One Secret to Take Full Advantage of Your Holiday Break

By: Tim Elmore




Several years ago, in a remote area of a country in Africa, local villagers discovered that some young elephants wandered from the herd. They were lost for some time. When those pachyderms were returned to their families, they were no longer babies. They’d changed over time. Researchers, called Mahouts, made some fascinating observations as they watched these stray elephants.

  • The young elephants began to bully other animals they encountered. At times, some even killed other animals, seemingly for fun. It was strange.
  • The young elephants began a habit when they approached a pond to drink. They would splash the water and stir it up before looking down to take a drink.

After careful research, the Mahouts drew some conclusions about the elephants’ conduct. First, because they had strayed, they left their role models, and they became destructive. Living in isolation, they bullied other animals and grew into rebels.

And the habit of splashing before they drank? It was only after careful observation, the Mahouts drew this conclusion: those elephants didn’t like to see their reflections as they approached the water. So, they splashed around causing ripples and waves to prevent them from accurately seeing themselves.

I wonder if people do the same thing.

If you are anything like me, the holidays are a paradoxical time, at least emotionally. Even though we’re living in spaces crowded with friends and family, we can live in emotional isolation. We don’t let others inside. We suppress what we’re feeling. Then, in our effort to mask what is really going on inside, we find our own ways to make a splash. When we don’t like seeing who we really are, we distract ourselves with our busyness around the holidays or the chatter or gossip in the teacher’s lounge or simple preoccupations with social media, you name it. None of these are criminal acts — they’re just splashes, preventing us from facing what’s happening inside. The clutter in our lives in this season not only tends to amuse us, but it can also disable us from being honest with ourselves. In short, we make splashes.

Learning from the Elephants

I believe the holidays could be the perfect time to push the reset button in our lives and stop the splashing. Think about those lost elephants again. Drifting into isolation hindered them from remaining healthy. What happens to them happens to us today.

  • They wandered away from role models they once watched.
  • They drifted into unhealthy habits because they strayed from their community.
  • They found ways to distract themselves so they wouldn’t have to face reality.

As parents, educators, coaches, or other leaders, it’s essential we model for our young people what healthy living looks like. And stepping away from our busy routines, even if for just a day in December, might be exactly what the doctor ordered. To lead them well, to lead our own lives well, we need to return to those role models we adopted in the beginning. We need to stop splashing around and instead take time to be quiet and still.

I’ve found three steps that enable me to do this in a single day. Let’s call them the ABCs.

  • Awareness. First, ask yourself: what am I feeling? Am I experiencing negative emotions? Am I angry at someone? Am I melancholy? Am I anxious?
  • Belief. Next, what have I started believing as a result of these emotions? Do I quietly believe I’m inadequate or superior or don’t fit in or some other distortion?
  • Correction. What is the truth I need to embrace? How can I believe the best about my situation, give grace to others, forgive if necessary, and move on?

Janice is a teacher who practiced this exercise. She overheard her colleagues talking about an important meeting they had attended and how it would affect their school’s future. Janice suddenly felt a pit in her stomach. Why hadn’t she been invited to that meeting? Were the administrators trying to ostracize her? Was she unworthy of such an influential planning time?

Instead of allowing these emotions to stew inside of her, she decided to believe the best about her colleagues and leaders. The next chance she got, she inquired of Stan, her assistant principal, about the meeting and asked if there was something she could do to help even though she wasn’t a part of it. Stan looked surprised. He told her he’d thought she was invited to the meeting and assumed she’d chosen not to come. He later found out that Janice must have been left off the list by accident. He apologized profusely and quickly brought her up to speed on it all. Awareness. Belief. Correction.

Think of it this way: every message the spinal cord sends to your brain enters the limbic system (where you feel) before it enters the cortex (where you think). This means you will often feel something before you get to think about it. The best response is to pause and let yourself feel the emotion but not react before giving the message time to travel to the part of your brain where you can think about it wisely. Don’t react. Reflect.

When we do this, we can better push the reset button. We avoid being like those rebel elephants. We won’t have to make any splashes in a pond to avoid seeing ourselves. We’ll begin to like the person staring back at us in the mirror. And our holiday break can be refreshing.

Calm waters. No splashes.

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One Secret to Take Full Advantage of Your Holiday Break