NOTE: Richard wrote this holiday message on Dec. 3, 2006
The holidays are upon us and many people tell me that they feel pressured at this time of the year -- there is so much to do and everything seems like some type of major emergency. In Don't Sweat the Small Stuff I have a strategy that says, "Repeat to yourself -- Life isn't an emergency." I think during the holidays we can change this slightly to, "The holidays aren't an emergency." I've met countless people over the years who have practically driven themselves crazy, neglected their families as well as their own physical and emotional well being due to their belief that the holidays really are an emergency. They almost always justify their frightened, neurotic behavior by thinking that if they don't get "everything done," (the cards, the decorations, the traditions, the presents and all the rest), their world will fall apart! "People will be mad at me," they say. "There will be even more to do tomorrow if I don't get it done today!"
I like to remind people of a strategy in Don't Sweat the Small Stuff that: "When you die, your in-basket won't be empty!" It's always good to remember this, particularly around the holidays when many of us do have extra things to do. But if we can keep our bearings and not go crazy trying to "do it all," we can learn to enjoy the holidays like never before. The trick is to calm down and focus on those things that bring you and others joy, remembering not to get caught up in any fantasy you might have that you can "do it all."
Sometimes, mothers (and fathers) are so neurotic that they will be shaking with anxiety when they tell me something like, "No matter how hard I try, I just can't get my holiday chores done." They are so upset over the fact that they cannot achieve perfection that their hands begin to shake. People feel and act as if there is a gun pointed at their head and that the sniper with the gun is demanding that every last holiday thing get done, "or else." Again, the silent assumption that is creating the anxiety is the belief that life (and the holidays) are indeed, an emergency.
Although most of us have acted equally dramatic and a little crazy over what we perceive as pressure from time to time, the truth is, we are the ones who are creating the pressure from within our own minds. We build up the importance of our own schedules, responsibilities and workloads so much that it seems like it is an emergency. The good news is, IT'S NOT! There is no sniper.No one gets it all done. You could even make the argument that if you were to empty your in-basket, you'd be bored and would have nothing left to do. It would all be done -- then what?
The first and most important aspect of becoming a more peaceful person is to have the humility to admit that, in almost all cases, we are creating our own emergencies. It's fine and even important to do the best we can, but what else can we do? I'm 45 years old and I can tell you with all honesty, that I've never once in all my years of working, finished everything in my "in box." And I don't expect to! Nor have I even once done all things I thought I'd like to do for the holidays. Sure I try as hard as I can but I know it's really not possible. So I've made peace with this simple fact and that knowledge helps me to remember that life is not an emergency, nor are the holidays. Having this perspective will help you realize that you can cut some things out of your holiday schedule if you want or need to. People will understand and, more importantly, you'll feel relieved.
If you would like other helpful tips, I encourage you to pick up a copy of my new book, The Big Book of Small Stuff. It's a ten-year anniversary edition of the best of the Don't Sweat Series. Once you see that life isn't an emergency, every single aspect of your life, including the holidays, will get better.
I wish you a happy, stress-free holiday and with 2007 just around the corner, let's together make this year the most effective, fun and relaxing year of our lives. And remember always to
~ Richard Carlson
December 3, 2006