As I write this, it is a little under 5 weeks till Christmas. I am struck by the fact that some people start ‘gearing up’ and ‘girding their loins’ for Christmas two or even three months before December 25th. How crazy is that? How can we get ourselves wound up and in a state of stress for two to three months, all for the sake of one day. We completely forget ‘the reason for the season’ – joy, peace and love. And for those of us who follow the Christian faith, celebrating the gift of Christ. For those who do not follow this faith, the values of joy, peace and love are a part of all major religious traditions and are values of importance to many people with no interest at all in religion.
And as a person who can get pretty stressed out over Christmas, my challenge to myself, and to you if you care to join me, is this: how can we start to ‘unwind’, de-tress, gear down and generally ‘de-frag’ each and every day in the lead up to December 25th .
To me “De-fragging” is about clearing our metal ram, slowing down, relaxing and letting go. And relaxing and letting go are important pre-requisites for experiencing joy, peace and love. To quote the cartoonist Michael Leunig: “We cannot love at speed”.
So, am I suggesting you should plan to be less productive and get less done? Not at all. In fact, ironically, ‘slowing down’ from ‘rushing-ness’ can result in us becoming more efficient and able to get more done in the time we have available. How so? A very positive ‘chicken-and-egg’ dynamic is available here if we choose to tap into. If we are able to intentionally adopt a stance of calmness, gratitude, peace, joy and love and move away from stress and frustration and rushing-ness, it is possible to regain a sense of perspective and from this sense of perspective to be able to think more strategically and creatively and come up with better solutions to problems. On the other hand, if we are caught in what I think of as ‘fight-flight physiology dynamics’ – a greater tendency towards stress, worry, hypervigilance for what is going wrong (a.k.a. negative thinking), black-and-white or all-or-nothing thinking, tunnel vision, and creating worse case scenarios in our heads, we are unable to get things into perspective and think strategically.
And research suggests that attitudes such as gratitude and awe will help us to become less stressed and anxious, thus reducing the ‘fight-flight physiology dynamics’ I mentioned above.
So, if you were to intentionally choose to adopt the qualities of joy, peace and love and develop these over the coming five weeks, not only might you have a more enjoyable lead up to December 25th, but you are likely to find that you are less stressed and more able to think clearly and creatively.
And what if you were to take a two-pronged approach? Firstly, intentionally choosing one or two positive qualities, such as joy, peace and love to focus on each day. And secondly, creating plans for Christmas that allow joy, peace and love to predominate over perfection and duty. Imagine how things could be if you were able to loosen up on your expectations of yourself about the perfect gifts you want to give, the perfect house and garden you want to welcome visitors into and the perfect meals you wish to serve. And perhaps there are other ways you could relax your expectations to make Christmas less stressful , and more enjoyable.
On the practical planning side of things you will find many blogs with helpful ideas. Suggestions commonly include
- If you are hosting a Christmas meal, can you make it ‘pot luck’ or ask specific family members to contribute a dish. Or pitch in together to prepare the meal, but with a shared intention to bring as much joy, peace and love to the process. Without this shared intention, ‘help’ in the kitchen can be a source of huge pressure and tension, where tension is high and tempers are frayed.
- If possible, agree with family about gift-giving. Whether that be a price limit, going in together to buy gifts or agreeing to only give second-hand items. If this isn’t possible, work out your own limits in terms of price and the amount of effort you are willing to make around gift-giving. Remind yourself that in a month’s time, or possibly even a week’s time, your choice of gifts is quite likely to be already forgotten.
But stepping back again from practical strategies to a great ‘defrag’ strategy…
Adopt ‘good enough’ as your motto. Gifts only have to be ‘good enough’, not perfect. Cooking only has to be ‘good enough’, housework and garden maintenance only have to be ‘good enough’. After all, all of these things are in the service of having a wonderful day with people we care about so it’s helpful to move the focus to that end goal. While it seems almost universal to worry about what others think of us, learning to live lightly with these thoughts and fears is hugely liberating. Perhaps now is ‘as good a time as any’ to start on the journey of being less concerned about not meeting other people’s expectations. And as you are probably aware – oftentimes others don’t hold such expectations of us, we just imagine they do. Perhaps now is as good a time as any to really embrace or play with the idea that “What other people think of you is none of your business”.
So, how about challenging yourself to defrag your Christmas, in preparation for defragging your holidays, in preparation for defragging the coming year. Of course, I encourage you to only challenge yourself in a ‘good enough’ kind of way! Make it a light challenge. Add in some fun. Focus on making it a joyous challenge, in the service of creating a joyous occasion filled with lots of appreciation and gratitude for all the small wonders in life.
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Are you a ‘download’ junkie? Have you subscribed to every ‘useful’ e-newsletter in the known world? And are you drowning in information overload? Does FOMO (the ‘Fear of Missing Out’) stop you from deleting emails and throwing out articles? Me too!
But I’m getting better and better at managing this ‘ongoing battle’ with overload. And yesterday I came across the most ‘sane’ blog I’ve ever seen on the subject (ironically, of course, I found it in one of those zillions of e-newsletters I subscribe to. I’ll include the link below. But first …
“That’s a handy thing” / “You never know when it will come in handy”.
I come from a family of collectors, and some of the collecting borders on hoarding (O.K. to be honest, completely crosses the border …). And to make matters worse, my family are very much into local and family history. Now there’s a recipe for disaster when it comes to rescuing / saving and hoarding everything. And a family saying that we all laugh at, but use frequently is “You never know when it will come in handy”. To be fair, I don’t think this is just something our family suffers from. I am sure it is very common – whether applied widely, or to a particular area of interest.
I don’t know if there’s been any psychological research done on ‘the fear of missing out’ but I wouldn’t be surprised if there has (if you know of any, please tell us about anything you’ve found in the Comments box below). Somehow it seems to me to be quite a primal urge. In the same way that that everything seems urgent and important when we are caught in fight-flight physiology or a ‘rushing’ or urgency mode, making it hard to let go the somewhat less urgent tasks and focus on the most urgent, it seems harder to let ‘things’ go the more stressed and busy we are. It reminds me of the hawks on the road, eating road-kill. Apparently they instinctively grip onto their ‘find’ when faced with an approaching car, which limits their ability to fly and increases their chances of being skittled. The busier or more stressed I am, the more ‘important’ / “might be really useful information later” certain emails or e-newsletters seem. And of course the writers often exploit this sense of stress and urgency by having a limited-time offer in the subject line or first paragraph.
My ‘Claytons’ solution
Firstly, to explain the term – in the 70’s or 80’s in Australia and New Zealand there was a marketing campaign for a non-alcoholic drink, called Claytons – ‘the drink you’re having when you’re not having a drink’. (If you’re interested, this youtube clip of one of their adverts gives you an idea why it was so frequently parodied. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylH43Tcaj60) So my “Claytons” solution to email was to set up a folder for all the things that I wished I had time to read, called ‘Labour Weekend Reading’. I did this about five years ago, a couple of weeks before our 3 day Labour Weekend holiday, thinking that I would have heaps of time to catch up on all this reading. And I’m still happily ‘filing’ emails that I haven’t got time to read into my ‘Labour Weekend Reading’ file. As yet, I have not opened that file to actually read anything, so it has a humongous number of emails in it. But it has helped me to use the Mindfulness strategy of ‘noticing and naming’ the Fear of Missing Out, and to recognise my unwillingness to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’! This strategy has saved me from experiencing the discomfort of hitting the delete button and fearing I would miss out on some ‘good stuff’. This is a classic case of avoidance of emotional discomfort! And avoidance is not a Mindful response. But in this case, I’m not sure if there are any harmful consequences to it (I’d be interested on your opinion on this). And one day, with increasing Mindfulness and intentionality, I may reach peace with this, rather than just calling a truce, and I may just hit the delete button and get rid of the whole lot in one fell swoop. But not just yet, because you never know, maybe I might still find time to read some of the emails in that file… I love Christine Carter’s suggestion of setting up a separate email account for all these kind of emails, but in a lot of ways, I think that may also be another ‘Clayton’s’ solution.
And what about paper files?
In discussing this with some Counsellor and Supervisor colleagues recently, it turns out I’m not the only one with this hoarding instinct! We all have boxes or filing cabinet drawers of handouts, training materials and articles which we believe that one day we will sort through and save the ‘good stuff’. I know that I hate re-creating resources on something I have already written about (for example when a file becomes corrupted). So the idea of throwing out a resource and then later discovering I ‘need’ it for a workshop or a client has me holding on to drawer-loads of ‘stuff’. And in reality, if I wanted to look for an old resource for a client, it could take hours to sort through and find. In reality it would be quicker to just re-write it – and I may well create something better and more up-to-date than my original. But the idea of re-writing stuff is, for me, kind of like the idea of scraping my finger nails down a chalkboard (remember them?) But I’m getting pretty close now to just biting the bullet and doing a big toss out.
One idea my colleagues and I talked about was ‘helping’ each other with this task – that with a supportive observer present we might decide “to heck with it, it can all go”. And then we could use the time we saved by not painstakingly sorting through every sheet of paper to have a coffee or a wine and enjoy each other’s company – and celebrate a mini-victory over being captive to ‘stuff’.
Living a simpler life is something that really appeals – being freer from ‘stuff’. Christine Carter’s article on the ‘Greater Good – The Science of Meaningful Life’ website is a great step in that direction with regard to emails. As I mentioned, this is one of the most ‘sane’ articles I’ve read on the topic. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/howand_whyto_take_your_life_back_from_email?utm_source=GG+Newsletter+April+6%2C+2016&utm_campaign=GG+Newsletter+April+6+2016&utm_medium=email
And you might also enjoy Courtney Carver’s website www.bemorewithless.com if you aspire to a simpler life in a broader sense.
Simplifying, whether it be our inboxes or our lives, helps us to lead a more Mindful life. And Mindfulness helps us to value and achieve simplicity. Both seem challenges worth tackling.
Image Credits: Pixaby and Adobe Stock Photos
A penny for your thoughts … (not literally, but you know what we mean – we’d love to hear your opinion and learn about your experiences).
How are you at deleting emails? Or better still, unsubscribing? And how about throwing out old paper records, articles, resources? And other ‘stuff’ (belongings) – do you aspire to de-clutter and simplify with regard to belongings? What have you found helpful in your attempts to de-clutter. Please share your tips. We’d love to hear from you on the Comments Board below.
Any and all comments welcome – whether or not you agree with what I’ve written.
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