I recently spent a week with my parents. But this was no ordinary week. I was helping them close down the family home, which involved selling off most of their (our) treasures, driving across a large part of the country (with their cat), unpacking and setting up their apartment, and settling them into their new life.

The inherent chaos that comes with that territory actually revealed a simple-yet-profound lesson I wanted to share as we move into the height of the holidays—which, despite the celebratory spirit, can be the most stressful time of year.

The difference between an ordeal and an adventure is 100% ATTITUDE. 

The way we experience our circumstances in any moment has everything to do with how we interpret them. The way we frame our experience creates the lens through which we view it all. And, when we become aware of that, and recognize that we have a choice about how we interpret our circumstances, we realize how much influence we have over how we experience life in every moment.

The framing can be useful when we’re looking back over a past event, as well as looking ahead.

In a recent podcast, Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, proposed setting a “holiday theme”—a phrase or saying that represents what you want your holidays to be like. It’s a way to focus your attention, declare, and ultimately shape the holiday experience you want to have.

I realized this was kind of what I did for the week with my parents. My phrases were:

  • This is my choice.
  • Life is an adventure.
  • Be full of compassion, caring and curiosity
  • Be resourceful.

I went into that week completely clear that it was my choice to help them, as opposed to something I “had to” do. I stayed focused as much as I could on curiosity (vs. worry) and compassion (for them and for myself).

It made a big difference. When something unexpected happened – like the cat dashing out of the house and into the bushes on the morning we wanted to leave (“be resourceful!”), or the hotel fire alarm going off at 6 am (“Life is an adventure!”) — or when I started to feel impatient, these words were my reminder about how I wanted to show up.  As a result, I was able to be more available and more caring toward my parents to help them through this very big transition. And I was able to focus on small moments of joy and connection with them, and the sheer gratitude that they are still with us (at ages 87 and 91) – experiences I surely would have missed had I been framing the experience as an ordeal, or a hassle.

I’m so grateful for having had that special time with parents, and for the coaches and teachers who have helped me build the skills over the years that helped me frame my thoughts, stay present and focus on the good stuff.

What words or phrases could you adopt at work or home to create the last few weeks of 2018 in a way that really inspires you?

Rubin suggests phrases from popular holiday songs or greetings to help keep them top of mind. Like, “all is calm” if you’re likely to face family members who aren’t so much. Or, “comfort and joy” to remind yourself to take some time to enjoy the moment.  Whatever you choose, let it be your guide.

Here’s wishing you a holiday season full of compassion and grace—for others and for yourself. Stay focused on the good stuff and simply breathe through the rest.

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