Psychological insights , life coaching tips & tools from Chartered Psychologist and Solution Focused Life coach & author, Dr Gary Wood (includes PsyCentral Blog). Birmingham, Edinburgh, Telephone, Skype
The nameEbenezer Scrooge, the principle character from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol has become synonymous for embittered miserliness and especially for someone who does not embrace the ‘spirit of Christmas’. At the start of his journey he cares nothing for people and is only interested in money. By the end of the story Scrooge was a changed man. He discovered the true meaning of Christmas. His name became synonymous with altruism and generosity. He was Mr Christmas.
A Christmas Carol is a story of redemption. It is a tale of values and how to focus on what truly matters in life. It was set in a bleak time of abject poverty and the social injustice of the casualties of the Industrial revolution. The story has resonance with modern-day austerity cuts where the most vulnerable in society have had to pay for the mistakes of the most affluent (. . . steps off soapbox. . .) Back to the main point.
Christmas seems to start earlier every year. Cards and decorations appear in the shops around August. It has little or nothing to do with the values that Scrooge rediscovered by the end of the tale. Modern-day Christmas is driven by the values of the pre-enlightened Scrooge. In a perverse twist and turn around, those who decry commercialism are branded ‘Scrooge’ or ‘Ebenezer’ or chided with the statement ‘bah humbug’.
It’s true that Christmas is a real hugger-mugger of a festival and means different things to different people. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens did a lot to bring together disparate traditions and associations surrounding the Yuletide season. He helped us to re-embrace the pagan and yet at the heart of the story, there is a universal sense of humanity. So we have a pagan festival, hijacked by the Christian Church, in part, unified by Dickens and now hijacked by commercialism. Christmas is something that can now only be purchased and if you don’t have money then you are excluded. No doubt it will continue to evolve and mutate with more ‘traditions’ added. Hopefully, somewhere in the mix there will be space to re-discover what Scrooge discovered: If it’s not about people then it truly is humbug.
Dr Gary Wood is a social psychologist and life coach. He is author of Unlock Your Confidencewhich is based on his confidence-building workshops. Gary is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh where he runs his own training and coaching practice and research consultancy. He also offers coaching worldwide through Skype. Contact Gary by email to see how his solution focused (life) coaching approach would benefit you or your organization. See:Testimonials from former clients.
Christmas is supposed to be a celebration and a season of good will to all but often turns into a nightmare as expectations and the pressure of managing relationships mount. Many of us have an extensive to do list but rarely does ‘go easy on yourself’ make it on to the list. So what can we do, to take the pressure off and enjoy Christmas rather than just endure it. Here are my tips:
Get some perspective – it’s only one day. Unrealistic expectations and trying to cram in too much on will spoil any day. So, focus on what is really important to you at Christmas and don’t get too sidetracked by the trappings and the trimmings. In my job as a ‘life coach’, I work with clients to assess their values. It’s a great strategy for dealing with Christmas. Think about the meaning rather than the gloss. Sometimes less is more. The Pareto Principle states that 20% of our efforts yield 80% of the results. Think about the 20% that will make it a special time. ‘Less is more’ applies at Christmas more than any other time. You could also follow the Quentin Crisp principle ‘Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses; drag them down to your level’.
Take a lead from children – no matter how expensive the toys, the kids will end up playing with the box. You’re not really buying designer label clothes for children. If they are scared to get things dirty and can’t play, then it’s all about you. Very young children enjoy the simpler pleasures in life. Follow their lead.
Practise gratitude (and don’t criticise) – be thankful for what you do have rather than obsessing over what you don’t have. The list of things that make a ‘perfect’ Christmas seem endless but as you strip away the trappings you will be surprised that they are actually surprisingly few. Again, a very good way to approach life in general. If someone does something nice for you then say thank you. Don’t let the first thing to come out of your mouth be a criticism. Don’t be a food critic or an anything else critic. Before you open your mouth, ask if your ‘pearls of wisdom’ will add to the festive cheer. Ask if your ‘constructive criticism’ will make the recipient feel valued or deflated. If things are not perfect then focus on the gesture. So if your first thought is to moan about the sprouts, let it be followed quickly by the thought that you may just get to wear them! In other words, don’t be a @£$£!!
Count to Ten – this is a useful strategy of dealing with ‘difficult’ family and friends. They may have different expectations. So if Uncle Percy complains about the sprouts, just count to ten before you react.You may think to yourself ‘Yes, but they are better than the sprouts you’ll be getting when we put you in a home’. Cruel, but helpful if it helps to let the comment wash over you. Some people are just awkward, just accept it and let it wash over you.
Breathe – when we are stressed our breathing tends to be more shallow. So if anything starts to ‘get to you’ at Christmas, then take yourself away from the stressor and take a few long, slow deep breaths. This will help to interrupt the stress cycle.
Go for a walk – Sitting in a confined space with lots of family and friends can be stressful, especially if you’re the one doing everything. So wrap up warm and go for a walk. A bit of fresh air and a change of scenery can work wonders. The same applies for any working day during the year. Research has shown that a walk in nature can help to boost feelings of self-esteem and well-being.
Give and take – it’s a tad simplistic to say that the whole world is divided into givers and takers, but Christmas tends to exaggerate everyday life patterns. So if you are a giver and feel you have to run around after everyone, take a deep breath and sit down and give other people the opportunity to give something to you. If someone offers to make you a cup of tea or do the washing up then have the good grace to let them. You’re not a bad host if a guest wants to get out the rubber gloves and the dish mop. Conversely, if you tend to take, take, take at Christmas, don’t just sit in the corner like a blancmange, get off your backside and offer to do something for someone else. A small gesture can be more valuable than a gift of underwear, gloves, socks and deodorant! So let the takers give a little more and the givers take a little more.
Gluttony and guilt – some people feel guilty over the sheer volume of food consumed over Christmas. Firstly it’s important to recognise that it’s the only feast in the UK calendar. All cultures have times of feasting. However, also don’t overdo it. Sometimes we fall into the trap of buying ‘Christmas’ foods that get wasted, such as boxes of dates. If you like dates, go ahead and buy them. If not, then don’t buy them on the off-chance that great Aunt Brenda might fancy one. If she likes them that much, she’ll bring her bloody own! Christmas food can be notoriously rich and fatty which can lead to acid indigestion. We have this idea that hedonism was all over indulgence. Hedonism was really about pleasure and that meant everything in moderation. Having a hangover or heartburn is not pleasurable. Hedonists didn’t get them because they didn’t over indulge. Again, sometimes less is more. Balance out the rich foods with fresh fruit and vegetables. You don’t have to cram everything into one day, so pace yourself. Also, make sure you stay hydrated and drink water. Being dehydrated can make you irritable and distort judgement and perceptions.
Lonely this Christmas – many people spend Christmas alone which for some becomes unbearable. It’s important to remember that a lot of this has to do with attitude and perception. First ask yourself what you’d normally do on this day of the week, because it really is just one day. I know of people who just treat Christmas day as a break from routine and have actually spent the day de-cluttering your home. Catch up on your reading, get your foreign language CDs out, anything that you don’t normally have time to do. Be kind to yourself a have a few treats lined up. Just have a ‘you’ pamper day, free from people. It could be your own personal one day retreat. It’s all about thinking outside of the box. It could also be a personal development day, so you could spend the day setting your goals for the coming year. Alternatively, you could check out opportunities for volunteering at a homeless shelter for instance. Giving something to others can be give a real boost in self esteem and confidence. Christmas is also only one day and everything is pretty much back to normal the next day, so keep it in perspective.
Look forward – if you have had a bereavement during that year, take a moment to celebrate the life of that person. However take it further and take time to reflect on what you will do with your life to honour that person and that relationship. Focus on what inspiration that person gave you that you can use to take your life forward. At Christmas I always think about my Nan and Granddad who gave me the happiest moments in childhood. I learned from both of them the importance of compassion and giving something to others. From my granddad, I gained the love of reading and learning. My PhD and three books have been dedicated to them. It’s tangible proof that their lives had a profound effect on me. Undoubtedly, the first Christmas after the death of a loved one is the most difficult, so put a moment aside to think about how you take your life forward from the influence and inspiration they brought.
So these are my top ten tips for thriving not just surviving Christmas. I wish you all the best for the coming year and invite you to check out my posts on goal setting and new year’s resolutions.