Next week’s newsletter is a little early, because I’m heading to Tennessee tomorrow for Thanksgiving. American readers, I hope that you have a lovely Thanksgiving, however you spend it! If you’re planning to buy my book, consider stopping by your local bookstore on Small Business Saturday, and tell them you want to preorder Everything Isn’t Terrible.
Imagine you’re walking into your next family gathering. As soon as you open the door, your brain is scanning for potential threats and comfort zones. It locates those you don’t enjoy, or others whose names you can’t remember. Your veer away from the cousin who likes to stir up drama, and move towards an aunt who is sure to offer comfortable, familiar conversation. Without even thinking, your anxious autopilot has grabbed the controls and is directing your behaviors.
But what would it actually look like to set aside that long list of anxious behaviors I included last week? To fly without your autopilot? I think it looks like having a plan and your own measure of maturity.
If you don’t have a plan for a family gathering, an idea of what maturity looks like, then you will always revert to the automatic. You’ll direct all your energy and attention towards trying to calm yourself and everyone else as quickly as possible. Without a plan, you will always evaluate your progress with:
- How you feel in the moment
- How other people react to you
These aren’t particularly useful measures, because your emotions will fluctuate, and you can’t control other people (or read their minds). They also make you more vulnerable to absorbing whatever tension is in the room. If you don’t bring your own measuring tape to a family gathering, you’ll have to borrow your mother’s, or your weird uncle’s, and all of a sudden you’ve lost sight of who is it you’re trying to be.
So what does a plan look like? Here’s an example of one I’ve used:
Evidence of maturity looks like:
- Talking with people with whom I have less in common
- Not relying on my spouse to initiate conversations
- Sharing about my life rather than interviewing everyone
- Staying in the room when challenging topics arise
When you have a list like this, you can take a look at it, and be objective about your functioning. You can see when and how your anxious behaviors took over, and what you actually managed to do differently.
You might be asking yourself, Why do this? Isn’t the point of a holiday to be able to relax and eat pie without judgment? Why turn it into work? It’s true that making a project out of yourself for the holidays can feel like work. But I’d argue that acting anxiously is even more exhausting. I feel better, and even calmer, when I stay focused on who I’m trying to be. I’m less likely to feel rejected by someone’s comment or nervous about other people’s behaviors. And by developing those one-to-one relationships with family members, I’m ensuring that I’ll probably be a little more relaxed during the next gathering.
Thanksgiving doesn’t need to be an ambitious self-improvement project. Just bring some your best thinking to an anxious place, so that you don’t have to borrow the thinking of others, or be pulled along by the emotions in the room.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- What are my go-to anxious behaviors at family gatherings?
- What would be the evidence that I was operating with greater maturity?
- How can I hold onto these ideas during a family gathering, and use them to evaluate myself afterwards?
News from Kathleen
Preorder my book! Everything Isn’t Terrible, is out on New Year’s Eve in the US and on January 9th in the UK/Commonwealth countries. I think it’s the best $20 you can spend to start 2020 a little calmer. You can preorder it at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, or wherever books are sold. But I especially encourage you to support your local bookstore! Preorders help my book succeed and get more visibility in stores.
Preorder Bonus! If you preorder my book, you can read one of my favorite chapters today and get some fun bonus materials. Once you’ve ordered, click here to submit your proof of purchase to receive the bonus content and the sneak peek! Proof is simply a picture or screenshot of your receipt. If you preordered at a bookstore and don’t have a receipt, you can email me and I’ll send you the materials.
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