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festive focus: 4 ways to stay present during the holidays

With less than a week until Christmas day, it's tough not to get caught up in the rush of the holiday season. Most people have tons of extra items to cross off their to-do lists and even more obligations and events than usual. It's always a fun to take part in the holiday festivities, but it can also be stressful too. This last hurrah before the holiday is often the time many of us dread though, in actuality, it's the time we've been building up to for the past month (if not longer!). How are we to stay present during a time that seems so stressful? How are we to make the most of this last rush of holiday spirit (or holiday stress) before another Christmas day has come and gone?

Yesterday I found myself in Target feeling as if I were being swarmed by an army of people. Everyone was rushing past me in a haste and the air was charged with a hurryhurryhurry energy. And don't get me started on the parking lot, which was more frustrating than a twisted tangle of Christmas lights! There was a moment when I literally stopped in the middle of an aisle to let others scurry past when I realized that this store -- this holiday chaos -- was the last place I wanted to be. I realized that this was one of those times that I didn't want to be present, that I wanted to be anywhere other than the moment I was in. Later, as I thought back on that moment -- the shopping carts pushing past one another, the furious pace, and the frustrated sighs of nearby shoppers -- in the calm comfort of my own home, I realized that I had a choice in that moment. I have a choice in every moment.

Rather than practically running out of the store and darting home to the comfort of calm, I could have stayed in that moment -- chaotic as it was -- and embraced it. I could have focused not on the negative things happening in that moment, but on the good things that were happening: the person who let someone with fewer items go ahead of her in a long line; the cheery Christmas carols pouring out of the speakers and causing a little old man to bob his head to the music while pushing along his cart; the sweet sight of a little girl staring in awe at a display of glittering ornaments; the laughter from a mother after her son said seriously, "But, Mom, I saw a commercial and it said we should ask for this toy for Christmas!"

There were many things about those moments I spent in Target that were good, but I didn't see them amid my frustration and flustration (yep, just made that word up!). And isn't that often how it seems to be during the hectic holiday season? Aren't there often good moments -- really sweet, special moments -- that we fail to recognize because they are overwhelmed by the craziness of the world around us? I know I'm not the only one who's experienced this feeling this year and I know I'm not the only one who will probably experience it again before the year is through. However, I want to make an effort to be more present during what's left of the holiday season. I want to focus on the "happy" in my holidays -- and here's how I plan to do it:

Four Ways to Focus on the Festive

1. Focus on the five senses. This is a tactic I use when I'm trying to fall asleep and can't, but I think it could also work when striving to preserve the festiveness of the holiday season. Whenever I find myself stressed or wanting to be somewhere that I'm not, I'm going to take a deep breath and focus on my five senses. Thinking about what I can hear, see, taste, touch, and smell will help to bring me back to the moment and remind me of the good things happening all around me.

2. Redirect negative attention. Just like in Target, there are bound to be some moments where my thoughts start to wander into negative territory. However, it's up to me to stop this from happening. As soon as I become aware of a negative thought (and I must stay aware of my thinking!), I'm going to redirect it in a more positive direction. For every negative thing I think, I'll strive to counterattack it with a positive thought.

3. Create good energy. Though others around me may be stressed and frazzled by the hectic holiday season, I have a choice about the type of energy I put out. I can either feed off of the stressed out energy of others or I can choose to put out good energy of my own. This means staying calm, keeping my bitch face in check, and withholding any (and all!) negative judgments. If I create good, good will come back to me.

4. Start off on the right foot. I have to admit something to you: I didn't go into Target with a positive attitude. I had a feeling it would be too crowded and people would be frantic so I started off my shopping trip on the wrong foot by thinking negatively. One of the best ways to focus on the present and stay festive is to not go into any situation (no matter what!) with a negative attitude. Starting off on the right foot will give even the most stressful situation a chance to be a positive experience.

If I'd tried these four tactics in Target, I'm certain I would have been able to enjoy my time there (or at least make it through without wanting to run from the place!). It's tempting to get caught up in the energy of others -- especially when so many people are fueled by the same so-much-to-do panicky vibe. Even though nothing on my list was imperative and I wasn't under any stress at all, I felt unusually stressed just being around stressed people. Despite the energy I was picking up on from others, I still had a choice to be positive in that moment. Even though I'd call my dashing from Target a fail in the "staying present" department, I'm not going to give up on being present this holiday season. Stress or not, I'm going to use the four tactics above to stay focused on the festive!

how to maximize your holiday happiness

The holiday season is upon us and that means it's time for lots of fun things like holiday parties and family gatherings and extra tasks piled on our to-do lists. Wait, that doesn't sound like fun to you? Me neither. As much as I love the holidays, I don't love the stress that often comes along with the most festive time of the year. However, I recently stumbled across this post -- A Month of Celebration -- on The Calm Space and it inspired me to think about what I want this holiday season to be like. It reminded me that I do, in fact, have a choice about how I handle the holidays. So I've decided that this year I'll resolve to do a few things that will keep the holidays more festive and less frustating.


This Year, I Will...

... make the best of whatever situation I'm in.
I know this can be particularly hard if you're not at all interested in doing some of the required holiday activities, but, believe me, making the best of a situation is only going to help you. When it comes to the holidays, there are things you have to do sometimes -- and making the best of them is only going to make them easier to get through.

... see the good in the people around me. Oddly enough, spending time with the people you love the most can be pretty difficult. It's tempting to see their faults, to recall the things they may have done that have hurt you in the past. But this holiday, don't do those things. Instead, shun all negative thoughts and focus on the good things these people bring to your life. Be positive.

... remind myself everything (and everyone) doesn't have to be perfect. We build the holiday season up all year long and suddenly it arrives and doesn't always live up to our ultra-high expectations. This year, lower your expectations to a reasonable level and remind yourself that this is just one holiday season. It doesn't have to be perfect. You don't have to be perfect. And, yeah, other people don't have to be perfect either.

... stay in the moment to avoid unnecessary stress. When you start thinking about the past or the future, that's when you can really get caught up in stress. The holidays should be, at the very least, a day you can focus on the now and stop worrying about the past year or the year to come. Hard as it might be, make a commitment to spend your holidays in the present moment. Focus on the now.

... help others out -- and ask for help when I need it. Help can be a tricky thing. We all need it at times, but too often we don't remember to offer it or ask for it. Even though it might be hard to keep in mind, try your best to ask others if they need help and ask yourself if you might need help from others. It can be tough to ask for it sometimes, but it will make your holiday a lot happier if you do!

... take it one day, hour, minute at a time. Remember this holiday is only one part of the year and, even when it's tough, you can certainly get through it. If you're faced with troublesome situations, remind yourself that you can get through the next minute, the next hour, the next day. Stress levels may be high, but try to keep everything in perspective and stay calm.

... remember that I'm more than this one day of the year. People who put a lot of emphasis on the holidays often have a hard time remembering their worth is much more than a single day or event. The day doesn't have to perfect and neither do you. You are so many things and it's essential to remind yourself that the outcome of one day does not represent your entire worth as a person. Remember: it's just one day.

... put myself in positive situations (and avoid negative ones). Though you may not be able to choose exactly how you spend the holidays, you often have a choice when it comes to some situations you put yourself in. If you know a certain person drives you nuts, do what you can to stay away from him or her. And, whenever you can, find the people that inspire you and make you feel great and spend time with those individuals.

... not be afraid to say no. With the holidays often comes pressure to say yes. Though I'd certainly advise doing what you can to make the most of any situation you find yourself in, know that it's okay to say "no" when you need to. If something makes you unhappy or uncomfortable, don't do it. Some might call you a Scrooge, but if you want to be happy this holiday, you have to remain true to yourself.

... celebrate the little things (because, really, those are the big things). I'm a big fan of looking at the big picture, but one of the best pieces of advice I can offer you this holiday season is this: celebrate the little things. These are the things that might not seem like a big deal, but they are the things you will end up remembering when the day is over. Pay attention and all of those little things will add up to one big celebration.

Every day -- even the holidays -- we have a choice to experience the world from a positive or a negative point of view. As much as fun and festiveness is part of the holiday season, choosing a positive outlook can be tricky when all of the extra holiday stress is piled on. Give some thought to the suggestions above and see if those will help you make you maximize your happiness this holiday season. And if those don't work for you, think about some of the ways that you can choose a positive attitude this holiday. Just taking some time to think about what could make your holidays happier can have a big impact on your outlook.


inspiration + advice from marcel the shell



You know you're a bit behind on a YouTube sensation when the star already has a best-selling book. Yes, it's only recently that I've discovered the silliness that is Marcel the Shell. If you're like me and haven't seen it yet, here are the videos: Marcel the Shell with Shoes On and Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, Two. I've definitely heard a few people say they don't really get it, but every time I see Marcel I crack up. The voice (Saturday Night Live's Jenny Slate) is hilarious enough, but the things he says really make me laugh. Even if you don't like (or get) Marcel the Shell, you can't certainly learn a thing or two from the shoe-wearing shell. Below are some life lessons from Marcel. 


Advice from Marcel the Shell

1. Go with the flow.
"If you do drive a bug, you have to be pretty easy going because you're only going to get to go where the bug wants to go." 

Marcel, being a shell, doesn't have a lot of options when it comes to travel. His bug isn't very reliable and apparently the bus (a caterpillar) isn't running either. But does Marcel complain about it? Nope! He accepts the fact that, if he wants to ride a bug, he's probably going to end up in the kitchen where there's a maple sugar spill. He knows it's not ideal, but he's willing to go with the flow. 

2. Like what you have.
"We don't have a newspaper. But sometimes I'll just read a receipt. I like that 'cause I like to get a feel for daily life."

Marcel might not have a newspaper, but instead of letting that get him down, he reminds us of what he does have: receipts. It would benefit us all to be a bit more like Marcel and, instead of whining about what don't have, focus on what we do have. Not only does Marcel not dwell on the fact that he doesn't have a newspaper, but he highlights why he enjoys have receipts to read. Very positive indeed! 

3. Question the haters. 
"Sometimes people say that my head is too big for my body and then I say, 'Compared to what?'" 

I love the sassiness with which Marcel says "what?" in this line. And it raises such a good point. What if the next time you found yourself saying something negative, you asked yourself: Compared to what? It really does put things in perspective and makes us realize that we're often comparing things unfairly. Don't let other people tell you how things should or shouldn't be. And don't do it to yourself either. Instead, accept things as they are. 

4. Think positively.
"It was pretty hard at the time but now I always think, 'Ohhh, she's traveling.'"

When Marcel lost his sister (she was carried away by a balloon), he could have been down about it. He could have focused on the negative aspects -- not seeing her again, etc. -- but instead he thought positively about it. Instead of focusing on life without her, he focused on the fun and excitement she was probably experiencing while traveling. Loss is a hard thing to cope with, but Marcel does what he can to make the most of it. 

5. Smile a lot.
"Guess why I smile a lot? Uh, cause it's worth it." 

Cheesy as it sounds, smiling is worth it. I know I don't do enough of it and hearing these lines from Marcel (my favorite lines from both videos) motivates me to smile more often. Oddly, it's something I forget to do, but it really does make a difference. Such a small thing can impact not only your day but the day of someone else as well. If you take one lesson from Marcel, let it be this: smile! 

6. Love who you are.
"I'm partially a shell as you can see on my body, but I also have shoes and a face. So I like that about myself and I like myself and I have a lot of other good qualities as well."

This line comes from Marcel's introduction of himself. How often do we introduce ourselves in such a positive light? How often do we highlight the things we like about ourselves for the benefit of others? Not as often as we should probably. It's not always easy to love yourself, but if a shell with one eye and shoes can do it, so can we. Don't be afraid to love who you are -- and let others know it!

7. Make your own reality.  
"My one regret in life is that I'll never have a dog. But sometimes I tie a hair to a piece of lint and I drag it around." 

Marcel might not be able to have a dog, but he does what he can to make the most of it. Yes, there is a bit of disillusionment here, which is something I wouldn't recommend in real life. You don't want to start making things up and pretending, but you can find ways to work with what you have. Life is never perfect, but if you make an effort you can find ways to live a life that's not filled with regret. 

I can't quite believe that I just wrote an article about a shell. But this just goes to show you that you never know where you'll find inspiration. I certainly never expected to learn anything from a silly, talking shell, but here I am, reflecting on his tiny wisdom. Sure, he's fictional, but his positive attitude is very real. It's something we can -- and should -- aspire to. If you want even more Marcel, you can buy his book here