Archive | Self-development

Listen To This Surprising Advice From Your Future 90-Year-Old Self

old man

old manI was having lunch with a friend the other day and we got to talking about my next career move. I’m at that stage – once again – where I’m thinking about what’s next for me professionally – so I laid out the three options I’m currently mulling over.

“What do you want me to say?” she asked, when I finished my short speech.

“I want you to tell me which one of those I should pursue!”

She paused and considered my directive for a moment. “What would your 90 year old self advise you to do?”

It was a great question.

Regret exerts a powerful pull on us in adulthood. And she was basically counselling me not to reach the ripe old age of 90 and ask myself, “What might have been?”

But I felt that she was also exhorting me to get in touch with my authentic self. I have a very well developed analytic side to my brain.  If it goes unchecked, I can easily spend my life thinking my way through dilemmas. She was basically saying to me: Don’t think, Feel. Ask yourself what you really want right now, not what you ought to want. In other words, no more shoulds.

Which in turn reminded me of one of my favorite self-help books, about which I’ve evangelized before: Elle Luna’s amazing, The Crossroads of Should and Must. In this book – which is all about uncovering your authentic self – giving up the “shoulds” (what we think we ought to do) for the “musts” (our true passions) – the author has you do a series of exercises designed to elicit your “must.”

One of them which I found particularly effective was to write my own obituary – actually to write two of them. The first is how you *think* your obituary will read when you die and the second is how you’d like it to read. This doesn’t necessarily need to be an exercise about career change, but it’s perfectly designed to explore that realm of life.

Try it. It’s excruciatingly painful and yet incredibly elucidating.

If you’re like me, what you’ll discover is that you could end your professional days with a perfectly respectable career doing X, Y, or Z. Perhaps you’re on a few boards and maybe you’ve even won some accolades.

But while your “likely” obituary might recount a professional journey you won’t be ashamed of, that doesn’t mean that it’s really “you.” And if that’s the case, you might end up closing out your days feeling cheated.

I, for one, don’t want that to happen to me.

Which is why that lunch was a great wake up call to check back in with myself about what I really want to get out of the second half of life. I went back to those dueling obituaries, re-read them, and realized that I was still in danger of having the “wrong obituary” if I wasn’t incredibly mindful about how I approach this whole process of career change.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

Image: Jack Shaller by Chris Bentley via Flickr

 

Tips For Adulthood: How To Cultivate A Sense Of “Belonging” As We Age

belonging ageing

belonging ageingOn occasional Wednesdays I offer tips for adulthood.

I had breakfast recently with two friends in their 70’s. Both have enjoyed very successful professional lives, but are now struggling with how to “give back” in later life. They know what they are good at and would like to share those skills with others, but they are struggling with how to find the right group that shares both their professional interests and feels like a good fit socially. Being on a the board of an organization is all well and good, but they are after something that is much more personal and community-based.

As I listened to them speak, it occurred to me that what they’re really talking about is how to cultivate a sense of “belonging,” something that is so naturally achieved through colleagues, religious affiliations, neighborhoods and our kids in earlier phases of adulthood. As we age however, and parents become ill or die, friends move on and our careers wind down, belonging becomes more central to our lives – and more elusive.

Here are five ways to cultivate a sense of belonging as we age:

a. Join a Club – This is obviously the easiest and most immediate way to foster a sense of belonging, by joining a like-minded group of people who share your core interests. While some people think that everything you do in retirement has to have “meaning” and “purpose! (Capital M! Capital P!), there’s a lot to be said for just getting out there and having some old-fashioned fun. Plus, picking up a hobby in mid-life is good for brain development. Not finding what you want? Start your own club. I once solicited ideas for different “grown up” club ideas on Linked In and was amazed with what came back: an “admin” club where you sit with friends to force yourself through the mound of paperwork on your desk, a “fix-it” collective to repair broken objects and – wait for it! – a “procrastinators club” where you actually put some money down to inspire yourself – and others – to tackle a long-delayed life project.

b. Go Online – If you’re not finding something that sparks a sense of belonging locally, go online. Not all boomers are comfortable on the internet, but seniors who use the internet report higher levels of life satisfaction than seniors who do not. I’ve personally been delighted to discover the treasure trove of websites devoted to establishing a sense of community and identity for those of us in the “second half of life,” which range from more journalistic sites like Next Avenue that provide news and information relevant to America’s booming aging population, to health and wellness sites aimed at more niche audiences, such as Sixty and Me (women) or OlderBeast (men).

c. Volunteer – If I sounded above like I dismiss the value of volunteer work as we age, I don’t. We know that volunteering as you age can be good for both your physical and your mental health. The two friends I had breakfast with were particularly keen to find places where they could utilize the skills they’d amassed over a lifetime of work and make those useful for other people. Fortunately, they are tapping into a zeitgeist as organizations like Encore.org and Re-Serve are all about fostering this sort of inter-generational learning.

d. Do A Gap Year – Until recently, the concept of a “gap year” was almost entirely confined to the U.K. It’s an (optional) year right after high school and before college when 18 year-olds go out and explore – literally, by travelling, or more figuratively, by working/volunteering/ or simply puzzling through what the next phase of adulthood might offer. I’m quite drawn to the idea of gap years for grown ups as a time to do volunteer work, learn a new skill, or immerse oneself in a foreign culture. For those struggling with how to find belonging, this outside-the-box strategy might just do the trick.

e. Go To A Conference – Finally, if all else fails, belonging might come about through simple, old-fashioned networking. There are a variety of conferences springing up aimed specifically at the aging set, whether those are about fostering creativity or understanding the business side of the “longevity economy.” Pick your passion and register now!

What works for you?

Image: The Romanian Mob by John Rawlinson via Flickr

Tips For Adulthood: Five Self-Help Books That Changed My Life

self helpOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve never been much for self-help books.

As a general rule, I don’t read a lot of non-fiction. And for a long time I think I was a bit of a snob where self-help books were concerned, thinking they were somehow low brow.

I was wrong. In the past few months, I’ve had occasion to read a couple of self-help books that have had a profound impact on how I want to move forward with my life. And in reflecting back, I realize that there have been a few others along the way that also left their mark.

So today I’m going to share five self help books that changed my life – organized by theme – in the hope that one of these might motivate you to change some aspect of your life that you’re not entirely satisfied with either.

Before I begin, If I can offer one piece of (self-help) of on my own, it would be that you not “dabble” in these books. While it’s fine to start and stop and/or to read them alongside something else, be sure that you read each one start to finish, because each one has its own internal logic which builds, chapter by chapter.

Above all: do the exercises. They are there to force you to confront tough questions about yourself and you won’t progress if you don’t use these tools to identify your strengths – as well as whatever it is that’s holding you back.

Finally, be patient:  some of these books are deceptively short. You might spend an entire month on one page before moving on to the next chapter. That’s just fine.

To wit, five self-help books that changed my life:

1. Happiness. Gretchen Rubin’s happiness franchise needs no introduction. She has a popular blog, several books and a podcast, all geared towards how to be happier in life. Gretchen’s basic philosophy is that through better self-understanding, most of us can make even tiny changes in our daily life that would make us happier, regardless of our baseline. So it’s not necessarily about rushing out and buying a new espresso machine or embarking upon an extreme sport vacation. Rather, small things like figuring out if you’re a chronic under-buyer or over-buyer and shopping accordingly or adopting a personal motif to inspire your creativity can improve your mood on a daily basis. Personally, I found her advice about singing in the morning to work wonders.

2. Career Change. I’m a huge fan of one of the most well-known guides to career change ever written: What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard N. Bolles. This book is so famous it has almost become a cliché. But when I left academia to go into journalism, I locked myself in a café several hours a day for several months and did nothing but follow this book’s script. The book’s basic premise is that to make a meaningful career change, you need to zero in on two variables: what you like and what you’re good at, and where these overlap (harder than it sounds). Six months later, I had a great job as a producer with Chicago Public Radio. I still recommend this book every time someone asks me if I have any advice on how to change careers without spending more than $15.

3. Creativity. I’m shouting to anyone who will listen about Elle Luna’s amazing The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion. Like “Parachute,” this book is also partly about how to finding meaningful work and/or embark upon a career change. But it’s so much more. It’s about going to the very core of who you are and figuring out how to be authentic to that self – what Luna calls our “must.” It isn’t an easy or comfortable journey. (Try the “write your own obituary” exercise and you may well end up in tears.)  But the book is utterly inspiring because Luna believes so firmly that each of us really does have an amazing gift inside. We just need to figure out how to unlock that creativity and release it into the world. Bonus: because the author is a visual artist, the layout and design of this book are worth the shelf price in and of themselves.

4. Decluttering. Yeah, yeah I know. The whole decluttering thing is soooo…now. But Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective Way to Banish Clutter Forever is another deceptively short and simple book that’s loaded with so much more. Kondo’s essential message is that most of us are living with untold amounts of clutter in our lives that simply doesn’t “spark joy.” Sure, as one of the friends I recommended this book to put it: “Your socks need to ‘relax’? Has it crossed your mind that this lady might be a teensy bit OCD?” (If you google her video on how to fold the perfect underwear drawer, you might find yourself agreeing…) But by the last chapter you will forgive her everything because what she’s really trying to do is to use tidying as a vehicle for achieving clarity in our lives (e.g., change careers/get a divorce/take up windsurfing/etc.) If we can get rid of all our excess stuff, and pare down to the things that we really love, we’ll not only see our lives more clearly, we’ll be happier and more relaxed.

5. Platforms. This one is for all you aspiring writers out there who think you have a book in you. I’m currently reading Christina Katz’ Get Known Before The Book Deal. It’s the second time I’ve read this book and I’m finding it much more useful this time around, possibly because I have a much clearer idea for a non-fiction book proposal now than I did when I picked this up several years ago and was vaguely thinking about writing a novel. This book is written for all those aspiring non-fiction writers who want to be an “expert” in something but haven’t yet created their platform. It shows you how to do this, step by step. I found the chapters on identifying your target audience to be particularly useful.

How about you. What self-help book would you recommend?

Image: Self Help Books by Angie via flickr.

New Year’s Resolutions: Set Concepts, Not Lists

authenticity, the authenticity factor

authenticity, the authenticity factorA friend of mine – a well-known and well-respected self-help guru in the States – once told me that New Year’s Resolutions should never be vague and all-encompassing. “Don’t pick something like: Be more virtuous,” she said. “Choose something actionable like: Recycle every day.”

I immediately saw the wisdom in her words. At my job, we are constantly taught to set SMART goals for our projects because the more specific the objectives, the easier they are to implement. As a big fan of To Do lists, I myself have been known to generate not only lists of new year’s resolutions, but lists for how to keep them.

But this January, I’m embracing a radically different tactic: I’m going to set myself a concept, not a list. My watchword for 2016 is – drum roll please – authenticity.

Read the rest of this post over on The Broad Side

Image via Flickr, The World Economic Forum, The Authenticity Factor: Gina Badenoch

Why Mindfulness Apps Are The Future

mindfulness apps

mindfulness appsThere are few things I feel strongly enough about in life to champion their virtues to others: The New Yorker. My favorite films about politics. Pop Tarts for grown-ups. But of late, I’ve found that I’ve become an evangelist for something I would never have thought likely: mindfulness apps.

For those not in the know, “mindfulness” is one of the oldest forms of meditation and is rooted in the idea of being consciously aware of being “present” – both in yourself and in the world around you. It isn’t about ignoring your thoughts, but about acknowledging and accepting them (non-judgmentally), while focusing on what you are doing in that moment.

That can all sound very groovy and post-modern, but it’s actually a fairly profound change to how most of us approach our average emotional state, which (I’ll speak personally here) often veers from rampant introspection to frenzied existential flight. While the idea of being more present in our daily lives sounds like something Megan Draper might have given a spin on the verge of the 1970s, a mindfulness practice is very 2015, and I’m glad it is.

Read the rest of this post at The Broad Side

Image via JohnHain at Pixabay

Coloring Books for Adults? Cheaper Than Therapy!

coloring books grown ups

Crayons

LONDON – Have you heard? Five out of the top ten best sellers on Amazon right now are coloring books… for grown ups!

That’s right, folks. Drop the briefcase. Cash in that advanced degree. The secret to happiness and success in life lies in that box of Crayolas your three-year-old is clutching.

If, like me, you were initially skeptical when news of this trend hit your inbox, you’re in good company. As a columnist in Britain’s Daily Telegraph so eloquently put it: Has the creeping infantilization of the adult world reached a new nadir?

I think the answer is “maybe.”

I say “maybe” because there’s not just one version of the adult coloring book making the rounds these days. The fabulously ironic Sad and Useless website had this hilarious send-up of what it looks like when grown-ups start drawing their fantasies. One caption proclaims, “It’s like kindergarten, but with more drinking!” Personally, I love the “Hipster or Homeless” exercise, where you’re supposed to take two identical images of a bearded man in a jacket and make one look respectable and the other … not so much.

But before you choke on your own snark, I’d like to invite you to step back for a minute and reflect a bit more on the latest development in the get-in-touch-with-your-inner-child movement

Read the rest of this post over on The Broad Side...

Tips For Adulthood: Pick Five Obsessions

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Well, I’m back. Or, in the immortal words of Neil Diamond: “Hello, again. Hello.”

If I could offer one sage piece of advice from the last four weeks of my existence, it would be that when at all possible, do not start a new job two weeks before you move house.

And if I could offer a second piece of advice, it would be to try not to have your office move buildings two weeks after you move house.

But I digress…

During my time away from the blog, I had a chance to reflect on many things. One of the things I realized is that when your life is in turmoil, it’s reassuring to fall back on a few reliable things that you know will bring you joy.

As you age, you come to have what I refer to as a set of “quiet obsessions” – i.e., those topics which are endlessly fascinating to you and which you can never learn enough about. Indeed, the very fact of revisiting them becomes a touch stone of sorts.

These quiet obsessions are the inverse of having a hobby when you’re grown up – (something I also advocate) – but equally useful. Rather than keeping you fresh through experimentation and change, the quiet obsessions serve to anchor you in who you are and provide some continuity and depth in your identity.

I have lots of secret obsessions, but here I’ll just list five. Have a think (great English expression!) about what topics never tire you out and leave them in the comments section. I love learning about other people’s quiet obsessions!

1. Political conflict. I’m not sure where this obsession comes from, but I have a deep-seated fascination with intractable political conflicts, of the Israeli-Palestinian, Northern Ireland, Bosnian variety. I’m drawn to this topic in films and I’m equally drawn to it in books. And I’m especially drawn to first person narratives about the aftermath of political conflict, like this moving story about a bar in Queens that never managed to rise above the Balkan conflict. There’s something achingly compelling, I think, about political stalemates that endure, leaving their indelible bruises along the way. Yeah, I know. It’s  bleak. But I can’t get enough of them.

2. Watergate. Also political – but with a happier ending – is my obsession with Watergate. I am one of those people who could listen to the late NPR correspondent Daniel Schorr talk about the Watergate scandal forever and a day. I’ve also seen All The President’s Men God knows how many times. Imagine my delight, then, when I read this gem: an article in a recent New York magazine revealing how Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee secretly harbored some doubts about the Woodward/Bernstein narrative about Watergate all along. For a Watergate junkie? I seriously could not put this article down.

3. Bilingualism. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by foreign languages. I bought a How To Learn Russian book when I was in second grade. I majored in languages in college. And I’ve always been particularly envious of those friends of mine who grew up speaking two languages. So whenever I read a new study touting the benefits of bilingualism, I”m all over it.

4. Sibling relationships. Ditto new research on sibling relationships. I firmly believe that sibling relationships are among the most formative in shaping who you are as a person. Even in adulthood. So that new film, Your Sister’s Sister? Yeah. It’s on my list.

5. People’s relationship to their work. I often say that in another life, I’d be a career counselor. It’s true. I could analyze people’s relationship to their work and why certain jobs/routines/skill sets do or do not suit them until the cows come home.Which is part of the reason I enjoy job-hunting so much. But no, I don’t care to revisit *that* particular obsession again…
How about you? What topics do you find yourself never tiring of? Tell me. I’m curious…

 

Image: Washington DC- Foggy Bottom: Watergate Complex by wallyg via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Tips For Adulthood: Five Causes Of Loneliness

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Amid the flurry of research on happiness these days, it’s easy to lose sight of another side of adulthood: many of us all suffer from loneliness.

As a recent article in The Atlantic noted, various studies have shown loneliness rising drastically over a very short period of recent history. One leading scholar of loneliness has estimated that as many as one in five Americans suffers from being lonely.

Feeling isolated not only has adverse effects on our mental health, but negative consequences for our physical health as well. One study found that people who were not connected to others were three times as likely to die over the course of nine years as those who had strong social ties. Another study found that people who are lonely are at higher risk for inflammatory diseases. One study even suggested that loneliness may be contagious.

If we are indeed in the midst of a “loneliness epidemic,” it’s worth asking:  what causes loneliness?

1. Aging. Sure, depression is common in old age, and people are living longer than ever before. But the role of the elderly within communities is also shifting, from traditional societies where the elderly held a hallowed place as the repository of community customs, history and stories, to post-industrial societies where this guidance function is much less valued. As this sociological shift takes place, older people risk feeling marginalized from their families and neighborhoods, particularly if they end up in nursing homes.

2. Death and divorce. Writing about the loneliness epidemic, one national columnist talked about the “three D’s”: death, divorce and delayed marriage. It’s not hard to see why the death of a spouse would trigger a feeling of loneliness. Jane E. Brody had a lovely meditation on this topic in The New York Times not long ago. The divorce point is more interesting. We know, for example, that Online dating has seen its highest growth rate among Boomers. But all that dating doesn’t necessarily translate into feeling less lonely. Sometimes it just reinforces it, as people bounce from one partner to another.

3. Social Media. Which brings us to social media. The central thesis of The Atlantic article I referenced earlier is that even as we become ever more connected as a society digitally, we are becoming less immersed in real-life social ties. This is not a new thesis, and as someone who spends a lot of time Online I can readily attest to its accuracy. What’s interesting about the article is that it looks very closely at Facebook, and references research suggesting that while “active” interaction on Facebook – i.e. making a comment on someone’s status update, sending a private message – tends to make people feel less lonely, just passively scrolling through other people’s feeds and hitting the odd “like” button can make you feel more lonely. An earlier study offers some insight into this finding:  because we are psychologically predisposed to over-estimate other people’s happiness, when we see the invariably upbeat, relentlessly witty and sometimes just plain gushing status updates that pretty much define Facebook, it makes us feel worse about ourselves.

4. Commuting. Here’s a factor I hadn’t considered, but which makes perfect sense. According to Robert Putnam, the famed Harvard political scientist and author of Bowling Alone, long commuting times are one of the most robust predictors of social isolation. Specifically, every 10 minutes spent commuting results in 10 percent fewer “social connections.” And those social connections tend to make us feel happy and fulfilled.

5. Genetics. There is also likely a genetic component to loneliness. One survey of loneliness among twins showed much less variability in the self-reporting of loneliness among identical twins than among fraternal ones. ‘There’s also been a lot of fascinating research coming out of The University of Chicago about the way in which loneliness shapes brain development and vice versa, suggesting a neural mechanism in explaining loneliness.

 

Image: Loneliness by Rickydavid via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Think About Personality Types

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve always been fascinated by attempts to document personality types.

Part of that fascination surely stems from the fact that in another life, I’d be a psychotherapist.

And part of it  is that as I go about the networking process that is part and parcel of looking for a job, I’m coming into contact with all sorts of personality types along the way.

If you pay someone to advise you on changing careers these days, the very first thing they’ll likely do is administer a personality test to see what career paths you’re suited to. Personality tests are also increasingly part of the recruitment and promotions process at top firms.

I’ve had my own brush with them along the way, recounted in this post, about how – for better or for worse , my own essential personality “type” doesn’t seem to have changed much over the years. But I’m always excited to learn about new ways to parse personality.

So, how should we think about personality types?

1. Extrovert vs. Introvert. Extroversion/introversion is one of the four key dimensions of the famous Myers Briggs Type Indicator which remains the gold standard for many in assessing personality types. But until I stumbled upon this informative (and extremely funny) piece in the Atlantic by Jonathan Rauch entitled Caring For Your Introvert, I think I’d misunderstood the essential difference between the two. It’s not – as many people think – a distinction between shy and gregarious.  Introverts are not, in fact, necessarily shy if that means that they hate being around other people and/or other people make them anxious. It’s that their relative need to be around other people is much lower than that of the extrovert, who feeds off of constant interaction. For the introvert, as Rauch puts it (borrowing from Sartre), “Hell is other people at breakfast.” Whereas if you leave the extrovert alone for two minutes, “he will reach for his cellphone.” Love it!

2. Personality Style. I’m thinking here of the widely-used DISC personality assessment, which focuses a bit less on “type” than on “style.” DISC identifies  four key behavioral styles, which they label D (drive), I (insight), S (steadiness) and C (compliance). What I like about this way of thinking about personality (as opposed to the more nuanced but complicated Myers Briggs assessment) is that it gives you a sort of over-arching “flavor” for people you encounter, each of which has a set of prevailing traits, strengths and weaknesses. In my old job, for example, once I learned that as a (high!) D (dominant/forceful/task-oriented), I was sharing an office with a high S (reliable, dependable, process-oriented), so many things came to make sense and I could adjust my own interactions accordingly.

3. Birth Order. Another way to think about personality types is that of birth order. In brief, birth order suggests that where you fall in a family vis your siblings has a huge impact on how you behave. So, for example, the eldest (according to this theory) tends to be sharp, responsible and success-oriented, the youngest is more rebellious and risk-seeking and the middle child is an agreeable team-player. I know plenty of exceptions to this rule but as an arm-chair theory of personality types, I think it shows a lot of promise.

4. Manager vs. Maker. A useful dichotomy of personality within the workplace is the manager vs. the maker. On one side of this divide, you have a group of workers – usually managers – who divide their day into tiny bite-sized chunks and for whom meetings – even spontaneous ones – constitute the essence of their job. On the other side, you have “makers” – i.e. computer programmers, writers, artists – who need large blocks of time to carry out tasks and who find meetings onerous and inefficient because they cut into their productivity. I love this schema, because it cuts across professions to get to the core of what matters in a job: how you like to spend your day in terms of tasks.

5. Personality For Play. I learned about this personality matrix on Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project blog. Gretchen borrows it from Stuart Brown, who’s written a book about the importance of play. Brown identifies seven key personality types for play, things like the joker, the collector, the explorer and the narrator. Again, no science here; pure observation. But I think there are some important insights to be gleaned for everyday interaction.

What about you? How do you sort people by type?

Image: Occasionally Slightly Louder by Von Krankipantzen via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Reduce Holiday Stress

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Well, tis’ the season and all that good stuff. But if you’re anything like me, you’re not exactly gliding into the festivities this year, a glass of eggnog in one hand, some gift wrap in the other and a sprig of holly dangling playfully from your neck.

Rather, you’ve got the disemboweled remains of your daughter’s reindeer christmas cracker in one hand, a to-do list in the other hand that’s so long, the paper has actually begun to curl and some masking tape stuck to the back of your hair which you haven’t washed since last Tuesday.

I just glanced down at my own to-do list – you know, the one that’s meant to get me through this week and next before my family takes off on a two-week trip to the end of the earth (literally) – and it read something like this:

Alongside the sort of monumental, life-changing, BLOCK PRINT, do-or-die tasks like:

*turn in job applications by designated deadlines

*decide whether or not to buy the exquisitely-located-but-slightly-too-expensive-and-slightly-too-small-flat, and

*have that discussion (again) with ten year-old about sex,

I’ve got an equally long list of imminent tasks like:

*sort out food for coffee morning AT MY HOUSE this Friday

*finish buying Xmas gifts for all friends in Argentina (and make sure that there are enough Hanukkah candles for home…where did I buy them again last year?) and

*clean up dog poop in foyer before coffee morning (and we all know how I feel about dog poop…)

In short:  I’m frazzled. And I bet you are as well. Here are five tips for remaining calm during the holidays:

1. Just say no. Gretchen Rubin had a great post over on The Happiness Project recently where she encouraged readers to think of themselves in the third person as a means of taking better care of their own needs. In her own case, for example, she pretended that she was answering phone calls for herself by saying things like “Gretchen gets frantic when she’s really hungry, so she can’t wait too long for dinner” or “Gretchen really feels the cold, so she can’t be outside for too long.” In my own case, I have a terrible tendency to over-schedule my weekends, which just leaves me feeling absolutely wiped out by Sunday night. So particularly during this overly-hectic holiday season, I’ve been trying to remind myself that “Delia needs to chill on the weekends now so that she has energy to enjoy the holidays when they actually arrive.” Externally, this has translated into my canceling some dinners, play dates and even holiday parties so that I can just relax.

2. Accept being invisible. This comes from communications guru Chris Brogran, who has recently made a conscious effort to become not only less busy, but less public in his professional life. Brogan’s basic point is that for many of us, much of our alleged “busyness” is really about responding to our underlying fear that if we aren’t perpetually “out there” getting noticed by others, we’ll no longer be relevant. But that’s not only exhausting, it’s also – ironically – counter-productive, because it draws us away from core focus. Brogan’s talking mainly about bloggers and other heavy consumers of social media, but his point applies equally well in real life, particularly during the holidays where there is such an over-abundance of social gatherings. You don’t need to go to every cocktail party or to be seen at every coffee morning.  You might find that once you show up at fewer holiday parties, far from detracting from your holiday happiness, you’re actually more chipper because you’re spread less thin and investing your time more in those areas that you care about most.

3. Triage. I once wrote a post about productivity in which I suggested that one way to get on top of your to-do list is to divide your list into long-term and short-term items. Each day, you tick off one item from the short-term list. Each week, you take a concrete step towards something on the long-term list. This has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas per se, except that if you’re like me (see above) you’re going to need some extra help “getting sorted” round about this time of year. Translated into my own current set of competing demands, then: dog sh$! now; sex talk later.

4. Do less for your kids. Sure, this is meant to be a season that’s all about giving. But chances are that if you’re a parent  – and particularly if you’re a working parent  – and super-especially if you’re a working mom kind of working parent – you’re already multi-tasking way more than everybody else out there anyway. And enjoying it less.  So by all means, assuming your kids are old enough, hand off as much to them as possible so that you can take care of all those extra items that have quietly found their way onto your to-do list of late. (Did I mention the Hanukkah candles?) Let your kids decorate the tree. Hang a wreath. Cook the latkes. Not a parent? Do less for your spouse or partner. But whoever you are, do more for someone else. It’s a great time of year to volunteer.

5. Do something for yourself. Again, this might seem like a counter-intuitive message for the holiday season. But if you’re feeling stressed out and overwhelmed, think about one simple thing that is entirely yours and which might – amid the chaos – stop time for an hour and help you to relax. It might be something as simple as getting a massage or taking a walk in the park. In my own case, I’ve been working hard over the past few months at making some new friends. So one morning this week – when I had so many deadlines pressing down upon me, I felt like I could barely breathe – I went for a quick coffee with a woman I’d met and we talked about a book we’d both read. So much fun. Afterwards, somehow everything else didn’t seem so onerous after all.

 

How about you? What do you do to stay calm during the holidays?

 

Image: Fuck the deliveries by Funky64 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.