How to stay Focused on What Matters Most this Holiday

brigitte-tohm-180659.jpg

Many of my clients, particularly those with a lot of family dysfunction, worry about or even dread the holidays.  This is an exercise I created to help my clients take a more proactive approach to holidays that they anticipate will be stressful.  Whether or not you are excited or nervous about the upcoming holiday, you can use this exercise to create a more meaningful vision of your holiday, to clarify your values, and to stay focused on what matters most.

You might practice this exercise with a partner or a friend so you can take turns reading step 1 to each other.  You will need a few index cards, a pen or marker, and a piece of blank paper or a journal.

Step 1 – imagine a movie of your holiday: 

Close your eyes and imagine one day or one part of this upcoming holiday.  You might choose to think about a part of the holiday that you’re feeling most uncertain about (e.g. Hanukkah dinner with the in laws) or Christmas morning with grandma and Aunt Betty who never fail to comment about your weight or relationship status.  Spend the next few minutes silently imagining exactly how you would ideally like to interact with the people around you and, more importantly, with yourself.  Pretend that you are watching a movie of yourself in these moments—what do you see on the camera?  What do you want to stand for? What do you want this holiday occasion to be about?  

Step 2 – draw or write about what you saw on camera:

Open your eyes and spend the next 5 minutes either drawing or writing all about what you saw on the “movie” of your holiday.  What were you doing? How were your interactions? You can write words or draw symbols to represent what you saw.

Step 3 – values identification:

Look over what you just wrote about or drew and identify a list of values that are most strongly represented in your movie.  Values are your heart’s deepest desire for how you want to act and what you want to stand for.  If you’re doing this exercise with a partner, this is a good time for you to share your movie with them and to discuss which values were most important.

Here is a sample list of values to choose from (feel free to select any values that aren’t listed here as well).  Circle the top 3 values you identified in your movie.

·   Acceptance · Adventure ·  Assertiveness · Autonomy · Balance · Boldness · Curiosity · Compassion · Caring · Challenge · Connection · Community · Competency · Contribution · Creativity · Determination · Fairness · Faithfulness · Encouragement · Friendliness · Freedom · Flexibility · Fun · Humor · Humility · Kindness · Knowledge · Leadership · Learning · Love · Loyalty · Patience · Openness · Peacefulness · Pleasure · Poise · Recognition · Religion · Respect · Responsibility · Security · Self-Respect · Self-Care · Spirituality · Supportiveness · Success · Skillfulness · Trustworthiness · Wisdom

Step 4 – Record your values on notecards:

Choose a verb to go with each of the values you picked.  For example, “Peacefulness” could become “Seek out moments of peacefulness” and “compassion” could be “Act compassionately towards myself and others.”  Put one of these phrases on the front side of each notecard. 

Step 5 – What might get in the way of acting in accordance with your values?

On the back of each notecard, write down whatever you think could potentially (or has in the past) interfered with acting in accordance with that value.  Usually barriers to effective action include particularly triggering thoughts, feelings, or memories.  Be specific about the particular thoughts or feelings that you may struggle with in these moments.

notecard example.jpg

Now you can bring your list of barriers in to your therapist to learn tools for managing those thoughts and feelings.  You might want to keep these notecards in your handbag or wallet as reminders of what you want this holiday to be about.

I wish you a purposeful and meaningful holiday!