The winding up of a thousand year-end details, the gradual transition into the coldest part of the winter, the ebb and flow of activity as we move from noisy, social holiday events to rest and quiet in our own spaces and minds…the spectrum we roam at this time of year can be a bit of an emotional roller coaster.
It’s only natural that in the quieter December moments, you might find yourself deeply introspective. Questions swirl: How do you feel about all this doing and finishing and watchful waiting? Where does the long list of to-dos lead you? Are you spending this busy, yet perfectly normal, time with people whose company you truly value? Do you feel strong, hopeful, and energized as you watch the end of 2016 approach—or is it more like exhausted and trapped?
I think these last weeks of the year create a good opportunity to step back and look at the bigger picture of your life. Right now you are likely seeing your physical, emotional, personal, and professional selves run through their greatest range of highs and lows. During this season, you’re experiencing both the best and worst that your current lifestyle has to offer.
What do you see when you examine that “big picture” for patterns? Do you have habits, expectations, or even people in your world that no longer serve your best interests, or, worse, create stumbling blocks along your path toward optimal happiness and wellness? Maybe the time has come to let some of them go.
As you hurtle toward the close of another year, are you ready to reset your grip on the things that matter most to you and release the old, tired patterns that get in the way of more fulfilling living?
Principle 1: To take stock, be candid with yourself.
What happens when you expand the classic pro-con exercise to “big picture,” whole self proportions? Grab a few sheets of paper and pen, and let’s find out!
What do you see as the most important major areas of your life: work, health, fun, family, spirit, home, money…? Label a separate sheet of paper with each of your picks for “what’s most important in my life.”
On each major life-area sheet, list the things or people you most value from that aspect of your world. Then flip the paper over and make a second group, a list of what or who causes friction or discomfort there—the worries that, in a perfect world, you would like to let go. Your “work” paper, for example, might have “passion and a sense of fulfillment” on the front and “early morning and late night hours” on the back.
Two cautions as you begin this exercise: First, please don’t feel guilty for viewing loved ones in more than one way. For instance, one woman might list contrasting, confusing aspects of her fiancé with “Joe’s warmth, honesty, and sense of humor” on one side of her paper and “Joe flits from job to job” on the other.
Also, don’t be tempted to censor or spin by forcing yourself to list an equal number of items on every side of every sheet, or to try to balance each negative with a positive. Just capture your reality.
As you continue moving through the last frantic, up-and-down days of 2016, revisit these pages regularly to add more details that strike you as important to your “big picture.”
Principle 2: Empower yourself by separating fact from response.
Flip all of your sheets to the back side, the discomforts of your world, and read through them all. Ugh! That’s a lot of worry.
In any difficult situation, at least two forces are at work: the bald circumstances, and the reactions and emotions they spark in those people involved. You can begin to equip yourself for positive change if you separate the facts from your responses to them.
I know, I hear you—keeping these factors apart may not be easy. But in order to recognize what you might need to let go, you must consider both the facts and the feelings. Here’s why: What happens, happens. But how you react in response to events and people is the difference between letting go and moving on…or letting life’s challenges run you over.
Look over your discomforts again and pick out those items that are simply unalterable fact in the current conditions. No magic wand will fix things like “long commute every morning” or “we’re under 18 inches of snow again.” If an item cannot be fixed, or it’s not your problem to begin with, release it. Letting worry dictate your life—especially anxiety over that which we either have no responsibility for, or have no power to set right—is a recipe for despair.
You can’t always change your reality, but if you choose to accept it for what it is, you gain the power to move past it. Let those “unfixables” go, and they will no longer own you. What a relief!
And there’s more good news. The other items on your lists, the ones you identified as your reaction to what happens to you? These responses are the ones you have the ability to address or influence, for better or for worse, if you so choose.
I like to think of these not as problems but as “empowerment items.” Circle them for emphasis, and what you now have in your hand is an excellent starting point for building sustainable, can-do resolutions for the year to come.
Principle 3: Avoid extreme responses (at least for the moment).
Striking back can be mighty tempting when, for instance, your interfering mother-in-law (father-in-law, Uncle Gerry, boss’s significant other…fill in your own blank here) begins peppering light holiday party conversation with judgmental, insulting, or otherwise inflammatory comments.
Please, don’t burn bridges. Right now is not the time for extreme action. Emotions run unusually high at this time of year.
For the moment, aim instead to move past the situation quickly but gracefully. Defuse rather than detonate. Don’t tell off the party-crashing critic; put on a polite smile and excuse yourself to the beverage area for a glass of water instead. Wink! Hydration is a perfect excuse to get away, as well as a self-care must-do.
Later, ask yourself: Was the flare of emotion you felt a reaction to a temporary, forgettable problem (after all, you only see that outspoken party guest once a year…), or is it a sign of a larger pattern, an area of your life where you could benefit from a bigger change? If you feel the need to walk away from the same person, place, or situation frequently, that’s not just an end-of-year annoyance but a threat to your wellbeing. In this case, by all means, add the scene that just played out to your pro-con list for further consideration.
“Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative”…remember that old song? These simple, catchy opening lyrics perfectly capture the secret of vibrant living, even in these stressful last weeks of the year. Grasp tightly the attitudes, actions, everyday gifts, and wonderful people that make life worth living—everything on the front side of your exercise pages!—and learn to recognize and release those others, the ones that steal your zest, yet offer little in return. Your happiness is worth so much more than an endless list of annoyances. Let them go.
I wish you peace and joy as you finish out 2016. See you in the new year!