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.

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?

Toxic Shame

Brené Brown talks a lot about guilt versus shame. Guilt is I did something bad. Shame is I am bad. Shame takes what is an action or behavior and makes it a truth about oneself. On some level, we have all experienced shame. It is normal. What is detrimental is when we have chronic, deep, unconscious toxic shame. Toxic shame is when we accept a dishonest belief about ourselves without even knowing it. Recently I have been doing a lot of work to uncover and excise my own toxic shame, my own dishonest deep-seated beliefs.

One example is my belief that my needs are secondary to the needs of others. I believe my needs, that my very well-being is inconvenient to those I love. When those I care about are doing well, I allow myself to have needs. But when they are sick, stressed, or super busy, I can’t imagine adding to their pain and hurting them more with my needs. As a result, I withdraw and try to become invisible. I think I am keeping pain from them, when in fact I am creating discomfort for everyone due to my withdrawal.

What needs to be healed are not my actions – my withdrawal, resentment and feeling of victimization – no, what needs to be healed is the toxic shame. What needs to be shifted is that intrinsic belief that I am not worthy, the belief I should not exist. Where the belief came from doesn’t matter as much as the fact that it is there, under the surface, just waiting for the chance to pop up and ruin my life.

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

Here is how I am combatting the hidden toxic shame in my life:

Awareness: Instead of playing the same old record I used to, instead of allowing myself to react in the way I always do, I am hitting the pause button. When I start feeling poorly, I stop and take inventory of what is going on: what is the situation, who is involved, what am I feeling. Before I can make any changes, I need to be aware of what I am doing. So much of our life is run on autopilot. To change our unconscious programming, we need to stop and look at what is really happening.

Investigation: Next I play detective. I start at the surface. What is the issue? In this case, I felt my husband was busy and didn’t have time for me. If I stayed here, it would have led to victimization and anger; he is being a jerk. Instead of attacking the other person involved, I went deep into my thinking. What was my belief? How was I interpreting the situation? What were my expectations? What was the thought behind the situation? In this incident, I got as deep as noticing that when my husband is busy my reaction is to hide my needs. I know my reaction was wrong as it was causing me pain, and if I let it continue, I would follow my old path and become passive-aggressive victim girl – which ain’t pretty. So . . .

Reach Out: I reached out to a trusted friend who is also doing her work. I was able to talk to her on a profound level and explain what was going on. She was able to see me as I could not see myself. She could see that I was actually acting on a deep unconscious belief that I was an unworthy burden. Wow. This level of understanding provided the opportunity to change not just this situation, but to hopefully prevent or minimize situations in the future.

Rewrite: What I worked on next was to create willingness to release the belief I was being a burden. I am still in the process as the belief has been with me for half a century, it did not disappear overnight, but it is growing weaker.

Next time you find yourself unhappy, stop and become aware of the situation; don’t just play it out like you usually do. Investigate what and why you are doing what you are doing, get as deep as you can into your underlying thoughts. Reach out to a trusted friend who can objectively see what is happening and provide you with the insight you can’t find on your own. Then rewrite your thinking to bring joy today and in the future.

Being Your Own Worst Enemy

This year I have been soaking up as much as Brené Brown and her research as possible. Here is a great talk she gave at a design conference which delves deeply into fear, and to me, the call to have the courage to be 100% me and to be 100% in my life.

When I was in graduate school at Roosevelt University, a favorite class of mine was on Organizational Development. One day we were given an exercise to prioritize a list of twenty or so steps we would take to start a fire or some sort of survival task. First, we did the exercise on our own. Next, we decided the sequence as a group. After receiving the proper sequence, the professors asked for a show of hands for everyone who had more correct responses as a group rather than as an individual. Most of the class raised their hands. Truth was, the exercise was supposed to show how as a group we all perform better than as individuals. To prove their point, the instructors had everyone raise their hand who did better as an individual than in the group. I was the only one who raised her hand. The professors were shocked. I don’t think they ever had anyone do better on their own before. The reason I tell this story is not to show how smart I am, but to show the biggest challenge in my life – self-confidence and being able to speak my voice. I did better on my own, because I couldn’t voice my opinions in the group.

Photo by Felix Koutchinski on Unsplash

This incident is just one of many throughout my life where I can show unequivocally that I hold myself back. I discount my ideas. I bow to others. I am afraid to speak my truth. I don’t voice my needs because I don’t want to insult or hurt others. The end result is that I have not lived fully, unabashedly; I have not made the most of opportunities that came my way. As a friend said recently, “It really, really is the bald-faced truth that we are our worst, if not only, enemies.” I know I have been for decades. 

In this video, Brené touches on the importance of having clear values and, importantly, living by those values. If we do not know our values, the choices we make in our lives are not tied to our goals and what we deem important. On the other hand, if we have values but do not act upon them, we are not living fully, honestly, intentionally.

In the second half of my life, I am committed to fully living the values I have defined in the first half of my life. I am striving for vulnerability, compassion, healthy boundaries, and living without hesitation. Instead of looking back at my previous choices (which I can’t change anyway), I am instead – not focused on the future – but focused on this moment. In this moment, am I doing my best to be vulnerable? Am I living openly and honestly?  Am I being compassionate, understanding, and accepting?  Am I creating healthy boundaries to protect myself while I am supporting others? Am I living fully, without hesitation?

It ain’t easy. I ain’t consistent. And it is worth it. I am learning to make new choices – and receive new, better results. I am grateful for the path I took when I was younger. I am grateful to have the courage to look at my past and learn from it. And I am so grateful to have the courage and support to fully live by my values, to the best of my ability, today.