“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.”
–Norman Vincent Peale
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
A Christmas Carol is the ultimate tale of holiday stress. Charles Dickens created a character who was emotionally and physically wracked by all-consuming horrible nightmares, the threat of poverty, the fear of no tomorrow and no time left to repent for abominable past deeds. Ebenezer Scrooge is a man desperately in need of the Mayo Clinic’s healthy living and stress management program.
What Dickens understood was that every day we have the choice to be happy or miserable, and within each day we have many opportunities to choose. Maybe it’s allowing the jerk of a driver who has been riding the shoulder for at least a quarter-mile to finally merge and squeeze in front of you on the freeway or to say thank you to the person who held the door open while you hurried in from the wind. If you grumble at the inept driver for the next three miles and take that negative energy home with you, how will it affect you or your family that night? Or if you say thank you at the door will you in turn do something nice?
Connie Popp is the campus minister at Alverno College and she believes we warm ourselves by doing positive things. Connie recommends each of us take a few moments to find the techniques and strategies that focus on gratitude. Not everyone has time for an hour-long meditation. Instead, it may be repeating a positive affirmation each day. Or something as simple as taking the time to breathe deeply to calm yourself and come aware with a clear head. There isn’t one process for everyone, and it may take time to find your own.
A friend of mine is amazing K4 teacher who has a mixed classroom of mainstream and Head Start program children. Despite the incredible challenges she manages with students, their families and the social service system, she maintains a positive and healthy attitude. So much so, in fact, that the administration at one school asked her to continue to say good morning and hello in the hallways with the hope it would rub off on the other educators. During a faculty meeting, the other teachers complained they could not possibly attempt cordiality. One said, “If I haven’t had my coffee yet, don’t expect me to say good morning.” Another said, “I have too much to do to say hello in the hallways.” My friend stood up and admonished the group. “Do you hear yourselves?” she asked. “You’re making excuses not to be friendly. You’re wasting so much time planning your negativity. All you need to do is say hello and you can keep walking.” Some of the other instructors gaped at her, while others hung their heads. They had not realized the negative atmosphere they had been creating. After that meeting, there was a shift at that school.
It is all too easy to wrap ourselves inside our heads and wallow, but none of us stands alone. At work, we are part of a team, a company, a corporation. At home, we are part of a couple, a family, a neighborhood and a community. It is up to each of us as to manage our stress and turn it into something happy as it will surely affect those around us. During the holiday season, as you rush from store to store or participate in 25 cookie exchanges or worry about finding the perfect present for Grandma, take a moment to enjoy. Then take two moments, and then 10 and then maybe an entire afternoon. As Ebenezer Scrooge learned, time is short. If you can remove regrets, anger, bitterness and fear, a happy life is much easier to live.
Thank you to Connie for sharing this next story:
There is a Cherokee Legend where an old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he says.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Well, which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Despite all the marketing hype bombarding us on the radio, TV and in department stores, the Holidays may indeed not be the most magical or wonderful time of year. In business, it’s usually the end of the fiscal or calendar year, or at least the quarter close. Did you want to use up those extra PTO and sick days for an extended break? Wait! First, there are things to do:
During the festivity of the season, sometimes it’s all the more difficult to complete your tasks when the cube farm next to you is celebrating the “12 Days of Christmas” every afternoon at 3pm. How is it possible they can celebrate with candy cane punch and chocolate macaroons when there’s so much work to do? Sometimes, despite all the best pre-planning and colorful GANTT charts created, projects aren’t finished until the last minute. Some people say they do their best work at the 11th hour.
“You can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood. What mood is that? Last-minute panic.” ― Bill Watterson (cartoonist of Calvin and Hobbes)
Procrastination. Either you’re in the middle of it or you’ve avoided it.
Deadlines will always loom large. I’m guilty of procrastination. If I have 20 papers to assess and they’re not due until Monday, I may wait until Sunday night. Even though I know Sunday night I just want to relax and not think about work. A student told me she was struggling to get her work in on time. She said she kept putting off her assignments, but then she would lie awake at night thinking about how she just should have gotten the work done the day before. She ended up frantically writing a last-minute draft just to have something to submit and then worried it wasn’t going to be good enough to meet criteria.
Whether in academia or in the workplace, procrastination and worrying go hand-in-hand. As soon as you feel those warning signs creeping in, combat them. Start or stick to your task checklists. Keep only high-priority work on your desk or within reach. Limit e-mail or social media check-ins. (Don’t even go near Candy Crush.) Allocate the right amount of time for a project. And don’t forget to celebrate your accomplishments. Few of us are rock stars and no one applauds when we turn off the lights in our office each night.
Plan ahead with your projects and stick to your timetable. Remember to congratulate yourself on a job completed and done well. I’ve added this as my system shutdown audio file. I think you should, too. You deserve it.
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