As we slide into the end of the year (wait, what? How?!), many of us will be finding ourselves in challenging situations from holiday family gatherings to year-end madness at work. You probably already know how it will go, for the most part, because this ain’t your first rodeo.
Though, that being said, it isn’t my first rodeo with reprogramming the time for my automatic outdoor lights for winter, either, but every winter, there I am, downloading the instruction manual like it’s the first time I’ve ever seen it and muttering under my breath like I’m trying to decipher the Rosetta Stone.
I can’t seem to remember how that little programming panel works, despite changing it twice a year for 5 years now. What I definitely do remember is a familiar mounting sense of pressure and confusion knowing I’ll need to figure it out again, but putting it off until the last possible moment, which will be several weeks after it probably should have been changed.
It’s almost like I’m not just talking about how I change the programmable timer for the outdoor light…
If there’s one thing we humans are good at, it’s forgetting our previous rodeos just long enough to have us repeat them all over again. Cute.
Our relationships with other people, with our work and with life in general, tend to be as cyclical and predictable as the changing seasons and my intimidation of programmable technologies. Of course, patterns generally are more obvious in hindsight than it is in any given present moment in which we’re just trying to make life happen.
All that being said, I’d like to invite you to spend a couple of moments reflecting on how this time of year tends to go for you. How did it go last year? What did you swear this time last year that you would do differently this year? What patterns are predictable in your year-ending, if nothing were to change?
And now for the most important question: is how it normally goes how you actually want it to go? If yes, then carry on doing your thing, my friend. Godspeed.
If not, then read on.
It’s no secret that December is my favourite month. For me, it’s a time filled with quiet contemplation, restful reflection, nostalgia and comfort. I’m going to keep a lot of spaciousness in my schedule to leave room to quietly contemplate, rest and reflect, get nostalgic and comfortable. It’s going to be amazing.
Except for how what actually happens instead is a calendar jammed with more social activity and expectation than I really have the energy or desire to make good on. I plan to do an awful lot of work for someone who is taking time off, I create nearly zero structure and accountability to actually do any of it, and I generally wind up disappointed in myself for all that I didn’t accomplish AND for not relaxing enough/right/properly. It’s like a holiday recipe I keep trying that just never works out. The only thing that is guaranteed is me feeling stressed out and defeated after my time off, which is not actually the goal I’m aiming for.
Since nothing changes if nothing changes, here’s what I’m trying this year, instead.
- Be intentional. What exactly do I want to do between now and New Year’s Eve? What do I need to do? How do I want to feel? What would need to happen for me to feel that way, or to do what I need to do or what I want to do?If we don’t get intentional, we get automatic instead. Spend a little time figuring out who you want this to go, rather than rolling on autopilot and then being dissatisfied with the experience and outcome.
- Be realistic. If you’re like me, you tend towards idealism, which is great when it comes to hopes for humanity and terrible when it comes to the actual state of your goals and projects. Magical thinking is great and fun when it comes to brainstorming possibilities, but not so helpful when it comes to planning how to make those ideas come to life. We need to get real and actually consider how much time our commitments are going to require, and then actually dedicate that time to them. No planning to get 3 hours of extra sleep with the one hour we save when we set our clocks back for Daylight Savings Time (is that just me?).Also, let’s get really real: how many things on your Need-To-Do list are actually truly necessary? If you’re committed to having rest and downtime, but you jam-pack my schedule with ALL THE THINGS (funtivities and obligations), the math won’t work.
- Be specific. What will I actually do? Leaving things vague is quicksand: instead of my normal list of All The Things I’m going to accomplish this December because I know I have the capacity to do it if I can just make myself focus, I have just the one. There is no qualitative measurement; it’s simply a yes or no. “I’m going to finish editing my book” is a nice idea, but “I’m going to write every weekday morning before 8 am for 90 minutes” is a clear, measurable commitment.
- Be in action. None of the above will matter at all if you don’t actually DO what is required. I can think about doing squats all day long, but thoughts alone will not make my legs stronger.To take action will likely require a plan. It doesn’t need to be monumental, but you need to figure out what steps you need to take, then actually take them. This might require some structure (writing it down, entering it into your calendar and setting reminders, for example) and some accountability (setting rewards and/or consequences for actions taken or not, as the case may be, having an accountability partner, et cetera).
- Be gracious. We are not superheroes. It’s all too easy, especially this time of year, to get all wound up in making a perfect, greeting-card-like season, from the best of intentions and lots of love and desire to make the holiday special. But I bet by now you know that aiming for perfect is a surefire way to wind up unhappy, exhausted and disappointed.We might need to be willing to lower our unrealistic expectations and take a few items off our To-Do list, based on what we want to accomplish and how we want to feel. You know, if what we want to do is actually accomplish things and if how we want to feel is spacious and not stressed…
And remember, a little self love in the form of not setting impossible and unrealistic expectations for yourself this time of year can go a long way. A little more grace for yourself is a gift to you and everyone around you, too.