holiday travel

How to Not Go Crazy Over the Holidays

For some, holidays can be one of the most stressful times of the year. Our schedule is filled with events and gatherings leaving us no free time. We rush around buying gifts, decorations, and food. We are constantly cleaning the house to have it ready for our guests. Some gatherings are not only filled with the stress of preparations and deadlines, but old family wounds and insecurities. At the end of the holiday season, we feel drained, tired, exhausted, and depleted. Previously I shared a few ways to make your holiday season work for you

For many of us though, we don’t just have the holidays going on. We may also be changing jobs, houses, or spouses. We may have a loved one in the hospital or be ill ourselves. Time and again, I see people who are usually juggling a few challenges at once. In working with many people in job transition, it breaks my heart to see how many of them not only have to deal with a sudden job loss but have other challenges as well. The holidays, job transition, moving, illness – these are all factors that add to our stress level. If you want to get an idea of where you are compared to others with the amount of stress you are currently experiencing, check out this quick survey.

Photo by Tord Sollie on Unsplash

The survey can be helpful in realizing the actual extent of your stress, which is the first step to releasing that stress. Many of us accept stress as the new normal. We expect life to be tough. We persevere. We push through. We kill ourselves because we refuse to admit that it is too much. We lead depressing difficult lives because we don’t think there is another option. We think that it is normal to feel unhappy. But it does not need to be.

After being honest with ourselves that we do have stress, the next step is to recognize stress does not need to be “normal” and to see how our stress levels are affecting our joy, our health, and our relationships. How would our experience of life change if we were able to remove our stress? What would improve? Of course, we can not always remove the factors causing the stress. What we can do is change our reaction to the stress. We can change how we approach challenges. We can learn to live more joyfully no matter the difficult situations we are currently experiencing.

Stress does not need to negatively affect your life. Yes, challenges will happen. Life will throw us curveballs. What does not need to happen is to have a sense of powerlessness, victimhood, and anger adding more pain to difficult situations. You do have a choice in how much stress will affect you. To help, I offer a free online course to help you make time to look at your stress level and take the first steps to approaching things differently. Using these simple tools, you can begin to recognize and address your stress in a more positive way. You are also welcome to expand your ability to control your stress through some simple stress hacks and other stress programs offered.

Wishing you a joyous holiday season!

eeyore and friends

Emotional Contagion & the Holidays

Ah, the holidays. As we approach Thanksgiving in the United States, Christmas everywhere, and a plethora of holidays around the world, no doubt idyllic Norman Rockwell images pop into mind. Or maybe Norman has been replaced by the formulaic sentimentality of the Hallmark holiday movie industry. Either way, we are transported to visions of sugar plums, loving connection, and unconditional support wrapped up in a perfectly tied silk bow and served alongside steaming hot chocolate with two heart-shaped marshmallows.

And then we go home to our families.

Now don’t get all huffy my family of origin, I am referring to the Royal We family. Not any of you specifically.

When people get together, even people who love and care for each other, things are not always perfect. The reality of our lives is that we are all human and imperfect. We have bad moods. We have differing opinions. We have expectations which are hard to live up to. And it is gosh darn hard to maintain a joyful attitude all the time, especially if we have someone experiencing a Scrooge moment around us.

eeyore and friends wallpaper

But it is important that we try. I recently read an article which explores Emotional Contagion. Emotional Contagion is basically how, like we can catch a cold from those around us, we can also catch others’ emotions. Because humans mirror and mimic each other, one person’s bad mood can ruin the mood of everyone around them, and then everyone around those people.

What can be done?

First, don’t be “that guy.” Be aware of your own emotional state. What are you experiencing that you might unconsciously transmit to others? Clean up any Negative Nelly thinking before you hit the party circuit or share anything on social media. It may feel good to scream out the negativity, but if you knew it would not release you from your bad mood but instead spread the crud to others, would you still do it?

Next, watch out for “that guy.” It may be an Eeyore at work, crotchety Uncle Bill, or your best friend on a bad day. Doesn’t matter who it is. What is important is to keep your eyes open for someone who might be spreading holiday anti-cheer.

Once you have identified the ground zero of negativity you have two choices. First, try to help the poor soul. Usually the person experiencing a bad mood is not enjoying being grumpy any more than you enjoy being around them when they are grumpy. Empathize, distract, encourage, instill gratitude. Look to your toolbox of things that make you happy and see if any of them can break your friend out of their mood. Second, run away. If someone is in a funk and you are not able to help them escape it, get yourself a safe distance away so you don’t catch – and spread – what they are exuding.

During the holidays, and every day, decide if you want to spread cheer or negativity. Acknowledge your ability to make this a happier, better world by controlling your emotions and if/how you take on the emotions of others.

Speaking Up About Speaking Up

It has taken a while, but I believe I have finally embraced the power of my own voice. In the beginning I didn’t even know what my own personal thoughts were which made it impossible to share them. For some of us it is not easy to know what to say, because we are so often in the habit of listening to others instead of knowing our own voice. We look to others or common wisdom as to what to say and when. We give others our power and don’t know our own truth.

As I began to know my mind, most times I kept my opinion to myself for fear of being wrong or not accepted. Often it seems easier to not speak up. We may not want to hurt someone’s feelings, get involved outside our comfort zone, be blamed, or be embarrassed. Holding our thoughts in seems easier than creating a conversation and dealing with differing, possibly conflicting, views. Holding in our thoughts though keeps us from living fully and freely.   

As confidence in my thoughts grew, they unfortunately spewed out in nasty, judgmental, looking-for-a-fight ways. Sometimes we don’t speak our truth, we scream it. We hold things in for so long that they finally spill out in a tirade of anger, attack, and judgment. The result is we are not heard any more than when we kept our tongue.  

Hopefully today I do a much better job of knowing my mind and sharing it in a constructive, compassionate way. Owning and speaking our truth may seem difficult, but it doesn’t need to be. Here are a few tips to help you know, embrace, and speak your truth.

Photo by Maria Krisanova on Unsplash

Get in Touch with You

We must start here. If we don’t know our truth in the first place, how can we share it?  Spend some time in quiet every day to release the voices of others and to begin hearing your own voice. When a thought comes into your head, ask if it is your opinion or that of someone else. Learn to discern your own personal truth from the thoughts and feelings of others.

Just Because Everyone is Doing It

Sometimes we know our truth, but don’t share it because we don’t want to be different. We are going with the flow. We don’t want to rock the boat. We blindly follow conventional wisdom. It takes courage to look around us and say that how it has always been done or what the masses are doing is not right for us or right in general. Bold pioneers have changed the world by questioning what everyone else is doing and thinking.

Speak with Compassion

When we have the courage to use our voice and speak our truth it is important that we do so with compassion. If we yell our opinion or express it in a way that attacks another, it does not do anyone any good. Try expressing yourself gently but firmly. Speak your mind in a way that does not attack or degrade another. In doing so you have a better chance of being heard and understood. Also, sharing your voice with compassion just feels better.

What’s the Worst Thing

If you are on the fence about sharing your truth, gain motivation by asking what is the worst thing that would happen if you don’t share the truth. How is your life and the lives of those around you going to continue to suffer if you do not speak up?

Move Past the Fear

Also ask what is the worst thing that would happen if you do share your truth. Embarrassment? Disagreement? Often what is potentially gained far outweighs any negatives.

walking by honest

Willing, Open-Minded & Honest

For over a decade, I have been working with people to change their lives for the better. I uncovered that awareness, acceptance, alternatives, and action were the keys to changing our lives. A few years back I wrote From Type A to Type Me: How to Stop “Doing” Life and Start Living It which outlined how I used these four concepts to change my life and the lives of those I serve. What I have come to recognize is that there is a foundation needed before these concepts can be utilized.

Awareness is critical. If we are not aware of how our thoughts, beliefs, words, and actions are creating our problems, we do not have the power or ability to change these things therefore solving our problems. Before we can become aware however, we first need to be willing. If we do not want to change our lives, solve our problems, see our truth, if we do not have the courage and desire to make a change, we can never get to awareness.

Once we grow our awareness, the next step is to learn acceptance. If we are aware of our bad thoughts or habits, but excuse them, play them down, ignore them, or blame others for what we do, we are not able to act differently. To be able to accept the truth of the situation, we need to have brutal honesty. Not the truth we want to see or the version of truth that serves us, but the whole truth. When we can come from a place of truth and vulnerable honesty, we then have a platform to accept the reality of our lives.

To make changes in our lives, we need to see new alternative ways to think and act, and then take action and actually do them. We can not do any of this without being open-minded. If we are not open to new ideas and trying them out, what would change?

walking by honesty
Photo by Andrew Butler on Unsplash

Before someone can change their life using the tenants of Type Me (awareness, acceptance, alternatives, action) they first need to be willing, open-minded, and honest. What I have learned over the years is that without at least one of these, the door is not open to help someone. Without all three, that person can not create the life they want.

Early in my career I took on two clients who were not there by their choice. A loving and/or frustrated family member reached out to me for help. At the time I didn’t know better. Now it is so clear. I no longer take on clients who do not come to me for help. If someone else forces them to come, they are not willing. They do not have the primary desire for change and therefore there is nothing I or anyone can do to help them. No change happens without willingness.

Sometimes I work with a client who is willing, but only willing on their terms. They want things in their lives to change but are resistant to new ways of being. They want to continue to think and do what they have been doing for years and they expect things to change; which is the definition of insanity. Sometimes they are afraid of new ways to do things; this can be overcome if they have the willingness. Other times they desire others to change and be the ones to embrace the new ways of being; for obvious reasons this tactic does not work very well.

If a client is willing to change and open to try new ways of being and acting, but they are not being honest with me or themselves, we again have a major obstacle. If the client is only willing to share part of the truth or their version of the truth, we never work on the real issues. To make changes in our lives we need to be fully vulnerable and share the whole truth – good and bad – about ourselves and our situation.

I still strongly believe that the Type-Me tools presented in From Type A to Type Me are the keys to making amazing changes for the better in our lives. And I also know from experience that without willingness, open-mindedness, and honesty, these tools can not be embraced and utilized.

pink letters

But Nothing

When I had my first direct report as a marketing manager, one of the things I learned was how to provide feedback without using the word “but.” “You are doing well with your TPS reports, but you need to improve your numbers.” Most employees never hear or remember what is said before the “but.” They only hear the room for improvement that comes after the “but” which the employee often remembers as criticism. The same is true outside of the world of business. Whenever we use or hear the word “but,” we have the natural inclination to minimize the positive and only look at the negative.

As I am trying to improve my communication and my relationships, this April I set the goal to stop using “but.”  First thing I realized was how often I use “but.” Whether I was talking to someone or appraising my current situation, I tend to negate the good by adding in a “but.” “Thank you for bringing me flowers, but I don’t have a vase to put them in.” “I love these tacos, but I shouldn’t eat so many.” I began to notice how I was diminishing or rejecting the good in my life by adding in a big “but.” Sometimes, I was diminishing my good because I felt guilty or undeserving of it. Other times I was simply unconsciously focusing on the negative as we all seem to do more frequently these days.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

In becoming aware of my language, I also noticed how I would use a compliment before the “but” when I felt I could not be direct with someone. “I like your new car, but I wish you didn’t park in my space.” “You look really good in my shirt, but it would have been nice if you asked me before you wore it to paintball.” In many of these cases, my communication could have and should have been clearer and more direct. By hiding my intention after a “but,” I gave away my power and often was not fully and completely heard.

After becoming aware of how my “but” was getting in the way, I am now making a habit of replacing it with “and.” “And” is a powerful tool. Unlike “but” it allows each thought to stand strong without influencing the other.  “And” gives equal weight to both thoughts. It does not give more power to one thought over the other. It does not use one thought to negate the other. “And” gives the speaker more power. It provides more clarity in expression. I find that it also takes out the judgment. Many times, my “but” was a subtle negative attack. When I had to use “and” it made me take ownership for both halves of the sentence. Often having to take this ownership stopped me from adding my big “but” where it didn’t belong.

Take a week to notice your “but.” How often do you use it? When and how? Are you using it to minimize the good? Are you using it for a subtle attack? Are you using it because you feel you can’t be direct? How does your meaning and communication change when you use “and” instead?

grid of multiple aspects of people

More about narcissism

Narcissism is something I think most of us understand and some of us maybe have had first-hand experience with, and now all of us perhaps have a certain figure or two in mind who exhibit classic narcissistic behaviors. A little while back I wrote about how to deal with the narcissists in our life. What I would like to explore now is how to not have black and white opinions about those with narcissistic tendencies.

Whether a person has narcissistic or other negative behaviors, it is easily to label them as bad. As we learned about our own shame, we want to be careful to only label the action, and to not label the person. Behaviors and actions can change if we are willing. Just as we want forgiveness for when we are not at the best, we owe it to others to not judge and condemn them for their actions. All of us can act bad at times (guilt), but we should not be forever labeled as a bad person (shame).

If you are like me, you may often see things in a continuum. We see people on one end of a spectrum or another. For example, either you are a liberal or conservative. For this discussion, you may see the line as being narcissist on one side and being empathetic on the other. What I have come to believe is that no person is on a single continuum. We are more like a chili with multiple ingredients. We all have some narcissism and some empath in us. I like to think of it more like a bar chart with multiple possible combinations.

In the chart above, the first person is more of the typical narcissist. This person is strong in both self-centeredness and victimhood; they see the world as all about them and feel they are unfairly treated. On the other hand, Person 2 is more the classic victim. This person does not think of themselves and often focuses on others, leaving Person 2 feeling like a victim of others’ actions. The final example is a fairly healthy person. They have a strong sense of self, balanced with empathy. They take care of others and have good boundaries so they can take care of themselves.

We all have different elements in us, and these elements may shift depending on who we are with and the situation. I often hear how people can be loving and kind to a stranger, but have a hard time being as accepting and compassionate to their own family. It is also important to remember that we are all ever changing, and we all have the capacity to change.

Before labeling someone as a narcissist or putting them in some other negative descriptor ask:

  • Does this person always act like this, 24/7, 365?
  • Do they act differently around others than they do around me?
  • Do they only have one negative facet to their personality, or do they also have other positive facets? (In the example above, even though Person 1 exhibited high narcissistic/victim behaviors, they were also caring and giving to others – maybe with a self-serving motive in mind, but yet, they give.)
  • Can I name three times this person acted in ways other than the negative way I am perceiving them?

When we label someone, we sentence them to be that certain way for the rest of their life. Even if they do not act that way ever again, we can only perceive them as we have labeled them. Just as we would wish that others treat us with an open and forgiving mind, all those we interact with deserve to be treated with compassion and openness as well.

It is important to note that being understanding and accepting of other’s negative behaviors does not mean you have to put up with them. Healthy boundaries can protect you from other’s behaviors and provide you with the ability to be compassionate, without hurting yourself.

Understanding, acceptance, and healthy boundaries can certainly make for a better world.