Christmas - do your eyes sparkle, your mouth grin, and your heart leap when you hear that word?
Or are you like me, and part of you dreads the Christmas season. I try and live in denial that it is coming as long as possible - but this year I attended my first Christmas event in mid-November. So I had to start thinking about it earlier than I wanted to. I always want Christmas to be a relaxed happy time of year with some room for spiritual input and reflection. But instead it seems to sweep me away in a struggle through preparing for events, attending event after event, the year's end, the end of the school term, winding up all those unfinished work tasks and all the other pressures that come at this time of year.
What about you? How do you feel about Christmas? Do you enjoy it? All of it? Some of it?
In my coaching work this year, I have spent some time exploring discontent. We often overlook our discontent, it makes us uncomfortable. Discontent can be challenging and confronts us with our own inadequacy and unmet expectations. It can be easier to suppress our discontent than to examine it.
I have found discontent and dissatisfaction are interesting and helpful things to explore.
Discontent is something that we should listen to, it is something that can guide us into new activities and focuses. Discontent is a sign that it is time for you to grow, time for you to move, time for you to step up and challenge the status quo.
I have identified three main sources of dissatisfaction, stress or discontent in the lead up to Christmas:
At this time of year we try to fit more into an already busy schedule, we need to fit in parties, end of year displays, shopping and baking. Our workplaces are often busy and people are stressed and short-tempered. This creates added stress on our time and adds to the feelings of overwhelm.
If we don’t know our values we may get swept away doing things that others value, that we don’t and we may not realise why we are discontented. We can also experience conflicts between our own values. For example, we may value spending time with our extended family, and value creating a relaxed child-friendly experience for our children. These two values may end up in tension if your extended family want to have a white tablecloth sit down dinner. Our values may also be in tension with others values, for example, we may value or need simplicity and this may not be in line with our families value of lavish presents.
Have you ever thought about what your expectations are for this time of year? Are you expecting yourself to do everything by yourself? Are you expecting a perfect tree and house like you see in a magazine? Are your expectations realistic? Expectations come from ourselves, from our families and others and from society. It is good to reflect on what your expectations are and how you may be unconsciously influenced by the expectations created by society or even by our advertising exposure.
To have a more contented Christmas and to feel more in control of all that is happening at this time of year we can take actions to reduce these three sources of discontent:
A good first step to take is to identify and articulate your values. Values are the big abstract statements of things that are important to you, they are the overarching guiding reference points and principles that you live by. You may find it helpful to spend time reflecting on what you value most at this time of year. For some people it is spending time with family, for some, it may be getting alone time to recover from workplace stress. What is it for you?
Once you know your values you can start to overcome some of the time pressures you face by simplifying. It’s difficult to acknowledge, but we can’t actually do everything! Knowing your values helps you know what is most important and makes it easier to put down those things that are not in line with your values, and yes that will require creating boundaries (eeek!). But I believe that you will find it easier to introduce and articulate those boundaries if they are value based. For me, this means that I need to simplify and reduce doing things (cooking, presents, shopping) as I value having time to be really present with people and I can’t do that if I am focused on creating more things.
It will help you feel more in control if you can create realistic expectations of what you can and will do. Ask why you do things - why make a Christmas cake? Is it the wrong time of year for dried fruit and the oven on for 4 hours? So where did this expectation to make a Christmas cake come from? Do you really need one? Even our strengths can lead us astray here. My strengths of creativity and curiosity lead me to create expectations of doing new crafts, baking and cooking every year. But I have learnt that this is not the time of year to be adding complexity to my life, so I try and reduce my crafting and baking - there are plenty of other times of the year where there is plenty of space for experimenting but 11 pm on the 24th December is not the time!
Click here for a pdf of questions to help you reflect on your Christmas season.
I wish you all a great year's end, a lovely celebration and some rest and re-creation time.