For many of us, this time of year is full of special treats—from the twinkling lights and decorations to our favorite seasonal foods and drinks to music we only hear this season.
For others (especially those who are grieving), this time of year is full of painful memories of past holiday seasons and the music, treats, and decorations are hard to bear.
There's one thing that seems to be the same for everyone no matter how we are experiencing the season: it's full of pressure.
The pressure to buy more and spend more.
The pressure to be cheerful and happy all the time.
The pressure to decorate more.
The pressure to eat more and drink more.
The pressure to celebrate at more parties and gatherings.
The pressure to buy perfect gifts for everyone on your list.
The pressure to spend time with family.
The pressure to bake cookies and send cards and keep up all the holiday traditions you've inherited or created over the years.
The pressure of meeting everyone's expectations (including our own).
The pressure is never-ending, and it comes at us from all directions (internal and external) all the time during this season.
It's difficult to sort through all of those voices—many of which come from well-meaning loved ones—to figure out what we really need and can handle in this year's holiday season. It's a challenge that becomes even harder when we are struggling with grief or brokenness of any kind.
How do we know which advice, pressure, input to trust and which to ignore?
It'd be easy to say that we need to learn to trust ourselves more than the input of others (after all, no one knows our current experience like we do from the inside out), but life is rarely that simplistic, is it?
Even when I am trying to listen to myself, I find that there's a whole host of inner "characters" shouting advice—from my inner angels who truly have my long-term best interests at heart ("You've already eaten more than enough cookies tonight. Eating more will give you a stomachache, more pounds to lose, and a sugar hangover that will mess up your sleep.") to my inner demons who look only at short-term pleasure or may even be trying to create trouble ("Eat another cookie (or two or three)! You know you want more, and you don't get these all year round. You deserve a treat! Eat! Eat! Eat!").
There are also times when someone else may be able to see patterns in me that I am blind to and heeding their input might help me make better choices. ("I've noticed that every time you go to that particular holiday celebration, it leaves you depressed afterward. Is it worth going again this year?")
Which brings us back to the original question: How do we know which advice and input to trust?
While the holidays tend to put this dilemma in high relief with their intensity, the truth is that question about which advice and input to trust is something we face all year long in everything we do.
It's the task of a lifetime to fully sort this one out, so I don't have any easy answers, but here's what I do know.
Down beneath all of the competing voices with all of their advice and pressure and expectations, each of us has a reliable source of inner guidance that will always lead us to truth. The challenge is working through all of the other clutter to tap into it.
For me, this has first meant learning to listen a little more closely to competing voices (especially the internal ones) to better identify their source.
Is this fear talking? If so, what am I afraid of? Rejection? Abandonment? Judgment? Loss? Failure? Missing out?
Is this an internalized voice from a parent or other authority figure? If so, whose voice is it?
Is this guilt (or, more likely, false guilt) talking? If so, who/where is that sense of guilt coming from?
Is this my inner rebel talking? If so, what constraint is she fighting against and why?
Similar questions work well for assessing the input coming from others. For example, is fear motivating their input? If so, what are they afraid of?
The key is truly paying attention to all the input coming at me so that I can hear it consciously (rather than just absorbing it subconsciously) and dig into it a little to hear the motivations behind it. Just paying attention at this slightly deeper level makes it so much easier to sort through it all.
For example, in my own struggle with Christmas cookies and other holiday food and drink treats, I've learned that the inner voice urging me to eat more and more and more is driven by a fear of missing out and not having enough. Just knowing that allows me to stay connected to the knowledge that there will be more again later, releasing me from fear-driven cookie eating.
Even better, as I listen more consciously to the messages that I'm receiving and begin seeing what drives them, it's easier to connect to that deeper source of inner knowing and guidance that offers so much wisdom.
I've written about learning to listen for true inner guidance before, but we can't get to that point as effectively until we better learn to sort through all of the surface input (internal and external) that is so often drowning it out.
The holidays can be an excellent intensive training ground for learning to do this with all of life since so much of the input this time of year (like advertising!) is so loud and so obvious.
Clearing away that clutter to make room to tap into our deeper inner guidance in holiday decisions strengthens the muscle of learning how to tell which input to trust the rest of the year too.
What places in your life are you currently struggling with knowing which advice or input to listen to?
Where is the competing input coming from? What is the source of that advice? (Fear? Guilt? Etc.)
How does identifying the source of the input help you sort through it?
How does listening to it all more consciously help you dive beneath to hear your own deeper wisdom a little better?
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