Holidays Zap the Spirit of Celebration

 Who’s really celebrating this year?

It’s not those folks who are too busy stressing over gift giving obligations, get-togethers, and the general hustle and bustle demands—all centered around their unrealistic expectations on creating the perfect holiday.

The holiday season poses a psychological conundrum. The season is all about the sentiment of “Comfort and Joy”, yet the effort to be happy makes many of us miserable. My recommendation is to follow this simple golden rule: adjust your attitude and every day will be like a room full of confetti!

Many of us are inundated by articles on “prescriptions for successfully coping with the holidays”– there seems to be no refuge from this popular topic. What I found refreshing  was discovering an alternative on contemporary psychology—the message was “just carry on.” It is a counter-intuitive approach, but think of it as the negative thinking to handling the holidays.

Psychotherapist Albert Ellis was a pioneer of the negative path. His key insight was this—that sometimes the best way to address uncertainty is to focus not on the best-case scenario, but the worst.

He is famous for telling clients, who were distressed at the idea of being embarrassed, to ride the New York Subway and speak the names of the stations out loud as they passed. A client’s overblown fears  of embarrassment were diminished.

As an example, imagine the absolute worst that could happen if you run out of patience with your employees during the season, after you have spent an entire year creating the ideal work environment. The ancient Greek philosophers called this the “premeditation of evils.” Do this and you significantly reduce the anxiety-producing energy that looming over you. This may be just the release you need to allow flexibility with your employees, while bettering your workplace to be more inclusive and positive.

Psychologist Julie Norem estimates that one-third of Americans intuitively use this strategy, which she terms “defensive pessimism.” As pointed out recently in the Wall Street Journal, positive thinking, by contrast, is the effort to convince yourself that things will turn out just fine, which can reinforce the belief that it would be absolutely terrible if they didn’t.

How does this approach jive with the well used axiom “If you can dream it, you can do it?”

There is plenty of research supporting the belief that having an idea or dream shapes your plans and defines your goals more clearly. You’ve undoubtedly read the story of actor Jim Carrey who wrote a check to himself for $10 million in 1987.  He dated it Thanksgiving 1995 and, you guessed it, received $10 million that year for his role in the movie “Dumb and Dumber.”

Yes, we agree dreaming of your perfect Norman Rockwell Holiday is a powerful way of moving closer to getting it. So do it. Meanwhile, also consider this—the ultimate value of the “negative path” is less about driving upbeat emotions and more about facilitating realism. The future is uncertain, after all things really do go wrong sometimes. There is much to be said for confronting these possibilities rather than denying them. Then you’re left with all that positive energy to enjoy your Joyous, (not perfect), Holiday.

By, Debra Koenig, President of B2A Consulting | 30 years of experience as a  business executive with leadership and consulting skills in Fortune 500 and private equity portfolio companies.

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