A lot of people I speak to this time of the year comment on what a mad rush it is, how crazy busy, how stressful. Dashing frenetically from one year-end event to the next, trying to juggle schedules, expectations, budgets. Feeling stressed out when yet another invitation requires a response, as we vacillate between the quiet voice reminding us of the real state of our bank balance and fear of missing out. The kids have gift lists that send Santa to ER with heart palpitations, and the extended family wants to know what’s being planned for Christmas lunch. All this while we haven’t even figured out yet how to get through this day.
We rush in and out of tinselled stores where Jingle Bells blaring from the loudspeakers assault our ragged nerves. There, enticed by glittery packaging and the promise of instant, everlasting gratification, we spend money we haven’t planned to spend, to buy stuff we and the recipients of our sometimes forced generosity don’t need.
But why, and to what end? We eat too much, drink too much, spend too much… and as we usher in the New Year, bloated, broke and bleary-eyed, promise ourselves that next time it will be better, next time it will be different. By the time we’ve reached the end of a lean and lousy January, we are even more determined than ever to NEVER do this again.
Fast forward 11 months, and we are bound to repeat much of the same behaviour again.
Insanity is sometimes described as “doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”
If we look at our own actions and the disparities between what we say we want and our behaviour, does this make us certifiable? Maybe we’re not quite crazy yet, but we are often hurting, and engaging in behaviour that keeps on hurting us…
To add to the complexity of our situation, we live in a society that offers a seemingly endless supply of distraction. Not feeling great? No problem… eat this, drink that, buy this item, go on this experience, be entertained here… Still not satisfied? Don’t worry, here’s something else you haven’t tried yet, and which is bound to make you feel better…
Outwardly we might be portraying all the trappings of wealth, health and happiness, while inwardly secretly harbouring the shame of heavily overdrawn bank accounts and maxed out credit cards. And so we spiral deeper and deeper into the maelstrom of dissatisfaction. In short, very often our own choices and actions act as the Grinch that steals our Christmas (and our New Year too!)
But how do we break the cycle?
I believe the first thing we need to do is pause. To intentionally carve out time and space to become still. And in those moments of stillness, to ask ourselves:
“How is this working for me?”
“Am I satisfied? Or do I wish things were different?”
These are serious questions that demand serious answers: answers that are both gentle and brutally honest.
Only if we are willing to admit that what we are doing is not making us happy, not leading to a sense of satisfaction, not serving us, will we become open to the possibility of exploring alternatives. It takes focus and effort to change our mindset and habits. So until such a time as we are willing to create the time and space, and muster the courage to do a reality check and acknowledge that our current position is not where we want to be, things are unlikely to change. New Year’s resolutions won’t cut it. We tend to forget the intensity of the pain too quickly, and get distracted by the promise of effortless rewards too easily.
If we do come to the conclusion that we don’t want to continue in this way, some more work is necessary.
It requires us to spend time dreaming and imagining what a different way would BE like. What would it look like, feel like, taste like, smell like, sound like? As you explore this, jot down notes.
Then write down some goals and intentions. Research shows that the act of writing down our goals makes us 42% more likely to achieve them. So: WRITE IT DOWN!
Up to now we’ve been focusing mostly on the inner exploration we need to do. But none of us live and work in complete isolation. We find ourselves surrounded by others, and regardless of the closeness of those relationships, there are many assumptions and expectations (often unspoken ones) influencing how we act in the context of those relationships.
Here we might find ourselves needing an extra dose of courage. When we decide to shift the patterns that don’t serve us, it requires us to have courageous conversations with others who might be affected by any changes we decide we want to make. These are unlikely to be once-off conversations. They require us to revisit the same ground time and time again: when requests are made of us, when invitations are extended, when we get bombarded by messages from a world that would happily part us with our money while offering little of real value in return.
Having these conversations with ourselves and others might initially be hard. Deciding on a new course of action that requires us to set and maintain new boundaries might be difficult. It’s a bit like muscles that are initially clumsy and tend to get sore after a workout, but building these skills and practicing these conversations become easier over time, and before you know it, almost effortless. And on the other side of the initial discomfort is a newfound level of freedom and contentment.
If you want to do things differently this year and not allow the Grinch to steal Christmas, take the time out to reflect. And if you need support to unpack the questions and answers you want to explore, and encouragement along the way as you start doing things differently, connect with us. We offer a safe and gently encouraging space where you can start making different choices that will transform your life, and send the Grinch packing, forever…