As Thanksgiving, school break, the festive season and the new work year descend upon us - How can we set ourselves up for ease and enjoyment, rather than increasing bouts of pressure and irritation?
Be the host you want to be - focus on enjoyment, delegate tasks, and create a welcoming atmosphere at your home.
Be the guest and companion you want to be - letting all your own stress (and dread?) go beforehand and finding gentle ways to connect.
This is a great moment to learn and practise dependable techniques to diffuse tension in yourself and with others, so you can manage anxiety, social awkwardness or friction and possible conflict during family gatherings and other social events.
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Dex (00:00:09) - Hi everyone. My name is Dex Randall and this is the Burnout to Leadership podcast, where I teach professional men to recover from burnout and get back to passion and reward at work. Hello, my friends, this is Dex. Welcome to this healing episode on surviving the holidays, by which I mostly mean surviving get togethers, spending time with other humans on holidays. Because right now, my US chums might be thinking about Thanksgiving. Others of you might be looking forward to the festive season or the school break, end of the work year, or your upcoming holidays. Any combination. And whatever you're thinking about, there's kind of this notional pressure that descends upon us as we close out one year and move on to the next, and I think it's actually a little bit weird. It's as if we have to clean our plate before January the 1st and start fresh. It seems a little bit arbitrary, doesn't it? I mean, why don't we do it between January and February, only December. And yet January is probably going to be quite similar to 2023 anyway.
Dex (00:01:23) - Whatever your end of year focus is, more than likely you've got a few concerns. You might be even mentally writing your own report card already, and perhaps even being a bit dark on yourself about it. If you are, how many shoulds are popping up in there? I should have eaten my greens. I should have built a new shed. I should have polished the goldfish. That's the Sally Swayne joke. Anyway, as we move into the holiday season. Otherwise known really as the family and rally season. Let's try and lighten up a bit and look for the pleasure. So if you're exhausted, you can recoup some energy, enjoyment and connection. Because as I've said before, and I talk a lot about these feelings, I think they're essential. And I see them really as the backbone of thriving, which brings every other benefit. Plus, of course, you know, special occasions are meant to be happy, right? Sounds easy, doesn't it? But often they they do attract or collect an emotional charge.
Dex (00:02:28) - And far too many people hold the detonators. I think you've entertaining really has quite the ninja skill. And I do know a good book that I read a couple of years back called the Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. And if you're dead set on being a suave and well loved host, pick it up. It tells you how. But also let me help you here on this episode with some ideas, whether you're hosting or guesting. You might find some helpful tips here today. And I know that many of my US clients actually do worry a lot about Thanksgiving and the holiday season, particularly if they involve family family events. Just maybe the intensity of sharing space for days with family you don't live with or other people. Catering, covering the responsibilities, attending to your guests needs or being a good guest. Keeping people entertained or being entertaining. Avoiding conflict. Perhaps a headliner. For some people also sharing time with people that they find challenging. So I mentioned Thanksgiving. But what I'm talking about today could also apply to you over the end of year holiday season, whatever that looks like in your house or your country or your community.
Dex (00:03:50) - Because think about it like starting here. Really when we encounter long lost relatives. Some of whom we might have lost on purpose. Old wounds can open, can't they? Or old disagreements can be revived. Or simply, there's the challenge of eyeballing people you don't really to much get along with making conversation with them. Or being on the sidelines witnessing a sibling or a child's fractious behavior. All the while reciting the mantra, you know, everything's going to be okay. But, I mean, let's deal with the setup and the catering first, because that's very front of mind for some hosts. And sure, people want to eat good food. Me too. But I think if that's you, if you're the one doing the the hosting and the catering. Think about what you want most as a guest. Probably. Something like food that fits what, how and when you normally eat. Well, we can't really provide that for a big group of people on timing, foodstuffs, presentation or any other front. So we also can't expect that as a guest that all of our needs will necessarily be met.
Dex (00:05:04) - So I think it comes down as a host to how can I organize this in the simplest way, with sufficient food variety, to cover preferences at the most reasonable times and encourage others to bring food? And this last, I think, helps so much because guests will bring food that they want to eat that fits with their diet. And also you don't need to think too much about it, and they take their own dishes home at the end. What's not to love? And I think also there's an element of kind of perfectionism that can creep into these events, which may not be helpful. It has us over striving for a result which is not significantly more enjoyable than it would have been if we hadn't. You see what I mean? So delegation and teamwork. Sometimes it sounds like hassle democratising your food and getting other people to bring, but actually, as well as relieving your preparation burden and perhaps stress levels, it also helps your guests to bond and it makes them feel a little bit more at home.
Dex (00:06:10) - So I give a little thought to making it easy on yourself, because the thing that's important about a party, and the thing that people will most remember, is how they felt. And how they felt will respond to your stress levels and anxiety as well if you're the host. So. Have a little thing when when people attend a party. However reluctantly, or whatever their misgivings might be, they really want the same as you, don't they? They want to know what to expect and what's expected of them. They want to develop a sense of inclusion, belonging, connection, comfort, being accepted. They want relaxation and safety from social attack. And a way of calming their social anxiety and their difficulties in social engagement if they have them. Also, usually somewhere for kids to be. Any accommodation for kids? And of course, central to most gatherings are supply of food, drink and music or entertainment to prevent hunger, prevent awkward silences, and prevent boredom. I always think this adult boredom at a social gathering is not the host's responsibility.
Dex (00:07:24) - If there are people there to engage with, an adult is capable of doing so. By the way, if you're a host and you are socially anxious, that's not a barrier to hosting a party, is it? Just be as you are. Be you. Yes, it can help for you to introduce people and kickstart social interaction. But really, then it's okay to go about your business. Which brings me a little bit to people you might not get along with. When you're confronted with people you don't like or are in conflict with, or feel will criticize you or ignore you, or who may cause a disturbance. Really, if any of those things happen. So what? What if they do do that? They're just humans. They might. You really don't need to make that mean anything about you or your event. Taking one inflammatory example, let's say a family member shows up and has two. You know, a few too many drinks and loudly restarts an old argument with you and make it clear to everyone around that they don't approve of you.
Dex (00:08:33) - You know, it's a tough spot. It's attracting attention. So here's what I would do. I got a few ideas for you today. If there's awkwardness like that in a gathering that you host or that you attend. If that happened to me, if somebody called me out in public and started basically slandering me, my aim would be first to pause and diffuse my own reactivity. Once I can calm myself and I would try to form a positive or at least a neutral experience inside of myself. So at minimum, I don't join in the battle, even if I feel that urge. I would try to diffuse my own negativity or irritation, anger, humiliation, hostility, whatever I'm feeling, that's negative. And to do that, I would pause in silence because no response at this moment is better than an inflammatory response from me. No response doesn't convey agreement or disagreement with what's been said. No response doesn't incite further sparring. It doesn't provide ammunition. Of course, it takes two people to fight. So once I bought myself a bit of time and tried to bring my own reactivity down, I would try to remember that this person is simply projecting their own opinions.
Dex (00:09:56) - When we judge another person, really what we're doing is judging ourselves, but pushing it outwards so their words can really only come from their own suffering here in inadequacy, their own powerlessness. It's really not about me. It's not personal. It's about them. And if the person is still pressing me for a response, I can just say to them, I see or hear you. So once I've got through my own first reaction, then I can start to form a view that helps me remain calm. I'm no saint. Believe you. Me. And anger was certainly a core part of my Mo for most of my life when I felt threatened in public. But I guess I taught myself a few things. I've learned a few things. And now I'm an old codger, and I've been practicing just shutting up long enough to reframe what's happening in my head because I find that helpful. So what I do is I remember that my first reaction is also an error. I think they're an error. I don't want to add an error to it.
Dex (00:11:04) - I'm almost certainly not seeing the truth of what's happening. I'm almost certainly not understanding what's going on, certainly not from their perspective. And you know, when I'm trying to think like this, quite often, the Dalai Lama pops into my mind as a guide because he's a person that I see as permanently unruffled by other people's agitation and even blame. And when I think about it, you know, I've done quite a lot of spiritual study as well, and I. I've tried to understand how to manage my emotions. Certainly my emotional outbursts. So really keep in mind, if an adult is behaving in a way that I don't like, a lot of supportive concepts and ideas are available to me, and I'm just going to give you a whole bunch here, because some of these also may resonate with you and be useful to you if you're being triggered by something. So, number one, I don't need to take responsibility for that adult. They're responsible for their own speech and actions. So if there's embarrassment.
Dex (00:12:15) - Okay, I may take gentle action to protect other guests, such as moving outside, but I'm basically not responsible for the the person who is acting and speaking in a way that I find difficult. Two. I don't have to believe what they're saying. What they say may be true for them, but it also may not be true for me. Number three. If the person is a loved one, what they say may have a positive or protective intention that I'm not seeing. If I don't appreciate what's being said, I probably won't even look for it. But this is a question that's really worth asking yourself. If this thing they said seemed on some level protective to them, how could that be true? How could I understand that? Number four. I don't have to defend myself or retaliate. No matter how strong my views, nor how long the dispute may have been running, nor how much I have felt judged or harmed or wronged, I don't have to say anything. Number five. Well, this is a good one for me.
Dex (00:13:25) - Note to self I don't have to be right. Prove myself or understand why they behave in this way. Number six. When a person criticizes me, they're telling me about them and their beliefs. They tell me little or nothing about me. We don't share beliefs, and that's okay. Number seven. If somebody is having an emotional outburst and blaming or criticizing me, that person is currently in emotional pain and fear. They're in suffering to do that. Number eight. I can choose to believe in myself. Love myself, approve of myself, and have my own back. And the other person has no say in that. I just do it by myself. I don't need their approval or endorsement. I can, I can manage that. Number nine. And it took me a while to come at this one. I don't want the other person to suffer. There are many times in my life when this would have been an inaccessible idea to me, but by some minor miracle is now much easier. And if it comes hard to you, I just think practice offered to yourself this idea.
Dex (00:14:38) - Do I want the other person to suffer genuinely? Do I want that? Ask yourself. So there's some concepts that I kind of trickle through my mind in moments of. Tension when somebody is having a go at me. And if I can get through those and keep myself calm, then the next step is to create positive energy for myself. First has to come from the inside. And there's a list of emotions I would try to create within myself, so that the other person's behavior would be water off a duck's back to me. The emotions I would try to create are equanimity, love, respect, acceptance, forgiveness, curiosity, and compassion. So equanimity. Can I refrain from judging this person? Can I accept this person as they are? Can I offer peace to this situation? Sometimes I can. Sometimes I have to keep going. So, number two, love. Can I acknowledge this human as my equal, deserving of my love and care? If that's difficult for me. Can I see qualities I admire in this person that I myself do not possess, or in the past, did not possess? I'm really looking for.
Dex (00:16:00) - Sameness. How we're both dwelling in the same humanity. And when I can see another person as human like me, I have much easier access to my love for them. Next one. Respect. Can I respect this person's basic decency? Their desire to protect. What and who they love. Or their willingness to stand up for what they believe is right. And I see that some of that is in there and respect them for it. Acceptance. Even if I can't accept this person's behavior right now. Does that behavior perhaps make sense? Or could it make sense from what I know about them and their history? Are they doing their best in the face of their suffering, fear, and life experience? Forgiveness. If I'm finding it difficult to forgive them for what they're doing right now, is there something I can't forgive in me that I'm also not forgiving in this person? What is that? Can I just instead choose to forgive both of us in this moment? Curiosity, one of my all time favorites because it covers a lot of bases about what we think we know and don't know.
Dex (00:17:21) - Curiosity. What if I'm wrong about this? What if I don't understand this? And I become curious about this person's motivation and remain in the not knowing? So I don't judge them just because they're different than me, or behaving differently, or believing differently than me. Compassion. If all else fails, can I open my heart in compassion to a fellow traveler, perhaps as deluded as myself, and I wish them well. Can I wish them less suffering? None of us are perfect. My life, like anyone's, is strewn with a great deal of ill will to others. You know. Of course, I'm not only capable of that. It was. It was a very big thing with me earlier on. But seeing more deeply into why I behaved poorly and perhaps why other people might behave poorly, has taught me compassion, compassion and care for myself, and compassion and care for others. And if I deserve my own love and care, then other people equally deserve it. It's quite probable that 99% of the thoughts and beliefs in my head aren't true at all.
Dex (00:18:37) - I just think they are. Letting other people from those beliefs then would not be very helpful. When you're at a party and somebody says unkind things to you. A pinch of salt starts to look like the best option. The extent we realize we know almost nothing and that people do what they do to survive their wounding. I found it easier to accept and care for me as the human. I am by extension, to accept and care for others. No one actually has the power to upset you unless you choose to be upset. I don't know about you, but I've had one heart attack and I'm not keen for another. I don't need any further reminders to keep my stress levels down. I'm trying to be a bit decent. So from my heart to yours, I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday season, end of work year, and whatever else you're doing. I wish you peace. If you're in burnout and ready to recover. Come and join my Burnout to Leadership program. You can book in to talk with me a burnout next round, or just tell me what's bugging you and let's make a plan to fix it.