By Dr. Alexis Emich
The holidays, filled with gatherings and traditions, are often a time of liveliness and connection. The holidays, with further packed schedules, lack of routine, and unrealistic expectations, can additionally be a time of stress and disappointment. Of course we all want to enjoy the holidays as much as possible and plan to do so, however we are often caught off guard when things do not align as smoothly or effortlessly as expected.
This time of year droves of articles are posted with helpful advice for surviving, even thriving, through the holidays. Tips often include: sticking to a predictable routine, exercising regularly, eating in moderation, prioritizing commitments, staying connected with family and friends, and setting reasonable expectations. Each tip is highly encouraged and seems simple enough in theory yet is often difficult in practice (even without the holiday craze!). Thus a chasm is created between advice and action. Instead of offering more quick tips that may further the divide, lets focus on building a new bridge, a bridge of intention.
At its core intention is a chosen focus or plan. Decided ahead of time, it is how we wish for something to go. When we live with intention we are not bogged down by the past but rather living in the moment with sight on the future. Think of the expression “begin with the end in mind”. As we take our first steps climbing up a mountain, we envision ourselves summiting the peak.
When contemplating intention, often confusion arises in its difference from advice (i.e., “isn’t setting an intention just another piece of advice?”). In this context, intention is the broader plan that spans activities and behavior; Advice is the individual recommendations around a specific activity or behavior. Imagine you are a painter – intention is your vision of the final painting while advice is each brush stroke. Your completed masterpiece, comprised of numerous brush strokes, evokes certain feelings, captures memories, and provides self-worth.
Living with intention during the holidays involves thinking ahead about how you would like to spend the holidays and doing what you can (what is in your control!) to have that happen. Further, your intention helps put useful advice into practice by acting as your motivator and guide. Ultimately it means a holiday with less stress and more joy.
Here are some examples of holiday intentions:
Live in the Present (focus on the moment you are in, the people you are with, the activity you are engaged in)
Gratitude (focus on what you are thankful for; recognize what you do have instead of what you do not have)
Healthy Connections (focus on positive relationships; connect with people in your life in positive ways)
Joy (focus on enjoying yourself, having fun, smiling often, laughing daily; hold on to the moments of happiness)
Relaxation (focus on taking care of your mind and body; think low key and self-care)
Doing Good (focus on other people; give back, donate, volunteer, assist those around you)
Love (focus on loving yourself and others the way you and they are; show others your love)
To help decide upon your holiday intention, ask yourself the following questions:
What is most important or valuable to me to this Holiday season?
In an ideal world, how do I want the holidays to go this year?
How do I want to feel (emotionally, physically, spiritually)?
How do I want to interact with other people?
What part of that ideal is realistic or reasonable?
What can I focus on that I have control over (verse focusing on things outside of my control, such as behaviors of family members or disruptions in holiday travel)?
If you are having trouble answering any of the above questions, ask yourself the following:
How do I not want the holidays to go this year?
What has not gone the way I wanted during past holidays?
What part of that do I have control over changing?
How can I work to make it different this year?
Setting an intention for the holidays will not instantly “fix” the discrepancy between advice and practice, however it is a solid starting place that can help reduce the gap by motivating you into action.
Once you decide upon your intention write it down! Type it in your phone! Use it to create a picture! Take a photo of it! Someway somehow put the words and image of your intention concretely in front of your eyes. Continue to look at it – today, tomorrow, next week. As you work to connect advice with action, remind yourself of your desired direction. Any time you waver from course, check back in. Your intention is there to positively guide you towards experiencing the holidays as you wish this year.
Cheers to you for intentionally enjoying the holidays!