Bring the Holidays into Focus

focus image 001

Your focus is your reality.

–          Yoda, Star Wars I, The Phantom Menace

As I entered the final stretch before Christmas, I paused, amidst my color coded lists of menu planning, decorating, present wrapping, gift creating, house cleaning and broken toy mending. I could feel my anxiety mounting to frenzy status and needed to quiet my mind. So I put on my gloves, snow boots and other winter gear and walked to the park across the street and stood and listened to the falling snow. And I thought about what I really wanted for the holiday. I am keenly aware that my son will only be six years old for Christmas once. Maybe experiencing the death of close relatives at Christmastime has heightened this awareness. Or maybe having an only child helps me realize there are no do-overs. In any case, I decided I want to be fully present this Christmas, to experience the holiday with joy and soak it all in. I want to give myself, mind and heart, to the moment and the people I love and leave behind the lists and the worries. That is, as the song says, “my grown-up Christmas wish.”

I recall a decade ago when I was engaged to be married hearing the stories from newlyweds. “The wedding day was a total blur.” Or “I can’t remember who I talked to or what was said.” And “I don’t remember the food or the taste of the cake.” I took these as cautionary tales and set my own intention to be fully focused on that important day. And I was. I remember I met my husband’s Indiana relatives for the first time. We ate a delicious chicken with a marsala sauce and had a raspberry cake with white buttercream icing.

Daniel Goleman, author of the bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence and founder of the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, has written a book entitled, Focus; The Hidden Driver of Excellence. In it, he writes:

       Today’s children are growing up in a new reality, one where they are attuning more to machines and less to people than has ever been true in human history. That’s troubling for several reasons. For one, the social and emotional circuitry of a child’s brain learns from contact and conversation with everyone it encounters over the course of a day. These interactions mold brain circuitry; the fewer hours spent with people – and the more spent staring at a digitized screen – portends deficits.[i]

And so my gift to you this season, whether you celebrate a holiday or simply get some much needed time off of work, is to provide you with some basic ideas for setting your own intention to be fully present to your children and the other people – family and friends around you.

Organize ahead. Make your lists. For Christmas, because I maintain multiple lists, I keep a small notebook where I write down grocery lists, presents to buy and people to whom I want to send a holiday card. Use whatever organization system you are most comfortable with but do plan ahead so that when the time comes to be present, you can.

Delegate and share responsibility. You may possess a grand vision for your holiday as I always do. But you can invite other family members to share in that vision ahead of time and contribute to its successful implementation. The holidays are about giving and receiving. It’s no service to do it all and then come to the party flustered and exhausted. Inviting others, collaboratively discussing roles and responsibilities, particularly with children, can allow for ownership and involvement and create a joyful holiday in which all are actively contributing.

Use digital discipline. Our digital devices divide our attention and pull us away from the most important people in our lives who are standing directly in front of us. Despite our realization of that fact, it’s likely that the beeps, boops, and whirs of the electronic devices will woo us back. That beep may sound to alert us to a sale at a store we could care less about and yet, it focuses our attention on the store and away from those we love. It takes great discipline to put that cell phone down. Do what you have to do to maintain your own digital discipline. And set ground rules for the family. “During the days of celebration, we will only check email twice – once after lunch and once in the evening.” Stick your phone in a drawer or place it on another floor or room of your house. Wear your battery charge down. Do whatever it takes to pay focused attention to those important people who are right in front of you. Remember that your children who are three and five years old, or six and ten, will only have one holiday with this perspective at this age. It’s precious. Don’t miss it.

Make a plan for anxiety, worry and upset. Practice deep breathing when you are in the midst of holiday chaos. In my bedroom, I have a journal at the end of my bookcase with a pen sitting right next to my comfortable reading chair. The journal is solely for the purpose of allowing me to write down my worries and reflect on them. I notice if I don’t, I stew and stew on the thoughts and they take up a lot of brain space I would like to devote to other purposes. It doesn’t take long to jot down your feelings. Robert Garmston, a well-known school improvement expert, writes, “Contrary to popular belief, we do not learn from experience, only from reflecting on experience.”[ii] This method may not be right for you but find a way to get your anxiety dealt with on paper, come up with a solution or resolution to try and move on to more important things.

Play! Two years ago, my holiday post was about the virtues of play. If you want your children to develop focused attention which will aid their success in school and in any life pursuit, then give them your focused attention. Model and enjoy the benefits!

My husband just completed a leadership coaching certification program last week. He and his cohorts shared much of their own thoughts, feelings and life stories with each other. He returned and shared with me that he had the realization that every person in that program was completely amazing. They each had a life story filled with fascinating challenges and inner goals they were trying to achieve. I wonder if we really listened to each person’s life story along with their inner thoughts and feelings, if we might be able to say each person in the world is amazing.

I wish for you this holiday season to hold focused attention on those you love so that yoda on our treeyou might really see how amazing they are. As for me, I have placed our Yoda ornament on the front of our Christmas tree as a reminder that my focus is my reality.  Happy holidays.


[i] Goleman, D. (2013). Focus; The Hidden Driver of Excellence. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

[ii] Garmston, R. (2005). The Presenter’s Fieldbook; A Practical Guide.  MA: Christopher-Gordon Publishers.

One Comment on “Bring the Holidays into Focus

  1. Clever illustration – and a time saver! Love, Maaaaa On Dec 19, 2013, at 9:05 AM, confident parents confident kids wrote:

    > Respond to this post by replying above this line > New post on confident parents confident kids > > > Bring the Holidays into Focus > by confidentparentsconfidentkids > > > Your focus is your reality. > > – Yoda, Star Wars I, The Phantom Menace > > As I entered the final stretch before Christmas, I paused, amidst my color coded lists of menu planning, decorating, present wrapping, gift creating, house cleaning and broken toy mending. I could feel my anxiety mounting to frenzy status and needed to quiet my mind. So I put on my gloves, snow boots and other winter gear and walked to the park across the street and stood and listened to the falling snow. And I thought about what I really wanted for the holiday. I am keenly aware that my son will only be six years old for Christmas once. Maybe experiencing the death of close relatives at Christmastime has heightened this awareness. Or maybe having an only child helps me realize there are no do-overs. In any case, I decided I want to be fully present this Christmas, to experience the holiday with joy and soak it all in. I want to give myself, mind and heart, to the moment and the people I love and leave behind the lists and the worries. That is, as the song says, my grown-up Christmas wish. > > I recall a decade ago when I was engaged to be married hearing the stories from newlyweds. The wedding day was a total blur. Or I cant remember who I talked to or what was said. And I dont remember the food or the taste of the cake. I took these as cautionary tales and set my own intention to be fully focused on that important day. And I was. I remember I met my husbands Indiana relatives for the first time. We ate a delicious chicken with a marsala sauce and had a raspberry cake with white buttercream icing. > > Daniel Goleman, author of the bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence and founder of the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, has written a new book entitled, Focus; The Hidden Driver of Excellence.

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