I want to give you a Christmas gift.
But first a true story...
"...it snowed hard that Christmas Eve, a blizzard in fact. My wife's parents arrived in the failing light. My mother-in-law thrust into my hands an enormous frozen goose that would not thaw for at least 24 hours. My father-in-law tottered in, groaning with what turned out to be the first stages of pneumonia. Within half an hour my wife declared she felt unwell and took to her bed, not to emerge for several days. I set out, cursing the driving snow, to get to the shops before they closed in search of plate large enough for that bloody goose..."
Christmas can be miserable!
So my Christmas gift to you is a simple device for easing Christmas misery.
But first (yes you'll have to wait for that gift) a simple but often forgotten truth.
The real cause of Christmas misery
It is not the undercooked turkey and overcooked sprouts; It's not the in-laws; It's not your partner's behaviour; It's not the stupid gift book; It's not the snow or the rain. It's none of these things that make you miserable.
What makes you miserable is your expectations of what will happen and your reactions to what happens. You create your own feelings. You make yourself miserable. You and you alone are responsible for your feelings, for being miserable or being content. And that is the saving grace, because it means your feelings are within your sphere of influence: You can do something about them.
That is what my gift is for, but before we get to the gift...
We make ourselves miserable mainly through three thought processes: mustabation, horriblisation and what-ifism.
Must-abation is where you turn yourself into God him/her/itself and demand that things MUST conform to your every wish or whim. Daft as it is, we place a heap of expectations on life that it MUST be this way or that way, as if we just had to say "let there be light..." But you and I are not God and life muddles on in its random, upsy-downsy way with little or no regard for our demands. Thinking like God, you set yourself up for disappointment and misery.
Horriblisation is where you exaggerate every little set back to a matter of life and death. However trivial or transitory the occurrence, we say things like, "it's HORRIBLE!", it's terrible, It'll be a disaster if... I can't stand it!!!" You wind yourself up to such a pitch of fear and despair, that your thinking brain crashes and your primitive fight or flight brain takes over and mayhem ensues.
What-ifism is where you keep running disaster movies in your head, like Die Hard without Bruce Willis to save the day. You keep thinking "what if" and end up terrifying yourself by living out whole scenarios that will probably never happen.
"Christmas MUST be perfect this year. Oh no, the roasties haven't crisped. What a complete DISASTER. I'll DIE if Aunt Mavis thinks I can't cook a decent dinner. I CAN'T STAND THIS"
"I NEED to watch that old western movie, and now she says I have to take her Dad out for a drink. It'll be HORRIBLE, he is such a TERRIBLE bore. I CAN'T STAND being with him. I'd rather DIE, or I might KILL him if he starts up about his golf handicap.
WHAT IF she doesn't like my gift...? What if I say something stupid to my mother-in-law...? What if there isn't enough booze...?
Be honest, how often do you make yourself miserable with this kind of overblown thinking? We all do it and at Christmas we ratchet it up with even more unreasonable demands and expectations.
So finally I come to that gift.
It's a thermometer. No, it's not there to find out whether your wife has the 'flu or or just a fit of the vapours! It's your personal emotional thermometer.
Here is how to use it.
There are five steps.
First you need to calibrate.
Apologies to my American readers, this thermometer is in Centigrade, 0 is freezing point, 100 is boiling point. Boiling point is the point at which you loose control and throw a wingding.
So, I want you to think for a moment about the truly worst possible thing that could happen to you, like being dissected alive by bug-eyed aliens from the planet Zog, or seriously, the death of a loved one, a maiming injury or what ever. You want to think of something that would really warrant a 100 degree reaction.
Great. So that is your benchmark.
Next you need to pay attention.
Notice what your emotional temperature is doing. Notice when the thermometer starts rising. What is the current emotional temperature? 50...60...80 degrees? Notice what the circumstances are and listen for the pressure from the "musts" "shoulds" and "oughts" that are pushing the temperature up. Listen for the wind up of the "horribles" and "can't stand its." Listen for the escalating "what ifs".
Now check your benchmark.
As you feel the temperature rising to boiling point, say a firm STOP to yourself and ask: "Compared to my 100 degree benchmark, if I look at what is happening coolly and calmly what temperature would be an appropriate response? Overcooked sprouts might be worth 5 degrees, a missed movie, 7 and so on. Of course, there are some situations where a strong emotional response is right and proper: your mum being taken to hospital with a serious illness for example. However the majority of things that upset us are, when we look at them calmly, little more than inconvenient.
Then ask the action question
If this situation is really a 5 degree situation, what would I do now? Make a little scenario in your mind of you acting with an appropriately cool emotional response.
Finally, do it!
Even if your thermometer keeps wanting to creep up to boiling point, act out your 5 degree response. The single most effective way to change your feelings, is to act, to do something. Act cool, calm collected and you will soon find that you are cool, calm and collected.
So there is your gift.
The emotional thermometer. I strongly hope you have enjoyed this article and it benefits you over the Christmas period and beyond. But if it doesn't, that's fine, it's not the end of the world. It's not a disaster and I can stand it! If you did enjoy reading this, I'd love it if you share... but I am not making my happiness dependent on that!
Mentor, transformational coach and author
"Holding a strong centre ground between life coach, natural health consultant and sexuality coach I work with the whole man, guiding you through the truly big challenges in life: Identity, purpose and confidence, work, relationships, sex, health and wellbeing."
"So I've got a string of letters after my name and 25 years in the field.... It helps being qualified and experienced. But the most valuable thing I can share is what I have learned the hard way in my own life journey from shy Mr Nice Guy to empowered King in my own realm."