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Bad habits. We all have them. And around this time of year many of us even start thinking about setting our New Year’s goals to help overcome them. Can you just imagine how amazing it would be if we had never formed our bad habits in the first place? Life would be so much better! Heaven knows it is far easier to create good habits in life then to break bad ones once they have formed.

I love the poem below that was written by Joseph Malins. It perfectly illustrates the fact that it is so much better to build a fence that keeps us from falling off of a cliff than it is to try and rescue us once we have already fallen. I love it because you can apply to so many areas of life. You can apply it to overcoming bad habits, you can apply it to the importance of setting boundaries from your kids in order to prevent them from serious troubles, you can apply it to running a business and the importance of having clear policies and procedures for employees to follow, you can apply it to a million other areas of life…all of which hold the same common lesson – We should focus our attention on setting good boundaries for ourselves upfront in order to prevent bad habits and behaviors from occurring in the first place. If we focus on prevention we won’t need the cures.

The Ambulance Down in the Valley

‘Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant;
But over its terrible edge there had slipped
A duke and full many a peasant.
So the people said something would have to be done,
But their projects did not at all tally;
Some said, “Put a fence ’round the edge of the cliff,”
Some, “An ambulance down in the valley.”

But the cry for the ambulance carried the day,
For it spread through the neighboring city;
A fence may be useful or not, it is true,
But each heart became full of pity
For those who slipped over the dangerous cliff;
And the dwellers in highway and alley
Gave pounds and gave pence, not to put up a fence,
But an ambulance down in the valley.

“For the cliff is all right, if you’re careful,” they said,
“And, if folks even slip and are dropping,
It isn’t the slipping that hurts them so much
As the shock down below when they’re stopping.”
So day after day, as these mishaps occurred,
Quick forth would those rescuers sally
To pick up the victims who fell off the cliff,
With their ambulance down in the valley.

Then an old sage remarked: “It’s a marvel to me
That people give far more attention
To repairing results than to stopping the cause,
When they’d much better aim at prevention.
Let us stop at its source all this mischief,” cried he,
“Come, neighbors and friends, let us rally;
If the cliff we will fence, we might almost dispense
With the ambulance down in the valley.”

“Oh he’s a fanatic,” the others rejoined,
“Dispense with the ambulance? Never!
He’d dispense with all charities, too, if he could;
No! No! We’ll support them forever.
Aren’t we picking up folks just as fast as they fall?
And shall this man dictate to us? Shall he?
Why should people of sense stop to put up a fence,
While the ambulance works in the valley?”

But the sensible few, who are practical too,
Will not bear with such nonsense much longer;
They believe that prevention is better than cure,
And their party will soon be the stronger.
Encourage them then, with your purse, voice, and pen,
And while other philanthropists dally,
They will scorn all pretense, and put up a stout fence
On the cliff that hangs over the valley.

Better guide well the young than reclaim them when old,
For the voice of true wisdom is calling.
“To rescue the fallen is good, but ’tis best
To prevent other people from falling.”
Better close up the source of temptation and crime
Than deliver from dungeon or galley;
Better put a strong fence ’round the top of the cliff
Than an ambulance down in the valley.

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Start thinking now about the fences you can put up in your own life to help you avoid slipping into bad habits. Like I said, this time of year is the perfect time to refocus your efforts and decide what changes you want to make in your life as we head into a brand New Year ahead.


From Amy Rees Anderson

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