How to Shift your Holiday Obligations into Desires

It’s December. We’re in the thick of it. There’s shopping to be done, there are 100 reasons to run to the store and fight the crowds. There’s planning to accomplish and commitments to be managed. The days are shorter AND it feels like it’s been raining for an eternity here in San Jose. You might feel like there are approximately 1 billion things you HAVE TO do, or maybe there’s just one really big thing you feel like you must do and it’s weighing heavily on you.

For many people spending time with family and others we don’t interact with on a day to day basis is one really big thing that feels like an obligation. I’ve heard this sentiment from so many and it comes in many forms — “My cousin is obnoxious, but I have to invite him,” “I don’t see any way out of going to visit my dad this year,” “I guess I have to let my mom stay with me since she’s flying out here and my brother never will,” or “My partner’s boss will notice if I don’t go to the holiday party.”

Sometimes we just want a holiday season without all the obligation and without feeling dread.

You might be reading this and thinking — “No! Really. There’s no way around inviting my mother-in- law — you can’t possibly be suggesting that I just leave her off the Christmas dinner list?”

Honestly, no, I’m not necessarily suggesting you disinvite your mother-in-law, ditch the visit to your dad, or duck out of the holiday party. I am suggesting it is a possibility! Just for a moment, this thing you’ve decided you MUST do, try and acknowledge that the world will not implode if you didn’t do it. (Did you do it? Really. Think for a moment about not doing the thing you feel you have to do?)

My guess is, your mind provided with you at least one reason why I’m wrong. This reason may be the space where there is a pathway to an identifiable value. This value may be leading you to the “no, really, I have to do it” space. If your mind didn’t provide you with a reason, and all you felt was relief, that might be worth listening to and go to work on figuring out how to say no!

Maybe your mind told you that your partner would simply never hear the end of it if you didn’t invite your mother-in-law. Maybe your mind reminded you that you do really want your dad to know you love him, even if travelling this time of year wouldn’t be your choice. Maybe your obnoxious cousin doesn’t have anywhere else to go and you don’t think people should have to be alone.

There are often values tucked in there, even when it doesn’t feel like it! You may want to be someone who honors your partner’s relationship with their family, or be the child who goes out of their way to let your parent know you love them, or be a person who is welcoming.

If you can’t find and connect with a value for thinking you have to do something, then truly consider not doing it because you don’t have to. It’s also a possibility that there are more important values which would lead you to not doing the thing. If your connection to those values are stronger, listen to them. If you don’t have the bandwidth right now to do the thing, you don’t have to.

If you CAN find and connect with a value-driving the behavior toward the thing you have to do, consider changing the language you use around it. You don’t have to do it, because now you’ve found a value that can allow you to make space for wanting to do it. It’s ok if the language of “I want to do the thing”, makes you cringe, because it can soften the internal struggle anyway.

There may be associated things that you really, really don’t want to deal with (holiday traveling, your challenging family member critiquing your food, your cousin talking about politics), so make space for both to exist. Try saying to yourself, “Even though I know [insert difficult thing] can be challenging, it’s worth it to me because [insert value you identified and feel connected to]”

When you’ve decided to do something that has some real downsides, which have resulted in you telling yourself “I have to do it” and dragging yourself kicking and screaming (internally, right?) it’s helpful to build in some things that may make it easier.

When you go visit your lonely father, is it possible to stay with someone else or in a hotel? If that’s not possible, can you schedule lunch with an old friend or a solo activity like a hike or a museum visit? When you go to the holiday party you don’t really want to go to, can you make an appearance and give yourself permission to gracefully exit after an hour? If your mother-in-law is coming for dinner, can you assign her a task she’s likely to enjoy? Or have your spouse be in charge of entertaining her for some period of time? Find a tangible strategy you can use to engage in the activity you value while also creating a buffer around the difficult part that ratchets up the feelings of dread.

It can be hard to make room for “I want to” when we’re so used to “I have to!” There is no useful way (that I know of) to completely stop our minds from telling us “I have to.” The good news is we can use “I have to” as a flag to stop for a moment and look at the possibility of a value being underneath the “I have to” and make space for “I want to.”

If you want some support in figuring out how to let go of the struggle associated with “I have to” by connecting with your values this holiday season, we are here for you. If you’re looking for support in San Jose, reach out for a consultation today!

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