Strengthen your Mental Fitness at Holiday Family Gatherings

Jody Michael is the CEO and founder of Jody Michael Associates, a boutique executive coaching and career coaching company based in Chicago, with coaches in Atlanta, New York, and San Francisco. Our Accountability Mirror™ and MindMastery™ workshops will help you explore the ways you might be standing in your own way. 

The holidays evoke feelings of joy and excitement, as well as stress and perhaps anxiety toward family gatherings. With today’s politically charged climate, it’s likely there could be some uncomfortable conversations around the dinner table. Instead of succumbing to the family fights, use the opportunity to strengthen your mental fitness.

When we think of mental fitness, we usually conjure images of puzzles and exercises to keep our brains in tip-top shape. But when I coach my clients on mental fitness, I define it as the ability to remain in a neutral-to-positive physiological state for the vast majority of your day, regardless of what your environment throws at you.

One of the criteria for mental fitness is the ability to entertain multiple perspectives, even when they are not in alignment with yours. What better time to practice that than the holidays?

We are often with our families during this time, and there can be some drama that accompanies the good memories. Even the most easygoing families can experience tension. How well you can cope with those moments determines in part your mental fitness capacity.

This flexing of your mental fitness comes in handy in all aspects of your life.


In those moments it’s helpful to remember that while you can’t control another person’s reactions and behavior, you can control your own. Here are 10 tactics to increase your mental fitness and decrease the chances of engaging in the drama:

1.      Do not get defensive.
2.      Do not try to prove someone right or wrong.
3.      Do not try to win.
4.      Do not try to educate someone.
5.      Do not frame your opinion as an argument.
6.      Do come to the conversation from a place of curiosity.
7.      Do truly listen.
8.      Do try to understand the other person’s point of view.
9.      Do be open to new ideas.
10.    Do engage in deep breathing exercises.

I understand this is easier said than done when Uncle Bob is provoking you about politics, religion or some other hot button issue. However, with a little practice, you can easily manage your mood states the next time you sit down next to your argumentative uncle.

First, set an intention before you go to the family engagement. Some examples could be:

•       I am going to manage my mood and stay positive, optimistic and loving.
•       I will not incite any arguments.
•       I will not allow myself to be provoked.

If you need help, recruit an accountability buddy to attend the event with you. This ally will be your support system. Their presence may even help defuse the tension and encourage others to be on their best behavior. If not, a swift kick under the table when they notice you start to become triggered can be a wake-up call to stay true to your intention.

This flexing of your mental fitness comes in handy in all aspects of your life. The next time a colleague triggers your impatience, you can employ the same techniques to stay calm, cool and collected.



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