How to Have a Self-Aware Holiday 

By Tim Elmore 

When I reflect on past holiday seasons in my life, I see that I suffered from acute low self-awareness. It wasn’t so much that I ruined Christmas or Thanksgiving for anyone; I just hampered things for me. In retrospect, I see a pattern that offers a cautionary tale for all of us.


As a young man, I entered the holiday season looking forward to seeing family members I’d not seen in a year. It would be fun spotting how my nieces and nephews had grown and hearing what my uncle Sam was up to during the previous year. Once the celebration began, however, I became acutely aware of the pecking order in our family.

  • Who was doing what?
  • What member made others laugh? 
  • Which member was the popular one this year?
  • How much time were people talking about each topic?


Without realizing it, I stepped onto an emotional treadmill, trying to keep up with those in front of me in this pecking order. Was my joke the funniest? How did I look? Did family members seek me out for conversation? Before long, my stress levels rose, and this clouded my ability to think objectively. My emotional needs blinded me to how I came across to others. 


My stress created a fog. And when we’re stressed, we can slip into counterproductive coping strategies like overindulging in food and drink, overcompensating in discussions to prove how much we know about a topic, staying up too late, having arguments with family members, or even escaping into drugs or alcohol. It’s a vicious cycle. 


The more we’re stressed, the less we’re able to see what’s really happening. There’s a fog. 


What Can We Do About This?

It’s important during the holiday season to be mindful and tuned in to our needs and feelings. Otherwise, when we’re thrown together with friends and family members and feel pressured to buy the perfect gifts or cook the perfect meals, it can spoil the season for us. When we tend to our own emotional fuel tank ahead of time, we’re better prepared to fill the tank of others when the party begins. I have a friend who’s diabetic and hosts her family every holiday for a big meal. Do you know what she does? She eats a healthy snack before everyone arrives, knowing she’ll be serving loved ones and won’t get her meal until the end.


It’s a great picture for us emotionally at holiday time.


Step one: Fill your tank before the event begins. Don’t be a “starving baker” who’s so busy serving bread to others that you forget to eat, and starve yourself. If you practice self-care now, you won’t need it during the party. Read, reflect, journal, pray. Preparing prevents repairing. 


Step two: Know yourself. Extroverts are energized by people, so they can be blind to overdoing it at holiday time. Filling their social tank with friends ahead of time enables them to focus their energy on affirming others at holiday time. Introverts are energized by time alone and must get plenty of this before loved ones arrive. This way, your own needs don’t dictate your state. 


Step three: Identify your stressors ahead of time. Does a certain family member cause anxiety for you? Does socializing (in general) induce stress? Once we know the sources of our angst, we can plan a strategy to face them. We’re then able to leverage coping skills rather than coping mechanisms like overeating or overreacting. 


Healthy solutions all begin with self-awareness.


Author Liz Wiseman suggests we all find a close, respected friend and play a little game called: “What’s It Like to Be…On the Other Side of Me?” I’ve done this several times, and hearing my accountability partners respond to this question is always revealing. I become more self-aware. And I enter future interactions and events wiser and ready to serve others. When we’re self-aware, we’re all better people and healthier leaders for our family and friends.


Here’s to a self-aware holiday for all of us.


How to Have a Self-Aware Holiday