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The Flourish Bulletin December 2022

In this Bulletin…

November has simply flown by for me. I enjoyed speaking at the BAPOC mindfulness symposium and presenting a workshop for the VVM, a Dutch Mindfulness teachers Association. I spent several years teaching the Mindfulness at work curriculum to mindfulness trainers in the Netherlands, so it was nice to be back working with a group of people I love working with. In both instances I was talking about two of my favourite subjects: down to earth, pragmatic Mindfulness; and the importance of intention. Intention is the most underrated power in the universe. As humans we all have the power to set our Intentions for our lives, and it costs nothing! More about this later but trust me its important and could change your life.

I have also been putting the finishing touches to the PowerPoint slides and resources that accompany my newest mindfulness curriculum MindfulnessAWT. As you can see from the logo, it is designed to help people move from frazzled to focused. More about this later in the newsletter.

In tandem with my mindfulness and intention work I have been teaching workshops on how to ‘Supercharge your sleep’ and on ‘Digital Downtime’ – helping people to work better with tech.

Outside work I have been helping my small village prepare for Christmas. A large Christmas tree has been ordered, which will be delivered this weekend. Its our tradition for villagers to come and hang their own decorations on the tree and share a glass of mulled wine too. We also have a ‘living advent calendar’ in the village this year. Each night a new Christmas window will be revealed in one of the village houses which will then remain lit every evening until the end of advent. Its my turn to display a window on the 7th of December. Wish me luck!

How to have a stress-less Christmas

As the adverts keep on telling us, Christmas is now a season, not just a day. That’s my excuse for putting up my Christmas tree early. My Christmas tree has not a bauble in sight. Its full of every imaginable animal festive themed ornament. The number of animals that inhabit the tree grow every year.

Those of us that celebrate Christmas look forward to our favourite family traditions each year: fun filled Christmas parties, cosying up with loved ones next to the Christmas tree and a roaring fire, spending time with family and friends, not to mention buying and receiving perfect gifts. This utopian vision can be far removed from the reality that so many of us experience.

For many people the festive fun is overshadowed by stress and pressure triggered by self-imposed expectations of how the perfect Christmas should be. Here are a few tried and tested tips that I have shared with coaching clients and groups of busy people over the years.

1: Schedule time out for recreation or relaxation.

‘But Christmas is the holiday season’ I hear you say. ‘Why do I need to schedule time out’? Many of us take extended breaks for Christmas but there is a mountain of things to occupy our time, many of which we feel obligated to do rather than want to do. Tidying, decorating, or even refurnishing rooms to avoid ‘housebarrassment’ when relatives and friends visit is just one example. Christmas shopping in busy places with long queues when you don’t know what to buy people is another example. Christmas can be stressful. Make sure you schedule some time for your own self care. Add it to your ‘to do list’ near the top if you have one. You might carve out 30 minutes of exercise time, a coffee with a friend, or a soak in the tub. The busier you are, the more essential it becomes that you do this.

2. Let go of unrealistic expectations

The media paint images of the perfect Christmas that few of us can possibly live up to. This is compounded by pictures on social media of people you know having ‘perfect’ Christmas celebrations, in the ‘perfect’ house or party venue, wearing incredible costly outfits. With the cost-of-living crisis biting for many, we need to set realistic expectations. We can get lovely presents that our loved ones will value without breaking the bank. We can create special meals rich in love and care.

We can practice ‘minding the gap’ between how we think things should, must or ought to be vs present moment reality. Within this gap we can create so much self-inflicted pain and suffering that can be avoided. The simple act of accepting things ‘just as they are’ can take practice but will make a huge difference to your happiness this Christmas.

3. Drop expensive, high-stress rituals.

Do you drag your kids to expensive shows just because ‘it's a tradition!’ If your kids are whining every step of the way, why are you doing it? Christmas family traditions are great, but sometimes you outgrow them as a family. Let go of expensive, high-stress rituals and replace them with something simple and universally appealing, like a cooking together or playing cheesy board games.

4. Set boundaries.

If Christmas tension becomes too much, remember you don’t have to do it all or see everyone or do all the things. If you’re not excited about an event, or if social plans drain rather than nourish you — let go of them. Focus instead on time with healthy people and healthy, happy conversations. If you must spend Christmas day in the company of people who deplete you, remember its just one day. Try to schedule some secret time out for mindfulness. A short mindfulness of breath exercise or body scan exercise will help you to reboot your brain ready for the rest of the day to come.

5. Remember to have fun.

As you decorate the tree, watch Christmas films with your family, or take a drive round to see the Christmas lights, take a deep breath and fully appreciate the moment. Give yourself permission to forget about all those tasks still left on your to-do list. Focus on fun, laughter, and joy.

The neuroscience of feeling Christmassy

What is it about Christmas that evokes joy, happiness, and a sense or warmth? What’s the neuroscience behind feeling Christmassy? As the nights lengthen and Christmas approaches, I also love to see Christmas decorations light up the night sky. It makes me smile and lifts my spirits. There’s a good reason for this.

Christmas twinkling lights and sparkly decorations can trigger a release of serotonin and dopamine in your brain. Dopamine is associated with reward-seeking behaviour and pleasure seeking — the reason we’re drawn to those Christmas mine pies, hot chestnuts and mulled wine — or stopping by to see the light displays on a local street. Serotonin reinforces feelings of worth and a sense of belonging — the reason many of us have our own holiday traditions that we repeat year after year.

At Christmas the hormone oxytocin plays a starring role. Oxytocin is a powerful hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. Oxytocin is linked to warm, fuzzy feelings. It can lower stress and anxiety. It regulates our emotional responses and is linked to the formation of positive memories.

Recalling memories of festive scenes such as you as a child with Santa, presents under the Christmas tree, or sparkling Christmas lights causes activation in brain regions like the amygdala related to the previous feeling of Christmases past.

Researchers in Japan have found a link between happiness and an area of the brain called the praecuneus. Positive emotions like joy, excitement, and feeling Christmassy and purpose in life are related within this region.

After the last three years we could all do with a serotonin rush, a dopamine hit and a big glug of oxytocin!

Regardless of whether we feel happy or stressed in the festive season we all have within us the resources to improve that Christmas feeling. If you are dreading it, remember that your brain is simply playing the old recording of your feelings and experiences from previous Christmas holidays. The more positive experiences your brain has during the festive season, the more Christmas cheer you will have now and in the future.

Read more

Making 2023 the best year ever

What will be different for you in 2023?

New year is a time that we traditionally set new years resolutions. Unfortunately, few of us follow through on our plans and nothing changes as a result.

Research in study in 2007 concluded that only 12% of people who set resolutions are successful even though 52% of the participants were confident of success at the beginning.

In 2023 I urge you to set intentions rather than new years goals that are destined for failure.

The problem is that most of the goals that people set are not aligned with their purpose in life and the things that really matter. You can pursue goals for the next 10, 20 years, only to realise that this isn’t what you wanted after all. As Stephen Covey once said, “If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.”

As I detailed in last month’s Flourish Bulletin your purpose is your highest intention in life. Its why you get out of bed each day. People make the mistake that your purpose in life must be something lofty or grand, but when you peel away the layers often its something much simpler and more fundamental.