Monday, November 23, 2009

Taking Charge of Your Holidays!

By Pat Barone, CPCC, PCC
"America's Weight Loss Catalyst"

If you've been near a store lately, you've probably been exposed to holiday music, festive displays of lights and the not-so-subtle urging to buy, buy, buy.

The retail message to buy is second only to the societal push to eat, eat, eat!

So, before venturing down the path to a few extra pounds or a mountain of debt, let's take a look at some common holiday messages that take us away from enjoyable holidays.

If you look closely at the language we use around holiday obligations, you'll notice they are often preceded by the words "should", "ought" or "gotta."

These three little words, uttered so innocently, are clearly directions originating outside ourselves.  They cover tasks, deeds and actions that we feel we
"have to do", whether the direction comes from our mothers, spouses, best friend, children, or even from society.

"Should", "ought" and "gotta" are the source of much anxiety in life.  As we rush to fulfill the wishes of other people or to measure up to someone else's idea of what our lives should look like, we pay very little attention to our own needs.  In fact, the first thing that flies out the window is often our own greater need for health, security, kindness and love.

This creates stress, pressure and conflict that often disrupts celebrations and diminishes our enjoyment of the holidays.

But, how would your holidays look if they were designed around what you want?

Fulfilling Family Expectations IS DIFFERENT THAN Finding Fulfillment

Our needs are important.  They are connected to our deepest values and honoring our values leads to fulfillment in life.  When a niggling feeling of unease, dissatisfaction or even outright stress occurs, it's a sign we're violating our own values.

Take my clients, Tanya and Alex, who spent their Christmases with Tanya's large family for many years.  Tanya and Alex had no children but their rather large extended family included 8 other adults and 8 very young nieces and nephews. 

Each year, there were family discussions and debates over who was going to host Christmas.  Tanya, who hated the mess caused by the children, always refused to host the holiday because she felt the kids "trashed her house."  She and Alex ran an orderly home and disliked mess, noise and anything approaching a spill on their expensive antique furniture. 

Tension between Tanya and her sisters increased as the brood grew.
  Christmas meant a great deal to Tanya and Alex because they identified very strongly with their religion.

Every year, she swore she was going to get a handle on her holiday eating free-for-all but her calorie intake simply increased with every stressful event.
  So, Tanya came to me to help solve her eating issues. 

We looked at the situation through the lens of values.  It was obvious that Tanya and Alex had different values than Tanya's sisters.  Neither was bad or wrong, but they were different.  Her sisters loved the noise and torn wrapping paper; they were proud of their overloaded food table; and they wanted to play during holiday events. 

Tanya and Alex preferred church, traditional celestial music, and quiet contemplation for their holiday.

As Tanya became determined to solve the turmoil she felt over the holidays, I urged her to look for the "oughts", "shoulds" and "gottas" in her life.

I should be with my family at Christmas.

ought to be grateful I have a family and we're all close, even if the kids drive me crazy.

gotta be more patient with the kids, because there are more of them each year!

should go to church on Christmas Eve; my sisters are robbing their children of a spiritual connection to the holiday.  All they care about are material things and toys that make too much noise!

My sisters have gotta stop having kids; they can't seem to handle the ones they have! 

When I suggested Tanya and Alex spend their holiday differently, you would have thought I suggested they shoot themselves!  There was an equally long list of shoulds, oughts and gottas in response to that.

But, after we began to look at their values, I asked them to write about how they'd like to spend the holiday.
  Some themes emerged:  Christian worship, music, relaxation, gratitude and contemplation.  These things weren't present at their family Christmases.

So I urged them to brainstorm ways they could spend their Christmas that would fulfill them and keep them close to their own values.  What they came up with was surprising to both of them:  it was travel.

As they related their findings to me, they could scarcely contain their excitement.  They wanted to travel to other cultures and experience how Christianity was celebrated in other countries.  They had even made a list of places they wanted to visit:  Italy, Spain, Venezuela, Honduras, Portugal, etc. etc.

With much trepidation, they told Tanya's sisters and booked their travel plans.  Tanya was so convinced there would be huge fights and a lot of emotional resistance to their idea, they even tied that first trip to Alex's job so it sounded like they had a good "excuse."

They were shocked when the family didn't protest much!

Now, it may seem very logical from the outside that these people didn't belong together at Christmas, but family ties and the belief in "shoulds" "oughts" and "gottas" is strong. 

Each year for the last 7 years, I've received a post card from Tanya and Alex from some exotic location in the world where they are spending
and enjoying Christmas.  One year I also received a letter.  In it, Tanya told me she had spoken to her sisters about the fact that she and Alex didn't spend the holidays with them anymore.  She had been relieved to hear her sisters say,

"We're so glad you do what makes you happy now."

"You were a complete stick in the mud!  We hated having you here with us because you were miserable and you made us miserable."

"No offense, but now the kids can play without being shushed and criticized!"

"Please continue to travel and make yourself happy!"

So, under the umbrella of "shoulds" "oughts" and "gottas", Tanya had spent many an unhappy moment.  She had convinced herself and her husband she HAD TO be with her family and they would be very hurt if they didn't share their holiday.  She thought she was making them happy at her own expense but she wasn't making anybody happy.

She was also regularly and frequently overeating due to the unpleasant, stressful situation.

Stop "Shoulding" All Over Yourself
1.   Look ahead at the holiday season.  What are your "shoulds", "oughts" and "gottas?" 
2.   Determine your values and design a holiday experience that reflects those values.
3.   Schedule your holiday according to your vision.
4.   Who will be affected by the changes you'd like to make?  Let them know your plans, making it clear you're simply honoring your own values and not rejecting or judging the way they spend the holidays.
5.   Execute your plan.

You can follow these same steps whether you are changing the way you spend the holidays or changing the atmosphere of your holidays.  Perhaps you'd like a simpler holiday or one filled with more activity and exercise. Take the steps to make the special days in your life yours.

Chances are those around you will appreciate your honesty and honor your requests if you communicate in a clear and loving manner.

Pat Barone earned her title "America's Weight Loss Catalyst" by coaching thousands of clients toward permanent weight loss.  Her status as an expert is heightened by her own personal weight loss success (minus 70+ lbs. over 9 years ago).  She's a well-known speaker throughout the U.S. and teaches permanent weight loss worldwide through her intensive teleseminar "enLIGHTen Your Life!"  Learn more at

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