Who Will You be for the Holidays?


Every year around this time I get caught up in a flurry of coordinating schedules, planning travel, and buying gifts. With so much to do, I get a feeling of satisfaction every time I cross another item off my list.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of so much doing, however, it’s easy to forget to ask a very important question—who do I want to be?

How do I want to speak and act? How will I honor what is most meaningful to me? What attitude will I choose?

Sometimes it feels like I should have a special holiday self—probably someone particularly jovial. Sometimes I do wish I had more of what we think of as the holiday spirit. When it really comes down to it, however, who I want to be during the holidays is the same person I want to be every other day of the year.

Throughout this season, there is much we can’t control. We can’t control the traffic or the weather. We can’t even control how other people interpret the things we say and do.

What we can control is our intention. We are the ones who decide our attitude and our way of being, but who we want to be is a big question. It’s easy to fall back into imagining what we need to do to keep everyone else happy instead of who we need to be proud of ourselves.

What words describe you?

Imagine the holiday celebration is winding down and you stepped away for a moment to load your suitcase in the car. Upon your return you happen to overhear the others talking about you. What do you hope they are saying?

What are two or three words do you long to hear used to describe you? There may be plenty of words that would feel good to hear, but which ones spark that extra tingle of joy? Use these words to guide your decisions. Revisiting your core values might help you narrow it down.

How will you live them out?

Now it’s all well and good to decide who you want to be, but what really matters is how you actually show up.

Maybe you want to be fun. Does that mean organizing group games? Getting on the floor to play with the kiddos? Keeping the music playing? Telling jokes and stories?

Maybe you want to be helpful. Will you spend your time doing dishes? Supervising children? Watching for anyone who might be feeling a little overwhelmed or left out?

Take a moment now to get really specific about what it looks like to be the things you’ve decided you want to be. Visualize your holiday experience. What do you do? What do you say? Who do you spend time with?

What gets in the way?

Once you have a clearer idea of what it will look like to show up as you want to be, let’s consider what challenges might get in your way. Sometimes we find ourselves acting in ways we don’t want. Thinking through how you’ll respond to the most likely challenges will make it easier to act out your chosen words even when it gets tough.

As holidays are often filled with traditions and annual gatherings, looking for patterns can be a great place to start. Think about previous holidays. When have you acted in ways that don’t align with who you really want to be? Can you pinpoint what triggers your less desirable reactions?

Some scenarios might be obvious. Maybe you have a cousin who comments whenever you take a second helping of mashed potatoes and gravy. Maybe your uncle regales you with all his children’s many professional successes over the past year before asking when you’re going to get a real job. Maybe you just went through a painful break-up and dread the questions about what happened.

What are some ways you can respond that fit with the person you want to be?

There may also be patterns that emerge when you look a little deeper. Do you tend to feel grumpy after lingering too long at the breakfast table? Maybe after a third helping of turkey you feel too lethargic to engage in meaningful conversations. Maybe questions about what to do with the leftovers tend to devolve into arguments about food safety.

What changes can you make to your behavior patterns to avoid these trouble spots? What will you do if you find yourself in the thick of them?

We can prepare ahead of time for the more predictable scenarios, but we can’t anticipate every difficult situation that might come up. What we can do, however, is learn how to recognize our own internal signals. What sensations do you notice in your body when you feel angry? Sad? Defensive? Practice noticing these feelings so you can recognize challenges more quickly.

What is your first impulse reaction? If it’s not what you want it to be, how would you like to respond instead? What are some ways you can remind yourself of how you would really like to speak and act? It’s so much easier to choose the response we want in the heat of the moment if we’ve already chosen it when things were calm.

What happens when you mess up?

The final question I’d like you consider as you think about how you want to show up this holiday season is…how will you respond to yourself when you act in a way you don’t feel good about?

I’d encourage you to be kind to yourself and begin again. If you’ve hurt someone, you may want to apologize and do what you can to make amends. Beating yourself up for making a mistake, however, won’t help. Learn what you can and keep practicing. Remember you’re allowed to be a work in progress.

Who do you want to be this holiday season? What specific ways will you live this out? What do you think your biggest challenges will be?