This time of year I cannot help but think of my sister. She is part of the management team of one of the most successful health care cooperatives in the country. She owns a big historic house in a small town. The kind of house that has a dining room, sun room, living room, TV room, and family room; lots of rooms. To support the local library, most years her home is on the historic homes holiday tour. She decorates every room right down to the bathrooms in the holiday theme with a 15 foot Christmas tree in the living room. On the day after Thanksgiving, she and her life long friends go Black Friday shopping. These women have fun together whether they are hiking, cooking, or camping but they love to shop.
My sister truly enjoys all the things she does and is very organized. We were raised to be productive and hard working; work for money, work to help, and work for fun. It’s what we do. My sister is also under a great deal of stress. Stress that gets etched in her face and makes me concerned for her health.
Why do we make the decisions to do what we do? Do what stresses us out? One answer is conformity. Researchers have discovered that the closer you are to the fringe of your tribe, the harder it is to go against the norms. People who are part of the inner circle of the tribe are much more likely to rebel without repercussions. We all know this intuitively, just think High School.
Another reason is habit. We go into auto-pilot mode and do what we have always done. We do not stop to think about our motivations. Why am I spending my time or money on this stuff? Is this my stuff? Family and community are good at planting their stuff in your brain. What would happen if I stopped? Where do I want to be spending my resources?
I do not buy Christmas presents any more. I stopped so long ago that I have little thought of it. Instead, I donate to my favorite non-profits in honor of my friends and family. Each year I watch as the people around me become more and more stressed as the holiday approaches. “Need that one last gift for so and so.”
Christmas is a menace when it comes to stuff. Most of us get stuff that we do not want or will not use. The gifts are wrapped in so much emotion that we feel guilty about getting rid of them. So there it sits one more bit of stuff to add to our growing pile. Being surrounded by too much stuff can cause fatigue, stress and depression. Researchers have correlated materialism with darker moods. No wonder Black Friday can be so dangerous!
When folks find out that I do not buy gifts on the holidays, they often say they wish they could do the same. When I ask them why they are stressing themselves out with all the shopping, they say that they have a family member that would ostracize them for not bringing gifts or ‘it’s for the kids’. They say they would prefer not to get gifts but they are stuck in the vicious gift giving cycle.
One of the most vital things in life is to be true to your self. This can be difficult. Studies have shown that conformity is often not a conscious decision. If we do not take the time to reflect on what is important to us, we will not see what we may want to change. Few people would say that they enjoy being stressed out but we put ourselves in stressful situations everyday.
Instead of making one more New Years Resolution, instead of auto-piloting your way through the next holiday season, make a New Years Revolution. Take the time to reflect on where you spend your time and money verses what is truly important to you. What can you do differently so you are spending your resources on what you love?
True habits are hard to break and people with the highest opinion of their self-restraint are the first to fail at attempting change. The key is to make baby steps, to change one small thing, and when it becomes habit, change one more. Know up front that there will be set backs and detours, plan how you will handle them up front.
Marina Krakovsky in the article Secrets of Self-Improvement – Scientific American Mind March/April 2012, explains the importance of mental contrasting. To be successful you must imagine both the successful results and the obstacles. Planning for the ‘what ifs’ up front will increase your chance of success.
I invite you to reflect and think big. Instead of pledging to lose weight, save money or organize your stuff, reflect on what means the most to you and have a News Year’s Revolution. If you want to stay home during the holidays and not travel, announce it in March so there is plenty of time for folks to get over it. Suggest that gatherings be held the weekend before or after Christmas or tell the family that you will be attending every other year. If you want to stop the gift giving cycle, tell folks that you will be purchasing small gifts and donated the rest to a charity. Tell them in May, let it sink in.
You may be like my sister and love everything about the holidays. I bet there is something you would like to change in your life though. Whatever you decide your revolution will be, follow the steps for success. Know its not going to be easy, break the change up into small steps, and do mental contrasting so you picture success while imagining how you will handle set backs. Above all be true to your self. If people don’t like it they were not meant to be part of your tribe anyway.