Recognizing Old Patterns
The holiday season is upon us again. For some, that fact brings thoughts of delicious food, memorable songs, fond traditions, and amazing time with family. For others, not so much. In fact, according to a survey from Think Finance, forty-five percent of Americans would actually prefer to skip Christmas.
There are probably as many reasons for why some people dread the holidays as there are toys on Santa’s sleigh for all the children in the world. For today’s purposes, though, let’s tie the holiday theme back to last month’s theme of replacing our bad habits with good ones.
The most frequent complaint I hear from clients when it comes to the holidays is the time they spend with extended family members. Uncle George still tells loud, lousy jokes. Aunt Bernice is still asking nosey questions that are none of her business. And my sister Sandy is still giving me the evil eye when I discipline my own children.
In these cases, the habit we’re dealing with is the habit of expecting the worst from those family members. It’s as if we set ourselves up for failure by focusing on what’s happened in the past rather than how we have the power to change the present and future.
We all know we can’t control other people. We can, however, control our thoughts about those people and the actions we see them make. Replacing a bad habit with a good one is essentially the gift we can give ourselves this holiday season.
Here’s how it works.
Aunt Bernice asks how we’re able to afford the car we drove to the party tonight.
Old habit thoughts: What a Nosey Nellie! It’s none of her business how we can afford the car or anything else we have! This is why I hate coming to family gatherings. Maybe next year we’ll just skip it all!
New habit thoughts: Aunt Bernice worked for 27 years as a bookkeeper for small businesses. She’s likely seen a lot of people with more money going out of their accounts than coming in. Her questions come from concern, not nosiness.
Your answer to Aunt Bernice in replaced habit mode: Thank you for your concern, Aunt Bernice. We got a great deal on this car, and with my recent promotion, it was the perfect purchase for us. We’re really enjoying it!
Notice how the new habit thoughts focus on Aunt Bernice’s good intentions? Did her question come from a place of good intention? It doesn’t matter! And that is the crux of this entire model. Our thoughts get to control how we manage Aunt Bernice’s comment and everything else in life.
Each time you discipline your children in your sister Sandy’s presence, you see her watching your every move.
Old habit thoughts: How dare she judge me! I’ve got three kids from 10-years-old down to 4-years-old, and she has a 6-month-old baby. She has no idea what’s in store for her as a parent! When it’s time for her to start disciplining my nephew, just wait. My own judge-y looks will be all over her!
New habit thoughts: Since Sandy is newer to this parenting game, she may be watching me to see how I handle tantrums, disrespect, and overly tired kids. She’s actually learning from my example right here and now. I also think that’s empathy and awe I see in her eyes.
Response to Sandy’s looks: A smile. A hug. A message whispered from you to your sister saying, “This parenting thing is the toughest gig I’ve ever had but, oh, so worth it. So glad we’re on this ride together.”
What happens if Sandy was judging your manner of disciplining your kids? Your response will very likely disarm her and help her realize her judgment doesn’t help the situation at all. If Sandy isn’t so dandy, though, if she bites back with a snide comment, you are in control of your response to her.
Choosing Your Reactions
Your thoughts and responses can come from a place of love and support, or they can come from a place of spite and maliciousness. Which choice is the new habit choice? Which choice gets you closer to the holiday human you want to be (and want others to be)? Which choice is a positive example of how our thoughts control our world, whether it’s festive holiday time or will-winter-ever-end time?
Give yourself a gift this holiday season. Replace your old habit—you know, the thoughts about Dan’s horrible dancing at the office holiday party, the small holiday bonus that should be much larger, or those family members that have gotten under your skin in past years—with new habit thoughts. They’re the ones that bring us the most peace. And if I remember correctly, peace is exactly what the holiday season is really all about.