Every year, I go into the holiday season with great excitement and anticipation of all of the memorable activities that lie ahead. In my head, I imagine time at home with family playing games, watching movies, and enjoying great food and fun. In reality, every year there is also some level of disappointment that the holiday season did not live up to my expectations. Invariably, a part of this disillusionment comes from the awareness that the holidays as an adult are much more pragmatic and, yes, stressful than the nostalgic memories of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s as a child. I’m always saddened to see adults just white knuckling their way through all of the holiday “must-do’s” instead of allowing themselves to experience the wonder of the season, including taking in the warmth of relationships with those in their circle of family and friends. 

This year, I am committing to do the holidays differently, and I invite you to join me in beginning the holiday season by taking part in NO-vember! That’s right, to fully embrace the reason for the season, we need to start by strengthening our “no” muscle. One of the reasons I believe so many of us are stressed and overwhelmed during the holidays is because we begrudgingly take part in every obligatory holiday activity and set no boundaries around our time and what is in our family’s best interest. 

You may identify with one of the following reasons that it can be hard to say to “No”: 

People Pleasing: This is a pattern of over-accommodating to meet the needs of others that has its roots in the desire to maintain the friendship or admiration of others. For a host of reasons, we unconsciously, yet repeatedly, tell ourselves that it is more important to keep others happy than it is to make wise decisions with our time and energy. 

Self-Sacrificing: Often with the best of intentions and even a deeply-rooted faith at its foundation, this is a pattern of behavior that habitually denies one’s own needs, even to personal detriment. People exhibiting this pattern may believe that this type of self-sacrifice is what their faith requires of them or that this is their duty to make the world a better place. What they don’t consciously realize is that continually depleting their own resources and reserves without attending to their own needs is not a sustainable long-term path for loving, giving to, or impacting others. 

Caretaking/Enabling: People exhibiting this pattern may see those around them through a lens of neediness or even weakness. They naturally step into the parent role and allow those around them to be in a child role, helpless dependent role, or even a victim role. By caretaking others, we can get a nice internal reward for feeling like we are doing something good. In reality, our enabling patterns may actually foster helplessness or inappropriate dependent patterns in others that keep them stuck where they are at. 

Conflict Avoiding: I venture to say that most people, aside from maybe 8’s on the Enneagram, do not relish challenge or conflict with others. We would rather avoid difficult conversations and go great lengths to avoid hurting others’ feelings. What we may not realize is that boundaries and healthy conflict actually enhance relationships. When we care enough to tell each other the truth with grace, this actually fosters trust and connection. 

So, this NO-vember, I invite you to take steps that will allow you to meaningfully engage in the holiday season with those you love. Here are some activities for strengthening your NO muscle which, although counterintuitive at first, will help you to be fully present with everything you say YES to:

  1. Say NO to at least one request per week. It is often helpful to remember that when you say “yes” to the person in front of you at the moment, you are also saying “no” to others in your life. For example, saying yes to an extra project at work, a game with friends, or a volunteer opportunity may mean saying “no” to meaningful time engaging with your spouse, tucking your kids in at night, or enjoying connection with a friend. So, each week in NO-vember, be mindful of what is being asked of you and challenge yourself to decline an offer or opportunity in order to free yourself for more time with those you love or more time to refuel your tank.
  2. Choose something to quit. Many of us tend to be overcommitted in regard to our roles and responsibilities. I have a couple people in my life, currently my wife and my boss, who when I tell them I want to start an exciting new activity or opportunity, will invariably ask me what I’m going to give up to make time for it. The time will come from somewhere. Take an inventory of your commitment and decide what it’s time to let go of. For some this may be a volunteer position or a league of some kind. For others, it may be a decision to quit spending significant time on TV or social media in order to create time for meaningful connection or activities that fuel, instead of drain, life and energy.
  3. Have a difficult conversation you’ve been avoiding. You can probably think of at least one “conflict” you’ve been avoiding. Take a small risk to step into healthy conflict that will allow you to experience that having a truthful conversation (with lots of grace and compassion) will foster a closer connection than years of playing nice.

I wish you all the best as you explore ways that you can take part in NO-vember this year so that you can create space and energy for a meaningful and rejuvenating holiday season!