Ah, 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.
Here’s 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 our clients hope their partner will give them the perfect gift, or that their adult siblings will refrain from teasing them at the holiday table. They hope their Uncle Al will stay sober through the evening, and that their parents or grandparents will offer some unconditional acceptance.
Your clients believe this is not too much to hope for.
But alas, just like Sisyphus, they never get the rock of expectations to the mountain top. Even if they could get it to the top, it wouldn’t stay there.
However, this year CAN be different for your clients. It takes a little mental judo while you help them shift their focus.
Here’s an approach you can offer your clients as they prepare for the holidays.
For starters, suggest that they expect nothing will be different this year.
Remind clients that no matter how hard they try, they cannot get their family to conform to their hopes. Their family members simply do what they do and will likely continue their distressing and disturbing habits. They're pushing their own rocks.
In fact, your clients may do annoying things that their family members wish they would quit, too. But if your clients wish to change, they will do it on their time and their way. The same is true for their families!
Next comes the essence of the exercise. Encourage your clients to think of 4 things they feel grateful about and burn them into their memory. The clients should know them so well that if you called at 3:00 AM they would be able to recite them without difficulty. Burning them into their memory is the most important part.
Instruct your clients that when they begin to feel distressed because their family is not doing their bidding, they should start recalling their gratitude list.
Their focus will change and their feelings will follow.
Will this work?
Yes, 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, encourage stressed out partners to practice it at holiday gatherings.
Sisyphus didn’t have the benefit of neuroscience learnings. But we do.
Help your clients stop pushing that expectation boulder up the mountain. Help them shift their focus. And they might be able to enjoy what used to drive them crazy.
Oh, and feel free to try this yourself – and have a wonderful holiday!