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Licensed Psychologist

Unrealistic Expectations for the Holidays

Remember Sisyphus, the legendary rock roller from Greek mythology. He was forever doomed to push the boulder up the mountain only to have it roll back. Again, and again and again. There is a rock many people push. It’s the rock of unrealistic expectations. Especially the expectations we place on others. And especially expectations around the holidays. Many of you hope your partner will give you the perfect gift, or that your adult siblings will refrain from teasing you at the holiday table. You hope your Uncle Al will stay sober through the evening, and that your parents or grandparents will offer some unconditional acceptance. You believe this is not too much to hope for. But alas, just like Sisyphus, you never get the rock of expectations to the mountain top. Even if you could get it to the top, it wouldn’t stay there. However, this year CAN be different for you.  It takes a little mental judo while you shift your focus. As you prepare for the holidays, expect nothing will be different this year. Remember that no matter how hard you try, you cannot get your family to conform to your hopes. Your family members simply do what they do and will likely continue their distressing and disturbing habits. They're pushing their own rocks. In fact, you may do annoying things that your family members wish you would quit. If they wish to change, they will do it on their time and in their own way. The same is true for your families! Instead, think of 4 things you feel grateful about and burn them into your memory. You should know them so well that if I called at 3:00 AM you would be able to recite them without difficulty. When you begin to feel distressed because your family is not doing your bidding, you should start recalling your gratitude list. Your focus will change and your feelings will follow. It will work because our brains can only consciously focus on one thing at a time. It can shift rapidly back and forth between many different things. But it focuses on only one thing at a time. This mental trick has a lot of applications in life, but for now, you can practice it at holiday gatherings. Sisyphus didn’t have the benefit of neuroscience learnings. But we do. You can stop pushing that expectation boulder up the mountain, while shifting your focus. You might even be able to enjoy what used to drive you crazy. Have a wonderful holiday!
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