The holidays are upon us, and with them… EXPECTATIONS. Yours. Other people’s. Tradition. Obligation.
All of that stuff.
Getting through the holidays without burning yourself out or losing sight of your values can be quite a trial, between family obligations, office parties, school extras, gift-giving demands, expectations to drink & eat ALL the things, and pressure to make this Christmas / Hanukkah / Kwanzaa / Festivus / New Year’s “the most special ever.”
(Hint: It’s really okay if it’s not.)
With the invitations, offers, requests and requirements coming at you hard and fast, it can be helpful to make decisions knowing what you’re actually a Yes to, and what you’re doing out of fear, obligation or habit.
Here are two questions to help you discern what invitations you are an actual yes to, and what is in the murkier waters of “I want to want this” or “I don’t want to let anyone down.”
Question 1: Am I feeling positively motivated or negatively motivated to do this?
Positive motivation is when you want to [make cookies / go to the holiday party / see Uncle Bill / buy that gift for your sister / whatever it is], because it has you feel excited, inspired, quietly content, lit up, creatively engaged or any of several dozen other positive emotions.
Negative motivation is when you think you want to do The Thing but really what you want is to avoid potential negative repercussions of not doing it. That often sounds like:
- “What will they think?”
- “She’ll be mad if I don’t.”
- “I don’t want to disappoint them.”
- “But that’s how we’ve always done it”
- “OMG I just don’t want to listen to him complain.”
- “She’ll criticize me if I do it that way.”
Avoiding negative outcomes does not guarantee that you or the people around you will enjoy anything that happens next. Knowing your motivation will help you steer toward the things that bring you AND other people joy.
You don’t have to have it all totally dialed in, but this quick check will help you to glimpse why you are saying yes to Secret Santa or dinner at your cousin’s house.
Question 2: Does this give me more energy or less energy?
For some people, making a 5-course holiday meal for 20 people is a dream come true. For others, it’s a nightmare of epic proportions.
For some people, crafting a custom gift for each night of Hanukkah or each child’s stocking is quality creative time they look forward to all year. For others, it’s an obligation borne out of a decision made years ago that they now dread.
For some people, a quiet day by the fire with their partner and their dog is soul-nurturing, quality holiday time. For others, it sounds lonely and depressing and lacking the bustle and hubbub that makes the holidays feel like the holidays.
The things that juice you up and give you energy won’t always be the same as the people around you. But they are important to pay attention to, because that will help guide you as to what you can compromise on, and what to prioritize.
* * *
By themselves, neither of these two questions will answer for you whether you ought to do a particular thing. But asking them helps to bring awareness to why you are making your decisions, and who those decisions are for.
We all do things in life that we are negatively motivated to do (like paying our taxes or going to see that play we know we won’t like because we don’t want to deal with the fallout if we cancel). It’s not about living in a fluffy, happy, magical cloud-land where everything always goes your way.
Life involves compromise, but lots of us are making compromises nobody asked us to make, and cutting off sources of joy without even noticing.
The pressure and expectations of this time of year can make it far too easy to make all your decisions based on fear of what might happen instead of what lights you up.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Just a little attention and mindfulness with these two questions can make the difference between feeling wiped out by January, or starting the new year off feeling grounded, well-boundaried and happy.