Like most people this time of year, I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to balance real life and the expectations of the holidays. There is a lot of pressure to be merry and bright amidst the realities of work, family, financial struggles, medical challenges, caregiving, you name it. Real life doesn’t go away just because we put up a cheerful Christmas tree, get the wreath hung just right, and mail out the festive cards. But I realized something this holiday season that has changed everything for me and it was just too good not to share.
We can give ourselves the gift of knowing that we have the power of choice.
This is not a new concept, I know. It’s simple, on the surface. But when you finally grasp this concept in your mind, heart and soul – it changes everything. Many times, we go through the motions of life and interactions, simply reacting and responding. We may blame others for our troubles or lament how things should be or used to be.
Now think about your life from this perspective: you have a choice in everything that you do. How you think, what you do or don’t do, who you let into your life (or not), where you live, what you do for a living, what you dream, how you live your life. I always tell my kids, the only thing you can control is yourself. But what does that really look like? How do you get there? Because it’s truly the best way to feeling more content and happy in your life, no matter what the reality. And that is truly the greatest gift you can give yourself and your people.
Here are three things that are helping me and I hope it helps you, too:
1. Think of your life in terms of choices. There’s no better time than the holidays to think about this, when families and friends gather and issues bubble to the surface. You can choose how to react to that negative naysayer. You can choose whether you attend yet another function that will push your kids beyond their limits. You can choose to stay home or go out. You can choose to put up a real or a fake tree. Big or small, every action that you take, every reaction that you have, is entirely up to you. You have the power to choose what you do, who you do it with, and on terms that work for you.
My teenage son laments that he feels like he has no choice about anything, especially when it comes to school. I remind him that we all have a choice…but every choice has a consequence. If you quit school because you hate it, you will struggle your entire life to make a living. You have to decide if the consequence is something you can live with.
So the questions become: what choices have I made or do I face? For those choices made, how am I living with the consequences? How are my choices affecting those around me? For the choices I want to make, can I live with the consequences? Do I even know what they are? Will I be happy or will my choice bring me or others more pain or challenges? Will my choices set me free? Can I honestly look myself in the mirror every day and say with certainty: I made the right choice? And most importantly, now that I’ve made this choice, how do I move forward in a way that best honors myself and those around me?
Around the holidays, if you struggle with the holiday blues, you can sit with that and dwell on it. Or you can make the choice to do things differently this year and plan something that makes you happy. If you have a person in your life who disrupts every holiday gathering, you can choose to berate them and engage them in hostile arguments. Or, you can set boundaries and change the game so that the negativity does not win. It’s entirely YOUR choice.
Part of what drives us crazy, I think, is feeling like we have no choice or control over the situation. Change your thinking and you can change your situation.
2. Own your choices. Let’s face it, we all make good and bad ones. We’re human, that’s kind of the point. 🙂 It’s easy to own the good ones. But the ‘bad’ ones…the mistakes? Not so much. It’s far easier to blame others for how things turned out. But when you own it, you take control of what may feel like a very hopeless, crappy situation and it changes everything, from how you react to it to how you perceive it and the stories you tell about it, to yourself and others.
Suddenly you see that some things don’t just ‘happen’ to you. It was a direct result of a choice that YOU made. It’s not fun. It kind of sucks, really. But it’s important to own your choices so that you don’t end up having a meltdown in the super long Portillo’s drive-through lane in front of your kids because you decided to try to do all of your Christmas shopping in two hours while you are sick with a cold. Not my finest parenting moment, but a fun example this time of year. 🙂
3. Realize we all work at our own pace. We all struggle with choices every day, large and small. It can be very frustrating to be around people who seem to continually make ‘bad’ choices, especially big ones. We all get stuck in ruts and patterns of thinking. Some people never find their way out. Some people struggle with bigger issues that require a completely different mindset and operator’s manual. No matter how hurtful their behavior or issue may be to us, it’s even worse for the person who is stuck and in pain. It helps to remember that and shapes how we choose to respond.
That’s what truly matters – how we choose to respond or think of the situation. We can’t make anyone change. We can only change ourselves. Like I said, not a new concept. But it helps to see others as human beings who are just like us, reaching one rung at a time up the same ladder toward something better. Those who are clinging to a lower rung need support and empathy, not a kick in the face or a stomp on their already tenuous grip. What greater gift to give to our friends, families, children, even, dare I say, complete strangers?
I don’t mean to sound like a pageant queen here – but yeah, I want world peace! 🙂 I choose to blame the cheesy Christmas movies and twinkling lights for inspiring me tonight. In any case, this holiday season, I wish everyone a holiday filled with the company of good people, laughter, great food, shared traditions, warmth, security, comfort, peace in your heart, quiet moments of joy, and the knowledge that you can make this holiday – and every day – exactly what you want it to be.