Lessons in listening: Evaluate your values this holiday

Thanksgiving has passed and the drugstore aisles and radio stations have now fully committed to the impending Christmas season. Pumpkin lattes have been replaced by peppermint hot chocolate and the post office lines have tripled in length. Soon enough, neighborhood homeowners will be giving Clark Griswold a run for his money with lights and action.
I started humming holiday tunes shortly after the first snowfall, much to the dismay of my daughter and partner. They let me get away with it only if I change the lyrics into comical tales about themselves and our dog. Luckily, I was blessed with an ample amount of rhyme and silliness, so I am able to oblige them and enjoy some early spirit myself.
I am not particularly sentimental or religious, so I am honestly always perplexed by my festive inclination. I find myself lingering in front of storefront windows as I admire the wreaths and garlands and pulling out my mother and grandmother’s Italian cookie recipes. In reflection, it is likely a mix of nostalgia, magic and hope that rouse such emotions and behaviors. For just this month of the year, we allow ourselves permission to experience life as we did as younger people, putting aside the adult responsibilities of work and politics.
For many, this month of abandon elicits feelings of both excitement and dread. It is a time ripe with anticipation, excess and expectation. We all want to remain steadfast to our exercise and nutritional goals, yet find ourselves sleep deprived — from staying up too late writing cards, wrapping presents, baking cookies or watching Hallmark movies and drinking eggnog. Too tired to honor our self-care commitments, we feel guilt and disappointment. So how do we create space for both indulgence and self-care and trust ourselves to manage the balance?
I believe the key strategy in approaching this balance is to step fully into our lives and take ownership for our choices. Instead of using an avoidance mindset, in which life just seemed to happen to us, we can step up and acknowledge our intentions and choices. When we do this we create an opportunity to pause and see more than an either/or pathway. We put ourselves in the driver’s seat and are able to envision the various routes available to us.
One way to set yourself up for success is to sit down and write a list or letter declaring what is important to you about the holiday season and why. For example, finding time to play and sing holiday songs with my neighbors is important to me. The reason is because it brings me joy to create music with others and it reminds me of my grandfather. He always made the holidays special by playing the organ while we all sang. When we identify our “what” and “why” at the beginning, we have the ability to plan and organize the time in our busy lives in a way that provides space for the extra activity, and doesn’t supersede something else that is important, like a full night’s sleep or a healthy dinner.
I invite you to try this as another strategy: declare your choices verbally or internally before you engage in a particular behavior. Start your sentence with, “I choose ____, because ____ is important to me,” and then be curious about how it truly reflects your values. I choose to write cards to my faraway friends because maintaining our friendship is important to me. This is an accurate reflection of my values. I choose to get up at 5 a.m. and exercise because being strong and able-bodied is important to me. This statement is also an accurate reflection of my values. I choose to eat 10 cookies because the taste of delicious food is important to me. Hmm, well that doesn’t actually line up as well with my values. However, possibly eating one or two cookies does. This activity can be playful and possibly give you some insight into yourself and what really matters to you.
Lastly, it is essential to remember that the balance you choose today is not static. Each day you get to wake up and engage in the fluidity of free will and choice. Our self-trust is strengthened the more we fully inhabit who we are and challenge ourselves to live true to our values.
Have a lovely December and if you see me and a gaggle of kids playing holiday tunes on a corner in town, stop and say hello.
Laura Wilkinson is a Nurse Practitioner and Integrative Health Coach at Middlebury College. Learn more about her and her coaching at middlebury.edu/middleburyintegratedhealthcoach.

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