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!
This is a timely, realistic and practical exercise and post. Thank you.
Excellent tool for ourselves and our clients! Plan to practice it this holiday…
That’s a helpful exercise. Recently I found myself doing a version of this organically. I reminded myself that THIS (my worry/stress) was real and true, but that THIS (my positive, which was bigger and more enduring) was also true. It did help. The more thorough nature of this exercise , (4 things, and memorizing) will make it more doable for clients in the moment.
Love it. I will use it myself. It is so simple but achievable. The brain keeps the score so use the four things that the brain holds.- what a brillant stratergy!!. Thank you.
Good advice for all of us!
Clear , concise with brain science spice! Thank you, Happy Holidays to all.
Thank you for making an impact on us all. you have a gift for writing! very wise words.
thank you Pete….This was really helpful for a stressed out college student with perfectionistic academic expectations
Thanks Pete! I will be using this myself over Christmas! And I will pass it on to my clients
Love it! Happy holidays!
Thanks Dr. Pearson for sharing your wisdom. I find this brilliant and simple. Wise way to bring the focus on ourselves or on the client instead of focusing on the other which we can’t change . I love the comparison with Sisyphus as a visual and mental reminder that “nothing changes if nothing changes”.
Thanks Peter! Just what I needed to hear…this is a GREAT reminder. Thanks for all you and Ellyn do. With gratitude, Wietske
Well said! Thanks for putting this very timely advice in simple terms to practice over and over!
Thank you, perfect suggestions.
#1 I’m grateful for your taking time and making efforts to continue setting a model for making a difference!!! Coping with a family member who refuses to get boosters & vaccines and hosting holiday dinners with family in their 80’s with serious health issues is stressful. I’m grateful to be able to set boundaries, stay responsible for maintaining safety, let go of the anger and seriously being able to admire and express the love and compassion we have as a family. May you live a healthy happy life to age 969 like Methuselah
Fantastic article and exercise! Thank you!
Thanks Pete, always helpful
Thanks Peter. That was really useful. I checked in with the info on ‘differentiation’ and ‘truth-telling/lying’ and it helped me out with a challenging relationship with someone in my church life.
Wonderful!!! Actually gratitude can change the atmosphere in a place. The apostle Paul encouraged his followers to practice gratitude, but we are likely to forget and it is behind the scenario of our nagging.