial questions, please contact Hollie Westring at

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