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Gift Yourself: How to Rid the Holidays of Must, Could Have and Should

By Vivian Banta

It's that time of year again. Some people call it the holiday season and as much as I enjoy it, I have an additional name for it as well: "The Must/Have To, Could Have and Should Season." In my mind, part of the reason, people are so stressed during the holidays has to do with all of the "must/have tos" that are running through their brains. So, they indulge themselves in various ways to compensate for the unhappiness derived from the pressure of the "have tos." Then, there comes the time of sober reflection towards the end of the year which I call the "could haves." Finally, there are the pledges to "do better" next year, which I call the "shoulds." No wonder people greet the season with equal amounts of joy and trepidation!

I am always amazed when people tell me that they "must go" to an event like a holiday party or "have to" buy a gift for someone. They express no joy in it and in fact are usually conjuring up some way to avoid it altogether. They are baffled when I ask, "Who says you must go? Why do you have to get them anything?" When they give me their justification and I respond,"Then it sounds like you made a choice about it", they are even more confused. This is not surprising when you consider that many people have not set boundaries of behavior for themselves.

Not setting boundaries or enforcing them really speaks to your sense of self-worth. When you refuse to establish these guidelines, it says that you don't value or respect yourself highly enough. For instance, in the example of the friend who doesn't want to attend the holiday party, instead of politely declining, the person is wracking their brains for a suitable excuse not to attend (sick child, flat tire, etc.) as if their desire not to go is not a good enough reason to say "no."

So, what would it look like if you did value and respect yourself enough to be in choice about the things you do, the people you allow to be around you and the way in which people treat you? By declaring and enforcing your boundaries, you will have: 1. People in your life who respect you and themselves 2. More energy because you are not being drained by feelings of guilt and fear 3. Higher standards in all aspects of your life.

Having boundaries looks pretty attractive, doesn't it? So, give yourself a gift this season and choose to set and reinforce them.

Another holiday phenomenon is seasonal blues. It's well known that the holidays can bring up feelings of sadness, stress, and anxiety as people reflect on the past year and their lives. Some see the dreams that were not realized, the opportunities missed, the goals not accomplished. Others regret actions taken, decisions made and moments lost in the whirl of living. Still others ponder unfulfilling jobs or unhappy relationships.

While it is a good and healthy thing to review the past, it is not productive to replay these things over and over in your head and kicking yourself over them. I call this playing the "could've, should've, would've" game. It doesn't move you forward and stifles your happiness with the present. So, yes, review past events but choose to change, accept or release them. You cannot change history but you can make a new future for yourself.

One possible outcome from reviewing your past and creating boundaries is to find yourself in choice about what you "want to" include in your ideal life. How different that is from "have to" and "could haves", huh?!

Some people, though, miss the next step in creating an effective outcome. Come January, people start making lists of New Year's resolutions. And the key words they use are "I should fill-in-the-blank." How do you feel when you hear "should"? I know that I am immediately turned off when I hear "should." Most of us are and because of all the negative feelings that come up with the word "should", a lot of us never achieve our New Year's resolutions.

Instead of choosing goals that you think you ought to have on our list or selecting changes that other people think we should make, how powerful would it be if you just chose ones that you "want" to happen? Perhaps, if you did, you wouldn't drag your feet so reluctantly and with so little energy to try to fulfill them. Instead of having to push yourself to achieve your resolutions, you'd be excited about the things you want to do. Let's face it: what is more appealing: A list of chores or a list of desires?

So, let's say you choose the "want to" list. If you want to invite good things into your life and make changes, you have to have room. A lot of people with all the best intentions find themselves unable to complete this last step because their lives are too crowded to allow for change. Just as it is impossible to redecorate a room if it's stuffed full of furniture and knickknacks, so, too, you must create a space in which to allow yourself to grow. Artificial a line though it is, the New Year is as good a time as any to clear your life of stuff you don't need, don't want, and want to let go. Once you have some room, you'd be surprised how easily you can fill it with the stuff you want.

So, in this season of giving, give yourself the gift of self-care and growth!

Copyright 2005 Vivian Banta

About The Author

Vivian Banta (MBA/Coach U CTP Grad) is a life coach who works with people in pursuit of their passion who want to fully engage in their lives. Are you ready to plant your heart in the garden of your dreams? Find out how by visiting her website at or e-mail her at to schedule a free, 30-minute personal coaching session.


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