Holiday Traditions – The Gift of Time

When you look back over the years, what do you remember about the gifts you got this time of year? Probably not much. But you might remember the friends and family visiting, the special meals or even photos with Santa.  Holiday traditions anchor us to the season and to each other. From the food, to the lights. From the music, to the hugs. Memories are made at every turn, engaging all the senses and making them all the more vivid and unforgettable. Traditions give us a link to our past and something to always look forward to from year to year to year. They can be an extremely personal matter, yet a shared event that enrich our lives and the lives of those closest to us.

Imagine all that enhanced with true communication, real sharing and more closeness with friends and family.

The holidays might be the one time of the year when everyone gets together. And if you come from a large or extended family or perhaps gather with your friends, you are dealing with a lot of bodies. There is something joyous about the raucous chaos of holiday gatherings, but in the excitement of sharing a year’s worth of your life, you might not be listening to what is going on with anyone else.

I mentioned emotional intelligence in a previous blog. Empathy is one element of emotional intelligence and perhaps the most difficult to tackle. One way to employ empathy is to practice active listening. In active listening, you pay attention to what someone is saying.  You listen to understand. You engage your heart and your mind and even your body. Everything about you should be saying, I’m here to give you my full attention. If you are interested in getting more specifics about active listening you may want to check out this site.

But maybe you’re thinking you don’t need to work on this. How can you tell if you haven’t been listening? Cast your mind back to last year.

  • If the only thing significant from an encounter is the memory of the hideous reindeer sweater your brother-in-law was wearing, you might not have been listening to what he was talking about.
  • If you can recall your meal to perfect detail but not so much any stories about your friends’ kids, perhaps you weren’t as engaged as you should have been.
  • If the only thing you can remember is how shocked everyone was at your office drama, maybe you weren’t asking enough questions about what was going on in their lives.

In the fast paced rumble tumble of holiday festivities, it’s hard to get to everyone, to have those intense moments of one on one. Heck, sometimes it’s impossible to finish a sentence. Giving everyone adequate soapbox time feels as impossible as serving a perfect holiday meal, but maybe, like a meal, all it takes is a little planning. Maybe all it takes is time.

Perhaps create a game where everyone is given a moment to talk about a significant personal event and everyone else engages in active listening. What about using a talking stick or a candy cane or a giant Toblerone bar that you pass around? What about drawing names and at certain times through the night, each person shares something that they are grateful for to the group? What about using mistletoe for something other than kissing? Or a necklace of tinsel? These ideas might seem silly, but I’m sure when you get together, there are people who dominate conversation and those who can’t get a word in edge-wise. Using some sort of game might give everyone a chance to talk, and everyone a chance to practice active listening.

Active listening can be the beginning of a new holiday tradition and the greatest gift you can give. So give your loved ones your time. Listen. Be attentive. Be empathetic. Being generous of spirit will cost you nothing, but an investment like that in your friends and family could pay-off richly throughout the year in deeper more meaningful relationships.

And to that, I wish you all the best and see you in the new year.

Inspiration

For some of you who have been reading my blog, firstly I want to say thanks so very much.  It’s a little overwhelming. As I told a friend, I’m such a newbie (and a touch paranoid) that when I got notice that I had people actually reading, let alone following my blog, I panicked. I’m all like – hey – what are you doing there – what do you want from me – what’s going on? Oh… You just want to read my blog. I guess that’s okay then. Just don’t forget to take off your shoes before you come in.

See what I mean? Freaked out.

I had to do one of those resounding smacks to the forehead. Of course people are reading my blog. Isn’t that why I put it up there in the first place? If I didn’t want people to read it, I would have written in a little book with a unicorn on the cover and a flimsy metal lock that can be opened with a fingernail, and a key that one always misplaces. But to have actual, real live people reading my words… [oh crap – are they live – are they real – is it Skynet?] Did I say it’s a little overwhelming?

Of course now that November and NaNoWriMo is over, I start to have a little panic about keeping up this whole blog thing. Time is precious. The research on how long it takes habits to form is not precise. So even though I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now, it is far from a habit and I am far from comfortable. I also wonder if I’ll have anything worthwhile to say.  So what I’m thinking about is inspiration.

I knew I wanted to talk about what I am interested in, what my life is about, what life is about, but other than that, I have no plan as was so resolutely declared in My First Blog Ever. What freedom. Ya. Right. Then the panic steps in. How am I going to find enough inspiration to keep going?

My answer after considerable soul searching? Don’t find it. Be it.

Be inspired. Be curious. Wonder. When you view the world that way you can’t help but find inspiration. It’s right there in front of your face. It’s everywhere.

I didn’t know I was going to write that blog about Effort, until I saw that picture. All my blogs about NaNoWriMo were obviously inspired by what was happening in my life. Even being an AWADJ (artist with a day job) presents paths of exploration that I might not have taken otherwise. There are others out there too, curious, thoughtful others who talk about interesting things, things they are passionate about sharing. My blog on Happiness was inspired by that. So in a way I borrowed someone’s inspiration and made it mine.

But still, is my shameful bout of navel gazing interesting enough for anyone to read? Am I kidding myself? Is this just a futile exercise, a lone voice in the wilderness, a grinding scream into the darkness of the void? Ironically, this void is full of stars; all shining, all glowing, all doing their best to entice many telescopes to swing their arm in their direction. How does anyone manage to hold a gaze long enough to accomplish this.

Yet some do. And for as many reasons as there are stars in the sky. Because humans at their core are curious creatures.

So all I can do is write about what inspires me. All I can seek is my own inspiration. In my writing and in my life. All I can try to be is inspired. And I thank you for your patience as I indulge myself and try to find my voice among the night sky of twinkling lights. Most of all I thank you for sharing my journey.

EQ – The Holidays – and You

What would it take to successfully get you through the looming holiday season. The perfect gift? The best turkey? The ability to be in two places at the same time? Instead of looking for outer solutions (or impossible ones) what about inner ones. Exploring your EQ might just give you the skills you need. Emotional quotient or EQ is a term used to gage one’s emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence covers key aspects in personal and inter-person skills. Just the thing you might need to foster healthy happy relationships. And isn’t that what the holidays should be about?

So what exactly are the characteristics of emotional intelligence?

Self-Awareness

In the heat of the moment are you capable of determining what has set your blood to boil? Can you pin-point the reasons behind feelings of frustration or anxiety?  Are you able to step back and analyze what you are feeling and why you are feeling it?  This is often the most emotionally charged time of the year. We are fraught with worry and anticipation about plans to come and burdened with an over-packed Louis Vuitton set of baggage from our past. Being able to sort through your jumble of emotions and accurately evaluate the feelings you are experiencing may help you to deal with them in a more constructive manner.

Self-Regulation

Are you able to stay in control when you are angry or jealous? Do you become overwhelmed, caught up in your intense emotions, or can you pause and think before you react? The ability to self-manage your emotions means that you are not at their mercy. For instance, instead of lashing out at your significant other because they haven’t wrapped the presents yet, can you acknowledge that you might actually be feeling frustration and inadequacy that yet again here’s another Christmas and you are overwhelmed?  At this time of year when the pressure comes from so many angles, it’s important to work toward equilibrium for your sanity and for the sanity of everyone around you.

Motivation

Do you easily get stalled or de-railed? Are you filled with anxiety when tasked with something new? Can you step back and see a set-back as momentary, a problem as an opportunity and a challenge as a chance for personal growth? Can you stay focused on the goal through the difficulties? Keeping motivated for the long-haul, and deferring immediate results for long-term success is another indicator of emotional intelligence. The last point may be the most important one to keep in mind in the next few weeks of holiday shopping. You might try reminding yourself that, though that sweater looks really great on you, it pales in comparison to the peace of mind you’ll get paying off all your bills come January.

Empathy

Do people say you are a good listener? Perceptive? Understanding? If you engage in active listening and observe body language well, you are on your way to honing your empathetic abilities. These skills enable you to get out of your head and into the heart of the person in front of you. Being able to imagine, understand and empathize with other’s feelings is a fundamental people skill and an important step toward emotional intelligence. And at this time of year, here’s an opportunity to see if you’ve been paying attention to the people in your life. After all, the present you’re buying isn’t for you. It’s for someone else. Being empathetic and getting someone a gift that speaks only to them is the greatest sign that you truly care.

Social Skills

The previous four elements culminate nicely in the final category of social management. If one can recognize the emotions in themselves, and regulate them, that person becomes more appealing, approachable, and amenable to others. If they can see your positive outlook and motivation, you can better inspire. If you can recognize the emotions in others, being empathetic to their situation, you can better relate. Strong social skills of rapport, effective communication and developing trust are all signs of emotional intelligence. These, hopefully, can lead to better relationships with loved ones throughout the rest of the year.

By these indicators, the development of your emotional intelligence would go a long way to making you a happier and more productive person in all facets of your life, but especially at this time of year, when you might need it the most.

Want to take steps towards being more emotionally intelligent? Perhaps start here at MindTools. You might have noticed it over on my blog roll. They have a great quiz to test your EQ.

Or get yourself (or perhaps someone who you think might benefit) the book by Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence. Check out his site for more information.

I’m wishing you all peace and joy!