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Life Hacks for Less Fraught and More Festive Holidays

Flip the script on tense holiday interactions with this easy exercise.


Photo: Shutterstock

Fellowship, companionable time spent together reconnecting and creating memories is at the heart of our holiday traditions. Coming together with family and friends is all about celebrating our caring and appreciation for one another.

For many, strained relationships and difficult personalities make these gatherings feel like navigating conversation minefields. It can be challenging to enter this space without bracing for conflict. And, of course, your negativity bias will have you highly attuned to anything that even resembles a personal dig making you an equal contributor to escalating tensions.

So, if you are looking for a less fraught and more festive holiday season, try this mindset hack.

STEP 1: Recall a recent or recurrent verbal exchange that evoked negative feelings.

STEP 2: Draw a vertical line down the center of a sheet of paper (top to bottom), or use the table feature on your word processing software.

STEP 3: On the right side of the page (column), recount the conversation to the best of your ability, including non verbals. Notice the tension and feelings that emerge as you relive this moment.

STEP 4: On the left side of the page (column), write what thoughts were in your head but unstated.

STEP 5: Examine your mindset and how your “behind-the-scenes” thoughts contributed to your response and the direction of the conversation.

STEP 6: Now imagine the other person cares about you deeply and only wants your happiness. Replay the words spoken and challenge yourself to interpret the conversation from this perspective.

STEP 7: Notice your inner struggle, and get curious about why it isn’t easy to let go of your original narrative about the other person’s purpose and intention in the conversation.

STEP 8: Write the shifts in your thoughts in the left column and responses in the right column when you consider the viewpoint in step 6.

STEP 9: Give attention to how you feel as you reimagine the conversation in step 8. Does the tension in your body release or move? Do your feelings lessen or change?

STEP 10: Compare how you experienced step 3 with step 9. Which is healthier and less stressful for you? Which creates the relationship and communication you desire? Which gives you the control you want?

Here’s an example of common triggering exchanges around marriage, children, and jobs processed through the steps above.

Family member says, “When are you going to settle down with a nice person/have a family/get a better job? You know your cousin got engaged/had a child/got promoted last month.”

You hear these judgments:

  • You’re incomplete without a spouse/child/job title.
  • There must be something wrong with you because you’re single/childless/not in the right job.
  • You’re falling behind.
  • If you were good enough, you’d already have these things in your life.

You think:

  • Here we go again.
  • I’m happy with my life.
  • I’m not you; I don’t want what you want.
  • This isn’t about you and your ability to brag to your friends.
  • You don’t care about what I want.

You feel:

  • Rejected
  • Judged
  • Angry
  • Frustrated
  • Disrespected

The alternative? The other person cares about you deeply and only wants your happiness.

New thoughts:

  • My [family member] found peace of mind, joy, and happiness being a spouse/parent/professional.
  • They want the same for me, and this is the only path they’ve experienced to get there.
  • Their thinking may be misguided, but I know they speak from a place of love.
  • I want them to know that I am at peace and experiencing joy and happiness in my current life, so they don’t worry.
  • How can I help them see this?
  • Let me get them talking about their experience with marriage/children/job, and maybe I can find a connection that will put [family member’s] mind at ease.

You feel:

  • Care and concern from the other person
  • Calm
  • Open to connecting more deeply

Worrying about judgmental grenades only adds stress to your holidays. Who needs that? A little mindset work before you are in the chaos of people can make this holiday a more festive occasion.

About The Author
Rita Ernst

Rita is a positivity influencer and owner of Ignite Your Extraordinary, an organizational consulting practice specializing in converging happiness and productivity to create positive, committed, high-performing organizations. She’s also the author of Show Up Positive and holds an advanced degree in Organizational Psychology from Clemson University.