Whether we’re celebrating Advent, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, the arrival of Saint Nick, or good old-fashioned family-togetherness, it’s only natural that we look forward to this time of year with hope and eagerness in our hearts.
But sometimes all of that hope and eagerness can begin to look an awful lot like expectations. You know, the kind that inevitably lead to disappointment, frustration, or sadness. They seem especially potent around the holidays.
Maybe you expect that your sister will be in from out of town, but she ends up having a work obligation. You expect that your in-laws won’t bring up the last fight you had, but sure enough, they’re happy to talk about it in front of everyone. You expect that all of the kids will be present at church or synagogue, but they opt out at the last minute. You expect everyone to engage one another during the family get-together, only to watch them stare at their smart phones the entire time.
Sound familiar? They don’t have to.
Here are 3 tips to help you spend more time with eggnog than expectations for the 2015 holidays.
1. Expect things from yourself, not others.
Expectations aren’t bad. It’s just that you can’t control other people. So, each time you find yourself working your way up to a particular event or relational encounter this holiday season, monitor that your expectations are about what you will do, and how you will respond, not the other way around. Choose to move deliberately away from what you expect of others to what you expect of yourself, no matter the outcome.
2. Save something for yourself.
When people disappoint us around the holidays, we often compound the situation by responding poorly. This is usually true because our emotional tanks are on empty. Why wouldn’t they be? We’re often so busy doing things for others that we forget to save a little TLC for ourselves. Parents are notorious for this!
This holiday season, try deliberately doing at least two things just for you that aren’t dependent on anything but showing up. Sports outings, date nights, spa days, nights out with friends, etc. That way, even if you have to navigate a few unexpected holiday hurdles, you’ll have some emotional reserve to draw upon to help you respond the way you want.
3. Monitor what you tell yourself.
“I want Christmas to go just like it did last year, but my kids are insisting on changing the order of events. They just don’t value me.”
It is incredibly self-defeating to rehearse negative or irrational thoughts repeatedly in our minds. In other words, we often feel poorly because we think poorly. But the converse is true as well. This holiday season, if you want to feel better, think better.
A more productive way to think about this situation is, “I want Christmas to go like it did last year, but my kids can’t fully know why that’s important for me – I have a hard time explaining it to myself. Even if they knew, it’s not that they don’t value me, but that we have differing priorities. ”
There you have it!
These suggestions will feel odd and clunky at first. When we’re used to doing things a certain way, even one that’s not terribly helpful, making a change can feel like the shoe is on the wrong foot. We may even think we’re kidding ourselves.
But why not commit to give these a run until the end of 2015? If they don’t work, you can always go back to your old ways next year. And you just might celebrate the best holiday season you’ve had in a long time!
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Ryan Thomas Neace, MA, LPC, NCC, CCMHC, is the founder of Change, Inc., the premier counseling and wellness center of South City, St. Louis, MO. Contact him for counseling at 314-669-6242, or firstname.lastname@example.org.