Picking out a Christmas tree has been a source of stress in my life. It's silly but true.
Every year we get a fresh cut tree, doing our part to support healthy forest management. This means, no two trees are ever the same. It also means, as a family, we all have to agree on a tree, which adds to the stress.
Four years ago, after we moved into our current house we had much more space. Despite that, I picked out a squat rotund tree. It was quite a silly spectacle - a 4-foot tall tree pushing against the kitchen table in our house with ceilings over 10 feet high.
It took up precious floor space and I was so disappointed in myself for not taking its big diameter into consideration. "Duh, you have high ceilings now Ariana, no need to pick out the shortest tree!"
The following year we got a tree that was the proper height. But we didn't get a new tree stand. So the tree toppled over in the middle of the night. Ornaments broke, it made a huge mess. I lamented, "Sheesh, Ariana. You should know better."
Two years later we had the right stand for the height tree. But the tree was way too full. We couldn't push it up against the window like we normally do. So we hacked off the lower branches in the back.
It seemed like a the best option at the time. But it turns out, pine trees ooze sap out of their broken branches like a wound that never stops bleeding. "Good work Ariana, now you've got sap all over your hardwood floors and walls! What were you thinking?"
Stressing over our Christmas tree turns a joyful occasion into a draining situation. It is exhausting. And a complete waste of my energy. Nothing is gained by agonizing over what's wrong with the tree or what could have been better.
Yet, it's something I have done repeatedly. It's been an unhealthy pattern in my life. Luckily, I have the power to rewrite my unhealthy patterns and so do you!
A few years ago, I was working with a client who was new in her role as a leader. She had a long-standing habit of appeasing people and avoiding conflict.
Unfortunately, this dynamic did not bode well for her as a leader. Some people on her team were not performing at the level she expected and her diplomatic way of handling the situation was not producing the outcomes desired. She needed to have some difficult conversations.
We worked together to prepare using tools from the Conversational Intelligence framework. When I asked how it went she beamed, “it went better than I ever thought was possible.”
A few months later she had another situation she needed to handle. I asked how I could help, to which she responded, “I feel prepared. I'm actually really looking forward to it. I never thought I’d ever say that about a difficult conversation but I see them differently now.”
This was worthy of celebration. My client had successfully rewritten her pattern of appeasing people and avoiding conflict so she was able to have the difficult conversations necessary for her teams' success. This change didn't just happen, she worked hard to make it so - doing a lot of self-reflection, deepening her self-awareness, and learning new communication strategies so she could reclaim her power.
Shifting out of a limiting pattern into an empowering practice is well worth the effort. Limiting patterns are a huge source of energy drain. They zap our mental, emotional and physical energy in a manner disproportionate to what's actually needed.
Lisa Feldman Barret is a researcher and neuroscientist. In her book, How Emotions are Made, she explains the Body Budget. Every time our brains simulate a stress reaction, our Body Budget is taxed regardless of any physical exertion.
Barret's research demonstrates how powerful our thoughts and feelings are in relationship to our physical wellbeing. By stressing and agonizing over our Christmas trees I unnecessarily depleted my Body Budget. Before rewriting her limiting pattern, my client did the same thing when she had to navigate a difficult situation with an employee.
Using up one's Body Budget when the reality doesn't match the reaction quickly becomes problematic. When we expend energy due to simulations, which are typical fears of what could happen, we don't have the Body Budget to respond to more challenging situations.
Bringing our awareness to this imbalance enables us to better manage our energy - physically, emotionally, and mentally. By not overreacting, we get further on less fuel so to speak (it's akin to getting a more fuel efficient car). As we all feel the drain of living through a global pandemic, there's tremendous upside to employing tactics to conserve our Body Budget.
This year the whole process of picking out and decorating a tree felt easier. We looked at the options, narrowed it down to a few trees we liked, and agreed on one. We brought it in the house, decorated it, and 3 hours later it toppled over.
"The trees falling," I called out to my family as it landed by my feet. Time slowed to a crawl I watched our tree come crashing down but there was nothing I could do to stop it.
Rather than get mad or upset I laughed. "Every tree comes with its own adventure," I thought to myself as we cleaned up the mess. For the first time, the energy I expended over our Christmas tree actually fit the situation - there was no unnecessary drain of my Body Budget because I rewrote my limiting pattern.
Is your Body Budget overly taxed? Are you feeling worn out but have to navigate some important yet challenging situations? Check out a Leadership Circle with Ariana and reclaim control of your Body Budget. Find details and registration online here.