How to Make Easier Decisions during the Holidays: Deciphering between Activity Focus and Relationship Focus

There seems to be a common myth floating around that if you aren’t completely depleted of your time, energy and money after the holidays then “you aren’t doing it right.”  Fear not, I am happy to let you know that this is not your only option!  In order to feel a bit more in control of how you are celebrating the holidays, I want to introduce you to a new way of thinking, and in turn let you regain (or at least save) some of that time, energy and money.

Activity focused and relationship focused are two ways of thinking of your experiences, and with practice, can allow you to be more mindful of your decision making – during any time of the year, not just holidays!  Activity focused thinking is when you most value the actual thing, or experience, that is currently happening right in front of you.  This is typically the less draining of the two focuses, but not always the case.  Relationship focused (or significance focused) is when you most value the meaning, the bigger picture, the dynamics, or the message of what is happening.  

So if you are hosting your family, where do you put your emphasis? Is it on “hosting” or on “family”?  “Hosting” emphasis would be the activity focused option, and “family” emphasis would be the relationship focused option.  If your focus is on the hosting, you would give more energy and time to decor and what you are serving rather than making sure every single family member is in attendance.  And with the relationship focus, you would make sure your loved ones can all make it to the party and give each quality attention rather than care if the cookies were bought at the store instead of homemade.  Both ways of thinking will work but not for everyone, which makes this a very personal type of assessment.

Now, at this point when I teach this to my clients I often hear, “but I want to focus on EVERYTHING, not just one or the other.” And then I ask, “How is that working so far?” and a response similar to “exhausted” is given.  So to work towards understanding what works best for you, ask yourself the following questions to know which experiences you prefer to be activity focused or relationship focused:

Some types of holiday experiences that I hear concerns about include gift giving, hosting, religious services, family interactions, holiday cards, traditions, making/bringing food, and decorations.  Try asking yourself the questions above in regards to each of these topics to start your new holiday tradition of “focus decision making.” Once you understand your type of focus on each experience, it will be easier for you to set healthy boundaries and realistic expectations.

If you go into an experience with one type of focus, and find that your energy is beginning to deplete, try switching to the other type of focus and see what happens.  It might be helpful later on to then assess why the original focus did not work out so well and what you can do about it for the future.  

Don’t forget that overall, you get to choose how to spend your time, energy and money how you wish, but to give 100% to absolutely everything is unrealistic and can make for a less happy holiday.  The control is yours when you decide which experiences deserve your extra attention and which things just need to get done.  Use this change in thought process any day of the year, but I especially hope that you are able to gift yourself a less stress-inducing holiday this season.

Joy Walsh is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at The Lighthouse Emotional Wellness Center.  The Lighthouse, located in Schaumburg, IL, was the first emotional wellness center to be established in the Midwest over 15 years ago, serving as a guiding light towards healthy relationships. Our counseling services are provided for couples, families and individuals, to assist them in creating happy, healthy and empowered lives. For more information, check us out at www.LighthouseEmotionalWellness.com, or call us at 847-253-9769.

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