How to stay motivated without boring your friends

Getting healthy is lonely work. The menus, food prepping, time at the studio or gym, hours on the treadmill, finding time to meditate, fixing your sleep cycle…you’re working incredibly hard.

And no one cares.

It might take a monolithic act of willpower and self-motivation to get your butt to the gym or to choose veggies over donuts, but no one wants to hear about it. I know how it goes, you tell your friends about your killer workout or new meal prep technique that you’re super excited about; at best you blank stares, at worst you get lectures about the dangers of working out and eating right. Likely from someone on multiple medications eating Cheetos…but I digress.

The thing is, people don’t want to hear about your health kick, because they don’t want to give up their own slovenly ways. They don’t want to hear about your low-carb diet when they are drinking a beer. Maybe they think you’re judging them, being snooty, or trying to convert them to your lifestyle–but you’re not, right? Some will genuinely be concerned for your health. Others just plain don’t care.

Your health journey is your own and you are the only one who will reap the rewards. You know this and you know you can’t expect anyone else to give a hoot, but you want credit. You want to tell everyone that you got on your treadmill today. You want someone to join you or tell you what a good job you’re doing, you maybe even want to be inspirational to others…but they only laugh and go back to eating their muffins.

This can be incredibly discouraging. Mainly because your friends and family are the very people who should care. They should be supporting you, but they continue to roll their eyes, suggest that you could cheat just for tonight, or act surprised that you are still doing this health thing. And you start to think maybe they’re right. It would be easier just to go out for pizza and beer than to avoid the gut bomb and get to bed early.

So you have a choice. Bore your friends by continually talking about this incredible journey you’re on, which is all you really want to talk about, and deal with the fact that they might convince you to it give up. Or find some other ways to stay excited and motivated. If you want to keep your friends, your healthy lifestyle, and your sanity, I suggest the later.

Let the results speak for themselves! Soon your friends will be asking you to tell them what you’re doing!

5 Ways to stay motivated without boring your friends

  1. Join a gym or studio. Especially one with live classes and qualified teachers. Making the commitment to attend regularly creates a healthy habit and paying for the classes makes you more likely to show up. When you attend the same classes every week, you will get to know the other people in your class, and you will start to expect to see each other every week. This makes attending enjoyable and motivates you to show up. There is also this observer-observed phenomenon that happens during a live class. I work much harder and have better form when someone is watching than I do at home. Try out a few and choose the one you felt the best connection with.
  2. Join a social community online. Choose a Facebook group or an online forum of like-minded people. There are online communities for anything you can think of! You may even discover something new. People in these communities are just as excited about what you’re into as you are and love to talk about it. You don’t have to limit yourself to one. I am in several, each filling a different need from clean keto to fasting to Stoic ideas. If you are following a particular diet or exercise plan, it likely has a Facebook group to support its followers. Do a quick search and join!
  3. Get an activity tracker. There are trackers for every need and budget. Be sure to get one that gives you what you need for encouragement and data. I have gone from Fitbit to Garmin, to iWatch, and now I have an Oura Ring lingering in my shopping cart. Each one gives a different level of information. The thing to watch out for is getting a bunch of data that you don’t know what to do with. Sometimes extra info can be distracting. Start simple.
  4. Journal. This is pretty low tech, but super effective. Keep track of what you did and how you felt. If something worked really well or caused an adverse reaction, you can look back and see what exactly it was. A journal can also satisfy your need to tell someone…anyone! You can write to your heart’s content about anything you want to say. Don’t underestimate the power of this simple tool.
  5. Participate in challenges. These pop up all of the time online and at the studio, or you can find them just about anywhere. For example, train for and run a 5k. Your local runner’s club or community events calendar will likely have a schedule. Bonus: these are usually done for charity. Your entry fee will go to a good cause. There may even be a T-shirt for participating! Otherwise, there are burpee challenges, 30 day meditation challenges, clean eating challenges, challenges to get 8 hours of sleep, and so many more!

Holiday stress busters for maximum cheer

Christmas is by far my favorite time of year. Why? Because it’s a time of year where the whole world has decided they’re going to allow themselves to feel joyful even though it’s literally the coldest, darkest time of year.

If I had to guess, that’s exactly why so many cultures have massive mid-winter celebrations. They needed something to combat the emotional doldrums that come with the winter weather. — Tom Bilyeu, Impact Theory

I like this quote because it implies that you can change your emotional state simply by wanting to. Because we associate this time of year with tradition and parties, warm drinks and camaraderie we manufacture our own joy. Everything is shiny and bright even though the days are dark and cold. Then we reinforce that feeling by surrounding ourselves with it. Decorations are everywhere, Christmas music is inescapable, bells are ringing, cookie trays are unavoidable, and I can’t get my kid out of her Christmas jammies. All of this adds up to a joyous experience.

What if we brought this kind of single-minded spirit to every day?

It’s go-time people. Less than one week until the big day. Even if you are a procrastinator it is time to get busy decking the halls. The final hours before the big day have a tendency to slap us with unexpected anxiety. With this in mind, how can we make sure that we have the best holiday possible?

Plan ahead

Nothing causes more anxiety than rushing around at the last minute. Wrapping gifts in a frenzy Christmas Eve night will dial down your bliss factor for sure. If you are going to experience bliss, you are going to have to plan ahead. Get things taken care of ahead of time so when the big day arrives you can put your feet up and enjoy it.

The key to easing anxiety is to take care of what you can control, and leaving the rest. This involves thinking ahead. Get the gifts, outfit, food, wine, or whatever now. Make sure you have tape and enough wrapping paper or bags and bows. That way the inevitable last minute things won’t throw you off. If there’s an unexpected snowstorm or rouge family member who shows up without calling you’ll be alright because the things you can control have been taken care of ahead of time.

Go small

There is no rule that says you have to go big for your holiday. In fact, I’m guessing that the smaller, more intimate gatherings are more enjoyable than the big, loud, crazy shindigs. Set a boundary. Maybe you say no to hosting Christmas Eve for your extended family. Maybe you go to the family dinner but come home early to spend the afternoon lounging and putting the new toys together. Plan your hot cocoa with marshmallows and peppermint sticks and a movie with the people closest to you. Christmas jammies optional. Read The Night Before Christmas with your kids. Decorate cookies for Santa. Whatever makes you feel warm and cozy inside. This is definitely one of those times when quality counts more than quantity.

Unless you like getting the whole family together for a loud, messy holiday. Then, by all means, have at it. Just keep in mind that these sorts of things get crazy. Again, take care of what you can and forget about the rest.

Be grateful

Appreciate what you have. Be mindful of how fortunate you are to have the problems that seem so overwhelming around this time of year. Appreciate your family, especially if they are driving you crazy. Bliss depends on your state of mind. You create your own happiness and it all starts with gratitude. What you focus on becomes your reality. So focus on the good. Find something to be grateful for. There are so many things. The fact that you are reading this on whatever device you are reading it makes you more fortunate than over half of the world. Let that warm feeling of love and appreciation spread over you and spill over onto others.

Give back

Nothing will make you feel more bliss than giving to someone else. The more you give to others, the more you get back. Abundance follows generosity. Some of the wealthiest people in the world will tell you that the more they give, the more they receive. Besides that, the warm feeling you get when you give increases your love and appreciation. It’s one of the great circles of life.

The key here is not to get hung up on how or if your efforts are recognized. The gifts you give may be received without thanks, and people you serve may not seem to appreciate your service. Don’t let it ruin your faith in humanity. Know that it is important to serve anyway. It could be that people are embarrassed to accept charity. It could be they are so far down in their pit of despair that they can’t see the light that you are shining. Serve without expectation of thanks. It isn’t about the thanks anyway. If you expect recognition for good deeds, you may need to revisit why you are giving in the first place. It is the action itself that is important, not the outcome.

If you find this useful, there’s a good chance your friends will, too. Share this with your friends right away while you are thinking of it. Thanks for reading!

You can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram for valuable daily content such as recipes, helpful products, daily thoughts, inspirational books, wellness tips, and motivation.

Originally published on DonWings in two blogs on December 15 and 18, 2017

Shoulding on the holidays, part 3: Comparison

I got sucked into it just this morning. I was looking at one of the piles of catalogs and store ads that come in the mail this time of year, and there was a picture of a well-dressed couple in an embrace looking so utterly happy. It wasn’t so much a conscious thought as it was a feeling of…well I guess it was envy. What was I envious of? The moment? The well-dressed man? Her perfect hair and svelte figure? Their embrace? The fact that this couple actually got to go out and take a picture together and look happy about it?

Whatever it was, it was ridiculous. And actually kind of funny. I was looking through the mail while my coffee was brewing thinking about this very blog about comparing ourselves to others. While doing all of that my unconscious self had some primal need to compare my life to those people’s, and they were probably models.

The last two weeks we have been talking about “should-ing” and how it sucks the joy out of the holiday. “Shoulding,” in a nutshell, is focusing on what should be happening rather than what is actually happening or worrying about what you should do rather than what you want to do. Yes, since you are an adult there are some things you really should do. You should clean your house once in a while and you should go to work, but I’m talking specifically about those things you “should” do not adulting.

For example: You should get the Christmas lights up, you should prepare a big dinner for everyone keeping everyone’s food restrictions in mind, or you should uphold all of the traditions your grandmother upheld regardless of whether anyone enjoys them or not. There are shoulds around parties, food, drinks, travel, and gifts. Shoulds are unfair expectations of yourself and other people. They are death sentences for joy.

Comparison is an act of violence against the self. – Iyanla Vanzant

Do our expectations for the season cause us to compare ourselves to others?

 It happens to the best of us as illustrated in my example above. Marketing strategies, Christmas cards, and social media all invite us to compare our messy lives to a cleaned up snapshot version of someone else’s.

When we compare our unedited lives to the highly edited lives of others, we unfairly judge both sides. Our life looks inferior to their amazing life. From a distance, everything looks better. Someone else’s job seems easier and more rewarding than ours; someone else’s relationship seems warmer and more fun than ours; someone else seems more interesting than we are and has a bigger house that is always clean. The grass is always greener, right? How do we free ourselves from unfair comparison and bring more joy back into the holidays?

The business of comparison

Christmas means business for retail stores. Holiday sales are a big indicator of economic function. Companies ramp up their advertising around this time of year, as evidenced by all of the catalogs and flyers in your mailbox. This advertising often depicts happy families having a perfect dinner served on a beautifully decorated table, parties with impeccably dressed guests, piles of perfectly wrapped gifts under a fashionable tree, or happy children with the best toys. All examples of how the holidays “should” be. This is the kind of thing I got sucked into this morning. We should know better, but we continue to aspire to the standard set by advertising. Remind yourself that these are highly stylized versions of life. They look great because they are completely made up.

Your own authentic Christmas may not have piles of gifts, tons of perfectly coordinated decorations, chargers, or a table runner. If you focus your energy on the people and the spirit of the season, it will be amazing without these things because “Christmas doesn’t come from a store.” It isn’t about these things. It’s about the connections we make with the people we choose to be with, practicing kindness and goodwill, and keeping the Advent with self-reflection. When we try to buy the feelings these connections provide rather than cultivating them in our own hearts and with the people we love, we are often left feeling empty and disappointed. Like your heart is “two sizes too small.”

Think about it: Are you touched and delighted by a special gift from your certain someone because of the gift itself or because he took the time to think of you? It really is the thought that counts. The people in the ads are happy with all of their stuff because they’re getting paid.

You didn’t steal Christmas. You stole stuff. – Cindy Lou Who, The Grinch (2018) 

Christmas cards 

No matter your religious affiliation, we are all subject to the Christmas card, or worse the Christmas newsletter. Don’t get me wrong, I love to catch up with the people I haven’t heard from since this time last year, but it does invite comparison doesn’t it? Everyone seems to be doing so great; their jobs are great, their kids are great, and everyone looks so polished and put together in the picture.

The trouble is, just like on social media, everyone puts their best foot forward in these cards. No one puts their fails in a newsletter. Well, almost no one. I remember an epic newsletter that my brother-in-law wrote several years ago that was a parody of hilarious misfortune, mocking the tendency to sugarcoat our lives for public consumption. I say again, don’t compare your unedited life to the highly edited lives of others. You are seeing their life through a narrow scope that is probably rose-colored. Also, they are reporting about things that have already happened and been resolved. These events may not have been so peachy at the time.

Ode to the Christmas picture

You’ve seen your friend’s amazing family pictures and you say, “I really should get family pictures done for our Christmas cards.” So you book a photo session and buy matching outfits…and it ends up being a disaster. It’s amazing that you ended up with one decent photo after all of the drama.

You wonder why your family can’t manage to take a decent picture like your friend’s perfect family. What does she have that you haven’t got? Suddenly you are in humbug mode. Just hold up a minute! Maybe your friend finally got that perfect picture after struggling with her family all day. She shopped for weeks to get the perfect coordinating outfits, then the baby spit up, the dog ran through the mud, and her husband, who didn’t like what she had planned, fought against the whole thing. No one would sit up straight, the kids whined all day, everyone was fighting, and they were all about ready to give up on the whole thing when photographer somehow managed to get that one perfect shot before the whole situation totally melted down. Exactly like what happened to you. Maybe a little worse. But no one talks about what happens behind the scenes. Makes you have a little more compassion for both her and yourself, doesn’t it?

The social media problem

Social media is the worst for comparison. No one posts their terrible pictures, kitchen fails, or crappy vacations. Everyone posts about their good side and the fun times they have. They only post their good hair days when they are made up, edited, and filtered. You don’t get to see the real, raw versions of people. Well, except for me. You get to see lots of videos of me right after a workout and un-made-up pics of me on Instagram and Facebook for exactly this reason. Some of them aren’t very flattering, but I like to be a real person on social media just like in life.

Comparing your unedited life with other people’s highly edited lives is unfair to everyone. Wait, have I said that before? Just because someone looks put together doesn’t mean they are. Some serious struggle may be going on behind the scenes. This goes for social media and people you meet at holiday parties. I remember a woman I met at a social event years ago. I thought she was the epitome of class and grace balanced with a down-to-earth demeanor and smart to boot. She dressed nicely, held herself well, and was interesting to talk to. I wanted to be her. She seemed to have it all put together. Then she died. Come to find out she had an alcohol addiction and was on several prescription medications for depression. These two things did not mix well and now she is gone. What a blow! That is when I learned that you cannot judge people’s lives from their outward appearance. What kind of struggle may be going on that we can’t see?

Compassion, not comparison

Life is messy. Expecting that your experience will be a breeze because someone else’s experience looks easy is unrealistic at best. How many times have you wished for someone else’s job because it looks so much easier or so much more fun than yours? Everyone else’s job looks great because it isn’t yours. If it were yours, you would have to deal with the daily grind that you don’t see from a distance, and it wouldn’t seem so great. Realizing this not only brings about compassion for others but for ourselves as well.

Stop comparison and get your freedom back in three easy steps. 

  • Step 1: Awareness. This morning, as I waited for my coffee, I laughed at myself for my silly behavior. I didn’t judge myself because I felt exactly what the ad wanted me to feel. I was simply aware of the feeling and sent it on its way with a chuckle. Then I sat down to write about it because that’s what I do.
  • Step 2: Stay in your own lane. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. You do you. If you wish to become successful, comparing where you are now to where you want to be isn’t your path. Study the processes by which successful people became successful, not the perks of their success.
  • Step 2: Choose gratitude over envy. Another way to say this would be to choose love over fear. Be thankful for the life experiences and unique perspective you have, even if it is difficult. By choosing not to listen to the negative chatter in your head and being thankful for your messy, authentic life you cultivate compassion for yourself. That’s it! All you have left to do is to make it a habit. That won’t be hard because you will feel better every time you do it. 

If you find this useful, there’s a good chance your friends will, too. Share this with your friends right away while you are thinking of it. Thanks for reading!

You can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram for valuable daily content such as recipes, helpful products, daily thoughts, inspirational books, wellness tips, and motivation.

Originally published at DonWings on November 13, 2017

Shoulding on the holidays, part 2: Expectations

I look forward to the holidays every year. Just the other day we took our annual trip into the hills to go tree hunting. It was a snowy day with big, fat snowflakes and being out in the woods was so quiet and beautiful it was like being inside a snowglobe. Every branch and blade of grass was wearing its own blanket of fluffy white. Of course, pictures didn’t capture the essence of it, but I tried. Right now we are anxiously awaiting our daughter’s first big-time Nutcracker ballet performance. I’m bringing tissues and will be buying a cocktail. Our cards are addressed and ready to go out. The tree is decorated and the railing has a garland. The season is upon us.

Visions of the ideal holiday with beautiful table settings and glittering lights flood our thoughts this time of year. We imagine lovely parties full of perfect cheese trays, engaging conversation and holiday spirit—but not too many spirits. Our expectations start to look like a mix between the opening scene of the Nutcracker ballet and the animated version of a Dickens classic. You can almost see the frosty window panes and hear the carols.

Mostly, our expectations of the season should center around togetherness and everyone being happy…and food. We expect to be busy…but in a good way; overbooked…but in a good way; buried in colorful wrapping…but in a good way. The reality is that our kids have too many concerts, pageants, and programs, and our budget is wrecked. Is it any surprise we’re often overly stressed or disappointed? If things don’t measure up to our expectations we tend to be overly harsh on ourselves and may take it out on others, adding guilt to the stress of the season. Yet we still strive for perfection year after year because we want to recreate the joy we remember from childhood or see in holiday movies. We want the holiday we should have.

First off, stop ‘shoulding’ all over the holidays. We talked about this last week, but it bares explaining again. This phrase sounds similar to another that I could use because the two mean roughly the same thing. By saying things like, “I should have the lights up by now,” “I should uphold every tradition regardless if anyone enjoys them or not,” or “I should go to that party even though I’d really rather stay in,” you create your own stress. Yes, you! You don’t have to go to the party, put up the lights, or stick to the same traditions year after year. You can say no to the events you don’t really want to go to. You can choose not to participate in these things without being the neighborhood Grinch. When you focus on everything you should be doing, it takes you out of the present moment and sucks the joy out of everything.

How do you avoid negativity? Stop ‘shoulding’ on the holidays.

Expectations are a double-edged sword

On one side expectation is part of the fun of the holiday season. What is in that box? On the other, it invites us to become attached to specific outcomes that are beyond our control. The turkey is perfect, the gifts are perfect, the tree is perfect, the weather is just snowy enough to be festive but not enough to ruin plans. When we become attached to what we believe should happen, and then it doesn’t happen, we experience let down. I’m sure we all know the feeling. You didn’t get that ring you really wanted, or the turkey turned out dry, the weather didn’t cooperate, or the family pictures didn’t measure up to your expectations.

Ironically, when we let go of these expectations, things start to work out. Before you know it, the perfect holiday comes to you. Without you having to stress about it. Hence, our snowy tree hunt in the hills, our Moscow Ballet Nutcracker tickets (to a sold-out show) with our daughter unexpectedly performing, the unbelievable scenery around town right now after our last snow, and our pending trip to Grandma’s house over the river and through the woods. Since I’m spending less time trying to mold what is into what I want, I have more time to pay attention to all of this really good stuff I didn’t expect.

I’ll be happy when…

Expectation drives us to put conditions on happiness. Saying, “I’ll be happy when…” is a fool-proof way to never experience happiness. Expecting the ring in your stocking, expecting your lighting display to dazzle the neighborhood, or expecting that everyone will show up to Thanksgiving dinner happy and full of enlightened conversation are examples of “I’ll be happy when” expectations. The things in these examples aren’t really what you are hungry for. Maybe you want more validation, or connection, or creativity, or love. These things don’t come from stores or from other people. You have to generate them yourself. When you realize this you understand the feeling the Grinch had when his heart grew three sizes that day.

Buddhists talk about letting go of attachment, which is a similar concept. They believe that attachment leads to suffering. When you let go of attachment—to things, to events, to emotions—it allows you to move past shallow expectation and move into experiencing joy in the present moment. To be truly present means that you are not holding on to past experiences or future expectations. You are open to whatever life wants to throw at you and willing to roll with the punches.

I expect you to…

We also run into trouble when we expect others to live up to our vision of the perfect holiday. When we expect others to come running to the table, leave their smartphones behind, use impeccable manners, and happily engage in interesting conversation regardless of what their expectations of the holiday are, we are projecting our desires on them. We want them to dress in a certain way and act a certain way in order to conform to our ideal image. Maybe you are even expecting a certain gift from a certain someone. 

If your goal is for everyone to have the perfect holiday, remember that not everyone shares your vision. They may have a different vision of the perfect holiday, like watching a sporting event while dozing on the couch or quietly reading by the fire. Maybe the certain someone you were expecting the gift from decided not to give anyone gifts this year, but to donate to charity instead. He didn’t tell you this, and now you’re disappointed. Other people’s actions are beyond your control. If you expect them to perform to your standards you will continue to be disappointed.

That doesn’t mean you have to give up your vision completely. If you have a few non-negotiable traditions that you want to uphold, explain them to those closest to you and forge a compromise that everyone can live with. Don’t expect that every desire will automatically be understood and accepted by everyone. Keep the non-negotiables to a minimum and let go of the rest. For example, you may require guests to put away their phones while they are at the table, but don’t be picky about their screen time the rest of the day. If the dinner is your biggest priority, create your idea of the perfect setting and invite everyone to enjoy the food and the atmosphere on their terms. Then let it go. Let it go.

Pour yourself a glass of wine and allow everyone to enjoy the holiday at their leisure. It could be that no one will even notice the artful way you arranged the casserole in the pretty dish or the festive napkin rings. Maybe your special centerpiece got unceremoniously shoved off to the side make more room for food–and that’s okay. Check your judgment, and passive aggressive comments, at the door! You don’t have to sacrifice your feelings in order to save everyone else’s, but you also don’t get to ruin everyone else’s day by insisting they live up to your expectations.

Don’t expect thanks

Let’s talk about expectations when giving to those less fortunate. This time of year many people think about giving back. Whether this includes giving to charity, volunteering at a local shelter, or buying gifts for needy children, don’t get hung up on how or if your efforts are recognized. Your gifts might be received without a thank you and people you serve may not seem to appreciate your service. Don’t let it ruin your faith in humanity. Know that it is important to serve anyway. 

It could be that people are embarrassed to accept charity. It could be they are so far down in their pit of despair that they can’t see the light that you are shining. Serve with a smile and without expectation of thanks. It isn’t about the thanks anyway. If you expect recognition for good deeds, you may need to revisit why you are giving in the first place. Allow the deed itself to lift you up and don’t worry about how it is received.

Wrapping it up…

When we hold onto expectations and things don’t work out the way we had envisioned, we often judge ourselves harshly for it. Why didn’t it work out? There must be something wrong with me. The truth is, it didn’t work out because it was a version of the holiday that existed only in your head, probably put there by too many Christmas movies. We try to coerce the entire experience into being what we want it to be or think it should be rather than what it is. We likely force our expectations on others as well, which decreases their enjoyment of the season. The holiday season is about more than the perfect party, dinner, or gift. If we give up control and let the season be what it is without being attached to the outcome or the perfect details, we open ourselves up to the unexpected. The unexpected might just be way more enjoyable than what we had planned anyway.

Pour yourself a glass of wine and allow everyone to enjoy the holiday at their leisure. It could be that no one will even notice the artful way you arranged the casserole in the pretty dish or the festive napkin rings. Maybe your special centerpiece got unceremoniously shoved off to the side make more room for food–and that’s okay. So Uncle Joe decides to bring his girlfriend at the last minute. Set another place and make her feel welcome. Maybe she will end up being a delightful person. Check your judgment, and passive aggressive comments, at the door! You don’t have to sacrifice your feelings in order to save everyone else’s, but you also don’t get to ruin everyone else’s day by insisting they live up to your expectations.

Happiness comes from you deciding to be happy regardless of the circumstances. Let go of expectations you have put on yourself and others and open yourself up to experience the present moment whatever that may be. Ever notice how seemingly disastrous events oftentimes lead to the most amazing opportunities? You might just end up having fun and making memories. Letting go of expectations opens you up to experience rewards you would have never thought possible. You didn’t know to expect them!

Five ways to give up on expectations this holiday season:

  1. If plans fall through, stay open to possibilities. You may enjoy what happens even more than what you had planned.
  2. Give without expecting anything in return. If you are attached to being recognized for your charity, maybe you need to revisit why you are giving in the first place.
  3. Plan your event, but don’t get hung up on if everything turns out exactly right. People may not adhere to your dress code, and that’s okay.
  4. Don’t be afraid to say no to events you don’t really want to attend. We are all overbooked this time of year. It is okay to want an evening in with your family.
  5. Remember that happiness comes from within. Don’t expect someone else to create it for you.

Next week, we continue the Shoulding on the Holidays series with part 3: Comparison. Oftentimes our expectations of how the holiday should be come about because we are comparing our unedited lives with the highly edited lives of others. Think Christmas cards and social media and how perfect other families look compared to the hot mess you have going on. That’s next week right here!

If you find this useful, there’s a good chance your friends will, too. Share this with your friends right away while you are thinking of it. Thanks for reading!

You can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram for valuable daily content such as recipes, helpful products, daily thoughts, inspirational books, wellness tips, and motivation.

‘Shoulding’ on the holidays part 1: Guilt

Welcome to the holiday season! I absolutely love this time of year. I love the festive feeling, the events, decorating the tree, Christmas music, buying gifts, wrapping gifts, turkey dinner…I could go on. I even like dealing with the Elf on the Shelf. Having a little girl in the house makes everything that much better.

I do understand that not everyone likes this time of year, though. For many, the holiday season spells added stress and anxiety, long checkout lines and crowded parking lots. My mom has given up on most of the holiday traditions because “It’s a lot of work and what’s the point?” Many people experience a sharp let down when their high expectations of the holiday didn’t turn out exactly right. Others merely tolerate the season with a “meh”, or more appropriately a “humbug”, attitude. If this is supposed to be such a joyous season, why do so many people find it so miserable? How can you enjoy the season and hopefully inspire joy in others at the same time?

First off, stop “should-ing” all over the holidays. This phrase sounds similar to another that I could use because the two mean roughly the same thing. By saying things like, “I should prepare a meal with all the trimmings taking into account all of my guest’s food preferences and allergies,” “I should uphold every tradition regardless if anyone enjoys them or not,” or “I should have beautiful wrapping on every gift,” you create your own stress.

I did this exact thing for Thanksgiving. I over-planned a huge festivus and ended up exhausted and burnt out when everyone would have been happy with something much simpler.

When you focus on everything you should be doing, it takes you out of the present moment and sucks the joy out of everything. My advice is, instead of focusing on everyone else’s enjoyment of the season, focus on your own. Once you find happiness, you can be a source of happiness for others. You won’t have to work so hard to create a joyous holiday because the joy will already be there. The best part is that the joy will be authentic, not put on or cheesy.

“Should-ing” puts conditions on your happiness and obliterates the very things the season is really about: joy, family, and togetherness. Let’s explore how to stop should-ing and open yourself up to more joy this holiday season. This week we are focusing on…


Do you suffer from guilt around the holidays? Many people do. The season is full of opportunities to feel guilty. Overeating, drinking too much at the office Christmas party (and the resulting behavior), spending too much on gifts, forgetting to buy a gift for someone, not measuring up to your relatives’ expectations, simply dealing with the relatives, choosing to attend the wrong party, choosing not to attend a party, choosing to stay in and avoid the whole thing…and the list goes on.

Rather than succumbing to guilt as something inevitable or building up a heavy sheet of armor against it, try to soften. Understand that your “shoulds” are creating your guilt and let it go. Ease up on yourself and go with the flow. When you let go of your “shoulds” guilt doesn’t have near as much pull.

I should be everywhere at once

Maybe your guilt stems from FOMO, Fear of Missing Out. FOMO causes deep anxiety in many people because no one wants to miss out on a fun or rewarding experience. What if you are invited to more than one event on a particular night? Say that a fun group of friends is having a cocktail party, but your kid’s Christmas concert is at the same time. Of course, you have to attend the concert, but you can’t enjoy it because you have FOMO on the cocktail party. You can’t be totally present at the concert because you are thinking about the cocktail party. Maybe you’re checking your watch the whole time wondering if you might be able to skip out early, or checking your phone for updates on the fun you’re missing.

This behavior benefits no one. You are certainly not enjoying the concert and your kid can see you checking your phone, or picked up on your ambivalence earlier, so she knows you would rather be somewhere else. Now your kid feels bad and you feel bad that you made your kid feel bad, and on and on in snowball fashion.

What if you went to the party instead of the concert? Now you are where you want to be, but can’t enjoy it because you are feeling guilty about letting your kid down. Better to enjoy where you are and what you are doing in the present moment, whatever that is.

Think of the happiest, most well-adjusted people you know. In my experience, these are the people who are happiest wherever they are at any moment. They have no regrets about skipping out on the party to attend their kid’s concert because they have a solid set of priorities and always adhere to them. They actually want to be at the concert. It isn’t just something they should do. When they hear about the party from others later on they listen and are glad the others had a great time, but have no remorse.

I should live up to the standards set by social media

FOMO can also lead to an obsession with social media. You check Facebook several times a day just to be sure you’re not missing anything and feel anxious when you haven’t connected in a while. I mean, something might have happened! We’re even willing to miss out on what is happening right in front of us in order to check in with what we might be missing out on. Social media can also lead to feelings of guilt in other ways because it invites you to compare your life to other people’s lives.

The problem is, you see a raw, unedited version of your life, but you are seeing a highly edited version of your friends’ lives. No one posts their kitchen fails or decorating disasters on Facebook. Everyone posts their perfect pictures and fun outings.

I should buy the most or at least the best

Money is a major source of stress this time of year. Credit card companies and retail stores love it. Holiday shopping has become an indicator of how our economy is functioning. Right now we are in the midst of catalog season when every trip to the mailbox rewards us with a stack of picture books each more fantastic than the next. We feel obligated to buy, buy, buy for everyone on our ever-expanding lists. It becomes a competition. This is the toy this season! Get it now before it sells out. Doorbuster deals! Midnight sales! Capitalism at its finest.

Some people enjoy this sort of thing, racking up credit card debt with glee. Enduring (maybe even enjoying) crowds and long lines to score that one must have trinket. What happens next isn’t so fun. When they come down from the retail euphoria, shopper’s remorse strikes and they are left to justify their purchases with thin excuses about the holiday gifting. Then comes the credit card bill in January, the bleakest of the months weather-wise and finance-wise.

Let me help to alleviate your suffering a bit in this area by giving some hard, boring, not so fun advice. Have a budget and stick with it. None of the holidays celebrated between now and the end of the year are about stuff. It is not about finding that perfect gift. That one fantastic toy is not going to pull everything together and make the holiday joyous.

If you want to escape financial guilt this time of year, I suggest you learn the same lesson the Grinch learned, “Maybe Christmas…doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” You hear this so often that it has become background noise, but it’s true. Joy comes from within. You make it. It can’t be bought, so stop trying. Instead, invest in some hot chocolate, popcorn, and Christmas movies. Snuggle up and have some quality family time.

I should be a better person

Maybe your family is great at laying on the guilt. Unfortunately, your mother (grandmother, aunt) will not likely stop comparing you to the smart, put together, successful daughter of her friend. Or, your mother is terribly disappointed that you have decided to stay home this year or visit the in-laws instead of visiting her. Though they mean well, family members are likely one of the largest contributors to feelings of inadequacy and guilt. “You should come home every Thanksgiving like so-and-so.”

On the same note, you will receive Christmas cards from people who look so happy and well adjusted that it will be hard not to envy them. Striving for someone else’s life not only decreases your authenticity, but it may also lead to future frustration and decreased self-worth. You have no idea what goes on behind the scenes. It’s the same as comparing yourself to people on social media. If you continue to compare your unedited life to the highly edited life of others, you will continue to suffer.

Shrug off unfair comparisons that others make about you and don’t do it to yourself. If your mother starts to lay on the guilt trip about not seeing you for the holiday or for some other reason, let it run off your shoulders like rain off a roof. If you are extra sensitive to the guilt trip, it may help to prepare by reciting abundance and validating affirmations. Repeat “I am enough” or “I am worthy” several times a day until you believe it. Then, shake off negative feelings. If you feel guilt or other bad feelings start to well up during an event or family get-together, go for a walk or find a quiet place to sit and breathe for a few minutes. The bathroom works great for this. Repeat your affirmations a few times, then head back in with a refreshed sense of self.

Remember everyone is dealing with something. Perhaps the person who is comparing you to others feels inadequate herself. Remember how wonderful you really are and don’t worry about her opinions.

I should stop over-eating

Guilt about over-eating is an issue for many people. As an advocate for health and wellness, I hear a lot about people’s disappointment in holiday weight gain. The thing is, one big meal a month or little indulgences here and there isn’t the problem. I fully endorse enjoying celebrations with food.

The problem manifests when people eat the whole season through because they feel empty. They feel that they should be happy and are upset that they aren’t. So they try to fill that empty space with food, which is available in mass quantity this time of year. Cookies, cakes, pies, party food, appetizers, cocktails and candy canes get devoured because people are hungry for connection. This is a very emotionally charged time of year, and it isn’t any wonder that we search for love and acceptance only to find gingerbread. Adding to the problem in the northern hemisphere is seasonal depression brought about by shorter days and colder temperatures. So what can we do when there is so much stacked against us?

Figure out what you are really hungry for. Connection with family and friends, meaningful activity, a fulfilling hobby or work, giving to charity, volunteering time, or engaging in something creative often will fill the void.

Connection with others is a biggie. We try to connect digitally, but it is just not the same. We need companionship with other people. This is why there are so many parties this time of year. Forge a deeper connection with those you are closest to and don’t worry if you indulge at the buffet a little too much here and there. Just be aware of it and try to stay near the veggies and away from the candy. Try to eat something filling before you go and take it easy on the cocktails. Go easy on yourself. Investing in a health coach, trusted friend, or counselor is a good idea if you need extra support.

In each of these examples, letting go of “shoulds” will help you let go of the guilt. If you believe that you are worthy enough to operate from your own agenda, you free yourself to enjoy more of the present moment.

What should I really do?

Now, I’m not trying to add to your list of shoulds this holiday season, increasing your guilt by saying you should want to attend your kid’s concert. Maybe it’s the last thing you want to do. Even if you’ll only do it because you want to support your kid, then there’s your motivation. Choose carefully, but whatever you decide to do, make the decision and go for it all the way with no regrets.

Happiness comes from within. Simply deciding to be happy is the first step. Then do everything you can to make it true. If you start to feel guilty about something practice forgiveness and gratitude. Repeat your affirmations. Remember that everyone else is dealing with something similar, no matter how well-adjusted they seem.

Walk into every room with the question, “How can I help here?” By understanding that everyone is suffering in some way, especially around the holidays, we can let a few petty injustices go. If you happen to forget an appointment because you have so many things going on right now, forgive yourself. If you just want a quiet evening in, give yourself permission to miss out on that night’s festivities guilt free. If your budget is a priority, don’t feel bad about not getting the biggest, greatest gifts for everyone this year. You don’t need an excuse for having a small, quiet holiday. In fact, you may not be the only one who appreciates it. Give yourself a break. Focus on quality, not quantity.

Once you free yourself from the chains of guilt, you will be that much closer to enjoying your holiday. Now, what happens when the holiday doesn’t live up to your expectations? What if things don’t work out? What if you encounter disaster? Shoulding on the Holidays, Part 2: Expectations is coming up next week. See you then!

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