Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years. For many of us, these times can be incredibly stressful. Yikes! But let’s try to keep things simple and focus on Just One Thing.
One Small Thing. Being Authentic to Manage Holiday Stress, Binge Eating, & Self-Judgement Over Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Years
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Today I wanted to talk about dealing with holiday stresses and challenges that we’re all going to face here very soon. I realize for some folks the holidays are pure fun and they are exciting. I really wish I was one of those folks and I’m working on it. Going into this holiday season I feel so much better than I’ve felt in probably all my entire adult like. But I’m still anxious about it. And I suspect if you’re listening to this show that it’s a challenge for you as well. Maybe only parts of the holidays are a challenge for you or maybe the whole season is. But again, for most of us it’s a challenge that starts next week here in the United States and it runs all the way through early January for almost everyone across the globe. Ohhhh, the holidays…
Family gatherings, office holiday parties, buying presents, travelling, closing the fiscal books for year end, having the kids home from school. You name it it’s going on it seems. This time of year is really hard on us. We’re often stressed out, we’re worried what others are going to think about us or our gifts or our new spouse or our kids or whatever aspect we feel vulnerable about. With those stresses we also tend to fall back into bad habits like beating ourselves up in our minds or overdoing the alcohol or food or binge eating or whatever.
Now I purposely did not want to be like all the other blogs and all those seasonal news pieces. You know the types. The ones where they talk about how you can keep yourself from binge eating or how to stay out of the treats or how to stick to your diet or whatever. That’s all fine and I don’t have any issues with those articles or blog posts. The problem I have is I get very overwhelmed with the super long list of all the things they all tell us we should be doing during the holidays. Tell me you don’t see it. Those infamous top 10 how to lists. Those lists that always seem to include tips from the experts saying we need to get lots of sleep, we need to eat a healthy breakfast, we need to exercise, walk, lift weights, we set a budget so we don’t stress out over money, we need to meditate each day, we need to plan our meals, we need to eat lots of protein, blah blah blah you get the point. We all know these things. We all mostly know there is no way we can keep all that up over the holidays. I know I can’t.
And when I think about that grocery list of things, I don’t know about you, but for me it actually stresses me out knowing there all these additional things I know I should be doing but I can’t or I know that I won’t. And I start to feel like a loser in my own head even before the holidays start and I get angry at myself. For me, those feelings can happen in a flash and I’ll start to fall into that negative thinking spiral real quick. It’s almost ironic that a self-help article or one of those cheesy feel good news segment by your local or cable news channels about holiday stress or holiday eating, they actually cause me more problems. They definitely don’t help me, that’s for sure. Wow, you got to love the self-judgemental and perfectionist side of my personality that can make a quick magazine or blog article that’s meant to help me actually feel like I’m killing myself because of it, right? Look, I know those authors and the journalists always mean well when they put them together but for me it all just turns into a huge fun-house mirror that makes my own insecurities and problems look so much worse than they really are.
So for me, to get around a lot of that, I’ve been looking at things through a filter over the last year. Now, if you’ve listened to me much you know how I’ve really embraced the KISS principle. Keep it Super Simple. The simple solutions are the most elegant solutions. They are also the only ones that really seem to work long term.
So that something I’ve been doing this year in using the KISS principle is thinking in terms of “the one thing.” What’s the one thing I need to do today to make today end on a good note? What’s the one thing I need to accomplish today to make me feel great about myself? Or what’s the thing I minimally need to do with this project to make my client happy? What’s the one thing. What’s the one thing I need to do for my wife today? Or the one thing for my youngest soon? One thing. If you tell me three things in the morning I’ll forget two of them. What’s the one thing I need to do or not do today to make me feel the most proud of myself?
On a regular day or when I’m looking eye to eye at an issue or a crazy situation, the one thing approach, it’s really been helping me a lot! It’s been helping me finally jump start my business and it’s definitely helped me in how I look and think about myself. And when I look back at my past binge eating problems, I realize I actually used a just one thing approach to help me start to tackle my binge eating habit one small piece at a time.
Now, I really don’t know how I started using the term “the one thing” but I know the thinking I began to really consciously use this summer that led to it. The just one thing idea, the truth is that it’s really just my spin on Pareto principle. You probably know of heard of it somewhere, I’m sure. The Pareto principle is basically 80-20 rule. 80 percent of whatever you want comes from 20% of your efforts.
For example, for me, 80% of my business’s profits come from 20% of the time I spend working in a day. The other 80% of my time and efforts don’t really help my bottom line much. They only make up 20% of my profit. So as a business owner, which tasks should I be focusing on to grow my profits? Exactly, the 20% of things that are making me the 80% profit. I need to work smarter and focus on the most effective tools that are working and not stress about the other 80% of things I could be doing that aren’t getting me much. Maybe I can say it like this…. When I look at the problems of my life through that same lens, I can safely say that for every 1 of the 5 actions I take to solve those problems, or of the thoughts I have or whatever I could do today, only one of those 5 actions will give me 80% of the results I want. The other 4 things I do won’t really help me much. They will help, but just not a lot. Not enough to waste my time on them or worry about doing on not doing them, right?
So for the holidays that are coming up I’ve been really thinking about what’s just the one thing I need to focus on for myself to keep from getting upset this holiday, from feeling bad about myself, to keep from feeling anxious all the time and to keep from getting depressed or hating myself? This has been rolling through my head for the last two weeks. It’s also why I thought it would make for a good solocast topic since I’m really been thinking about this and could talk about it for days.
Like I said, I’ve been asking myself for the last few weeks what’s the one thing that causes me the most stress or causes me to always feel anxious around this time of year? Sure, I could take the easy way out and say everything causes me stress. I got all these projects coming due, the kids are being crazy, oh God, the kids are going to be home with me here at my home office for 5 days straight next week and for 2 weeks straight in December, I often still feel fat and sometimes ashamed of my body and don’t want to go seeing people I haven’t seen in a year, I don’t trust myself around holiday foods and cookies sitting out, I don’t have time to workout. I could go one and one but that type of thinking is not going to help. That’s an overwhelmed brain speaking that’s caught up in a panic state or worrying about what ifs. But of all those things I’m feeling, what’s the major underlying cause causing me the most anxiety and stress?
Is it being around all the food and treats and goodies and not trusting myself around them? Maybe. But it’s almost never about the food any more with me unless I’m restricting myself too much. If I’m restricting calories or certain food types then that’s a food trigger right there. But beyond that, there’s always something that triggers me to have those binge eating thoughts or to crave going to the liquor store and picking up a pack of beer or a box of wine. I really don’t crave the food or the beer or the wine.
And when I really think about it, those triggers that need to those thoughts and cravings are really more stress related for me. But is it really the stress or is it something even deeper? Sure, the stress wears me down and sometimes I truly get hungry because I’m off schedule from being overloaded or when I worry about crazy things. But what type of stress or feelings that I’m having are making me want to reach for the food or to eat a whole pizza at night or to drink a few extra beers so I can feel a buzz and numb out or just feel good for a few minutes? Well, for me this year and at this point in my life, and this might not apply to most people, but I’ve come to realize that it’s when I’m having those feelings or thoughts where I’m not respecting myself, that those are my real triggers in most cases any more. Not just feeling sorry for myself, but when I’m angry at myself for not living up to something I’m not and not being truly authentic with myself. When I boil it down, for my, my just one thing is never violating my own boundaries.
Sure, we always hear about boundaries in regards to how you interact with others, and I have a show planned with a special guest later in December or mid January where we talk about boundaries, but what I’m talking here that’s my own biggest weakness is not respecting my own boundaries. That’s been my big trigger, especially this last year. And once I let someone walk past a boundary or let myself be talked into doing something, or worse, when I talk myself into doing something or saying something or whatever because I think it’s what someone else wants me to do, then that’s when I tail spin in most cases. That’s when I truly start to feel anxious and upset all the time. That’s what almost always leads me to have that old urge voice start yelling in my ear.
Going back to the 80/20 rule, yes, when I’m tired I often think I want to eat or drink a beer or a glass of wine rather than go to sleep. But that doesn’t happen all that often with me. Yes, when I count calories or restrict what I can eat I’ll get super hungry and my brain will think of nothing but food, but since I went to a more intuitive eating approach that’s gone away. I don’t let myself get hungry like that any more. Yes, when I’m angry or lonely I might want to try to numb out that feeling, but it’s not just anger or feeling lonely for me. I don’t feel like like I used to. This last year of just sitting with my own emotions have taught me that’s it’s not anger, it’s shame that before I would call anger or fear. It’s knowing deep down that I crossed my own boundary with myself on something. That I didn’t respect or honor myself enough to not do something that I knew wasn’t the authentic me.
Not trying to sound gruesome here, but for me, whenever I force myself to wear a mask I know I’m playing with the trigger of a loaded gun. Whenever I feel I have to please someone else over my own needs, and that’s me doing it to myself, not them asking, or when I’m being something that I’m not, that’s pulling the trigger for me. That’s what sends me into a tail spin quickly and makes me super susceptible to wanting to reach for the pizza or the beer or the wine or whatever.
With all this rambling, I guess that I’m saying that the one thing for me going into this holiday is simply being authentic to myself for any action I have to take when it comes to family gatherings, eating in front of others, meeting friends, shopping for presents, going to my spouse’s work holiday party, whatever, etc. If I can do that I can handle days where the night before I didn’t sleep well. Or days where I might have skipped breakfast. Or days when I had to fight an app programming issue. Those things will wear me down a bit and might make the old urge voice to start whispering in my ea, but the minute I let myself violate my own boundaries by not being authentic to myself, then I’m screwed.
If I have to pretend to someone else during a holiday get together that things are going better in my business or with my exercise when they really aren’t or if I tell a little white lie about my successes then I’m not doing my one thing. If I procrastinate or delay my holiday shopping then I’m not being authentic to myself, not doing my one thing, because I love shopping for presents… I really do…. once I get off my butt and get out there and do it. If I start telling myself worse case stories or thinking through fears ahead of a party or meeting a group of friends at a restaurant them I’m not doing my just one thing.
Last year and all the holidays before I did not stick to just one thing. And those holidays were tough, especially last year with my sick son. It was a very tough holiday for my entire family. Looking back I’m not sure what my one thing should have been then. Finding the right just one thing, it’s really a trial and error type of thing. This year I’ve had to experiment with myself and my thinking to figure out what mine is. Maybe last year my one thing should have been utter surrender. If I could have completely surrendered myself to my son’s condition and all the crap that was going in our lives without feeling I needed to fight with everybody, including myself, about our circumstances maybe I could have enjoyed last year’s holidays better. Earlier this year complete surrender was very important to me and was my one thing for a few months. It let me begin to see my own life in a much different light. It’s what led me to make the changes in this podcast and most important, in how I looked at myself. It was the just one thing I needed to do for myself at that time. Right now and going into this holiday, for me my just one thing is being authentic to who I am both when I’m by myself and when I’m around others.
So again, I’ve found my one thing that I’m going to stick with this holiday season. I feel it’s going to carry me 80% of the way there. For the other 20%, sure, I might fall into some overeating or a night of two of feeling bad for myself or drinking one or two too many beers but I’m not going to judge myself or hate myself afterwards because of it. And I’m not going to stress out about making sure I’m getting my exercise every day and my 8 hours of sleep every night and to eat only a very strict diet or to throw out all the treats. Years ago one or some of those things might have been my just one thing for the holidays. This year, as long as I’m authentic to myself, I’m 80% of the way there.
Again, obviously, my 20% of what works for me might not be your 20% that works for you. Yours might be something else entirely that you need to do. And like I said a few times, my just one thing this year, this month, is maybe something I don’t need to focus on next year. We all change and grow. Once I truly get this being truly authentic to myself down and don’t have to keep forcing myself to have to consciously think about it then maybe next year I’ll have a new just one thing.
Maybe you’re a major binge eater and you’re thinking to yourself that this whole being authentic to yourself would never stop you from binge eating every night over the holidays. That’s OK. I was a major binge eater for 15 years. If they gave awards for it my walls would be covered with all sorts of certificates of binge eating achievement. I know that feeling. When a habit controls your life it’s tough. And you need to focus on just one thing within the realm of that habit to help you have a better holiday. So maybe for you this holiday season your one thing is to only let yourself binge eat once every other night. That’s it totally cool to binge on the nights you give yourself permission to binge and you won’t let yourself feel shame when you do. That’s positive progress and it’s truly just one thing. Or maybe you’re angry all the time at the whole world. Maybe your one thing this holiday is to take 1 hour a day and not let yourself be angry. When you start to feel angry you catch yourself and say “OK, I have 25 minutes left. No anger until then.” Or maybe your one thing this holiday season is the one I should have done last year, and that’s total and absolute surrender. I realize how important what was for me as well and wish I tried it sooner than I did.
So taking all of this back to the beginning. Don’t feel you need to do everything to keep yourself from falling into a eating funk or a depressed funk or a procrastination funk or a I hate this whole damn holiday season funk. Go ahead a read the blog articles and listen to the podcasts and watch the short news segments about managing holiday binge eating, holiday drinking, holiday depression, whatever, but think to yourself what’s just one thing? What’s just one thing you can do and that you can stick with this holiday that’s going to help you? Just focus on that one thing that’s going to get you 80% there. The other 4 things that you know are important and that maybe might help you, maybe just bookmark that article or take a note for later. You want to try sticking to just one thing and try not to make things too complex. This is the holidays and we only live once. Don’t let another holiday season go by worrying about how you’re going to handle yourself. Discover and stick to just one thing. Change it up if you need to but focus on doing just one thing to handle whatever you might be struggling with.
Wow. I hope I didn’t sound too out there or too new-agey. I’m really not that type of guy. I’m not surrounded with candles and I don’t have tingly music playing in my house. I’m a regular guy who’s finally realizing what life’s all about and beginning to not be scared and ignoring what’s going on inside my head. After all these years I’m starting to realize my own underlying challenges to so many things in my life… and I’m finally doing something about it. But it’s taken me a long time to get here. Lots of painful years and tough lessons learned. Sometimes it’s just about taking things day by day or hour by hour. Heck, just trying to keep a habit from taking over your life can take 80% of your efforts. But for every effort you put forward, you will make progress. It’s like building up a bank account. Lots of little deposits really add up. Unfortunately we don’t life for an infinity and we never know when our time will come up. We each need to try to find the one thing that gives us the most bang for our efforts, for the time we have, that’s going to help us the most.
Don’t wear yourself out thinking about all the hundreds of things you could or should be trying to help you get through this holiday without overdoing something or stressing out. Just find the one thing that gives you the most positive results and stick with just that. It might change next week or next month but it it’s something that’s working then don’t dilute it. Keep It Super Simple.
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Legal and Disclaimers
- The Progress Not Perfection is produced and recorded by Alen Standish. All rights are reserved by Standish Media LLC.
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