As long as my parents were alive, I had every year, around December, the same nightmare. It had one simple story line: It was Christmas Eve, and I realized that I forgotten to buy gifts for my family. I usually woke up in cold sweat, but also relieved that I had already thought of presents that would make my parents and sister happy. I enjoy giving gifts and surprising those I love and care about. Yet, to my disappointment, I also found out that whenever I asked my mom and my dad whether they still cherished the gifts I gave them for Christmas or birthday, their answers were either “Ammh” or just blank stares. Obviously, my presents were a bit forgetful – or, there were things more important to them than just “stuff.” It took me until our last Christmas to fully appreciate that all my parents cared about was to be together. So, rather than buying them more things they really didn’t need, my sister, my wife Danielle and I decided that the best present we could give to mom and dad would be our presence and fully undivided attention. While holidays at my parents were always very festive and scrumptious, they were also very busy, and especially for my mom, quite exhausting. Yet, that last time was different. We worked together as team and didn’t let my mom kick us out of the kitchen. This allowed all of us to spend more time just sitting, talking, reminiscing and laughing. All of us stayed patient and present, rather than getting annoyed by each other’s idiosyncrasies. Looking back, I believe that we sensed that this would be the last Christmas together, which is why we showed up and maintained the attitude of being our best selves for each other.
When Jamie, a client of mine, told me about her Christmas nightmare (which wasn’t a dream, but stark reality), I could certainly relate. “Every year, it’s the same with me. I am excited about the holidays and look forward to visiting my parents, siblings and other relatives, which I don’t see more than two or three times a year. But less than 48 hours after my arrival, I have already argued with my dad about politics, been annoyed with my mom about doting on everybody and been envious of my younger brother, the golden child, who always seems to get what he wants. Within two days, I manage to revert from being a grown woman to a cranky teenager who locks herself in her room and can’t wait for the holidays to be over.”
I don’t know about you, but I have certainly broken Jamie’s 48 hour record multiple times in my life, which I am not too proud of; if we hadn’t had the most harmonious last Christmas, I would feel more regret. Yet, reverting back into old patterns isn’t just the prerogative of the adult children, but happens also to parents, who at times tend to forget that their grown-up kids no longer need to be told how to live their lives. Which brings me to this week’s Empowerment Radio topic: whether we are the parents or the children, the greatest gift we can give our loved ones and ourselves is being our best selves. But what does that mean and how do we get there?
Here are three ways to start becoming that gift that keeps on giving, which are:
- Emotional Responsibility: Set your intention on how you want to show up for your family, friends and yourself. Be aware of the old emotional and behavioral patterns, such as being judgmental, standoffish, complacent, demanding, too pleasing or controlling. Ask yourself whether these patterns still serve you or anybody else. Then decide how do you want to think, feel, believe and act instead, while spending time with your folks? During the holidays, rather than slipping into a food coma or shutting down, because the craziness of the family gatherings overwhelms you, keep your mind and your heart open and awake. Notice when you get triggered and instead of reacting or acting out, first take a deep breath and then take responsibility for your feelings. Remind yourself that nobody can make you feel anything without your permission – and that your intention is to be a source of joy, peace and harmony.
- Unbridled kindness: Matt, a friend of mine, told me that he had made the decision to let his heart more often take the lead. For example, the other day at the check-out of a grocery store, he watched how an older man with a full cart had let a young, somewhat impatient looking guy pass in front of him, because he just had a sandwich and a drink to pay for. While the young man barely muttered a ‘thank you,’ the older gentleman had a satisfied smile on his face, which indicated to Matt that he had enjoyed this random act of kindness, no matter what response he got. My friend was so touched by this man that his heart told him to buy him his groceries as a sign of appreciation for the inspiration he was to others. In the past, Matt’s head would have quickly dismissed such a ‘crazy idea,’ and come up with all kinds of logical reasons of why he shouldn’t follow this impulse. But Matt’s intention to be a more positive and uplifting force in the world made him overwrite these concerns just follow his desire to honor the man’s kindness. It turns out, my friend’s heart was right, because the fella was clearly touched by Matt’s kind gesture. As your best self, you may no longer hold yourself back from showing love, affection and appreciation to others. And you may no longer take your own goodness and positive contributions for granted, but instead treat yourself with the caring kindness you intend to share with others.
- Committed self-reliability: In the spirit of over-giving and under-appreciating yourself, you give up on your self-care routine and deny yourself anything that replenishes your energy and makes you feel positive and grounded. You eat too much of the food you usually avoid. You drink more and sleep less than is good for you. You don’t spend any time alone and stop meditating because you feel the pressure and pull of the people around you. You push aside the demands and deadlines of your work because you feel the expectations of your family to spend as much time as possible with them. Although it can be pleasant and refreshing to step out of the routines and obligations of our daily lives, a lack of self-care and self-responsibility ultimately leads to stress, frustration and resentment. So make sure to maintain a healthy balance between indulging in the sweetness of the holiday bubble and staying committed to what you know generally makes you feel positive, centered and empowered. Or, to put it simply – treat yourself like somebody you deeply love and care about, so that you can treat others how you want be treated by them.
Join me on Empowerment Radio and learn more ways to show up as your best self this holiday season and beyond.