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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mindsweep/Christmas's Past

Wednesday and the week is half over! Social today - lunch with friend/employee Dorothy, coffee at 3PM with neighbor Una, and tonight the writing group with me leading the prompts. And of course the monster list.

And then there's the new mega monster list! One of the activities directed by the GTD (Getting Things Done) methodology is an initial mind sweep. At first I thought they said mine sweep and I thought, "How can playing computer games make me more productive!!" But no, mind sweep is something different. Get a nice notebook and a pen with flowy ink. Even better if you are sitting in a pretty sunny room with no distractions. Label the page "Mind Sweep" and the date. Number each line and then just write down every single thing that's occupying space in your head. Everything single thing from the most mundane (brush the dog's teeth) to  the most overreaching (plan for retirement). Did this as a first step to building what they call a "trusted system".  My list has 130 items on it and I'm not done - probably need another hour with it.

As I've said before, the concept behind this is that it's not a good use of your brain to be storing and revisiting all of life's concerns. All that stuff that's swirling around, coming back around with predictability like a horse on a carousel - it's all noise. And if you're like me, it's unwelcome noise that creates an edgy discomfort, anxiety producing, enervating day. Eliminate that mental detritus and what do you have? An empty page full of possibilities. For my Landmark buddies, right about now you're sighing...'Ah, white space...nice."

Powerful yes? Combining Landmark with Getting Things Done to create a way of living that is not only full of possibilities but is highly effective and results oriented.  Landmark teaches us to free the future from the past. Getting Things Done teaches us to free our minds from task clutter while still getting those tasks done.

One thing I'm going to free myself of this year is holiday anxiety. Typically, this is the time I go into high gear, make huge plans, kill myself physically executing them, overschedule myself, setting the bar higher than the year before just because I can. Thinking about Christmas's past:

  • When I had twelve plus employees I would throw an enormously lavish expensive party and for the months preceding, I made it a personal mission to buy, for each of them, the perfect present - something they had always wanted/needed that they didn't even know they needed. I spent between $500-$1000 each. Typically the gifts were physically huge - animated lighted figures for their front lawn, an enormous terra cotta planter, a bear climbing a Christmas tree for the hearth. I wrapped these behemoths for days in signature purple and green wrapping paper. 
  • When my three girls were little, I started my Christmas shopping for them in June. It was all from catalogues. The more I ordered, the more catalogues showed in in the mailbox and I had this thing where I had to go through every single catalogue, page by page before throwing it out.  Even the ones with sporting goods!!!  I amassed their gifts at the office and, in the weeks before Christmas, pulled them out of their hiding places. I remember one holiday where the entire floor of the lower level was filled with gifts - three enormous piles with a few hundred gifts in each - waiting to be wrapped. (Did I mention the spreadsheet I kept for each child so that the giving would be absolutely fair?) And the wrapping!!! It was an Olympic event. I rigidly insisted that each gift be wrapped to perfection - that year I had over $1,000 worth of wrapping paper delivered from Marshall Fields. That was also the year the girls started opening gifts in the early morning and weren't done by noon - unwrapping was ceremonial and civilized - each gift opening watched by all. At about 11:00AM they were visibly tired and wilted. Catherine said, "Mom, can we puh-lease take a break from opening presents?"  Think I said, "No, we need to get this done - forge on!" The gifts filled the living room chest high.
  • When I first met Steve and we had a first Christmas together he was all I had in Chicago. With typical Christmas anxiety, I told him he had to get me twenty presents (keep in mind we had dated less than a year!). I bought for him twenty exquisite presents: mostly expensive clothing from Mark Shale (a suit, blazer, trenchcoat, cashmere socks, etc). He got for me things like a flashlight, a jar opener, the Clapper. I pouted.
  • Oh, and how could I forget the frenetic baking! Was just telling someone about the year when I woke at 4AM every morning and ran to the kitchen to make cookies before my work day, then raced home and made more until midnight. I dreamt about cookies - something in my brain equated cookies with happiness so I just kept cranking them out until I had thousands of them stored all over the house and even outside. I had no energy or desire to give them away - tin them up and mail them, so they just kept piling up. Finally, with a week before Christmas, it was a cookie crisis. The kids talked about a Christmas cookie intervention (not even kidding). We opened the house up to everyone - people walking down the street, the mailman, certainly friends. They were given empty tins and told to fill them up and cart them away. It was a relief when the last cookie was liberated.
We're talking some major Christmas dysfunction, right?  No more. The therapy is done.....thinking I'm mostly cured of Christmas mania. These days I use my grown up words to tell people how I feel about them - I know people love and care about me - I really never had to bribe them into loving me with gifts. I just didn't know it.

Your challenge today could be thinking about your own relationship with the holidays. Is there stuff that dredges up for you?  And dredge might not be a fair word because some of what bubbles (yes that's a nicer word) is nostalgic and sweet. I know my friend Carol will have some very bittersweet thoughts when she decorates her Christmas tree with the handmade needlepoint ornaments her mother made. Bitter because the mother is gone - sweet because of wonderful memories. My girls will think back to those bizarre Christmases where they each got several American girls dolls and try to make sense of the holiday - they were brought up to expect the heavens to open and shower them (no drown them) in luxury. Time for them (us) to make new traditions (healthy ones).  What I hope for you is a plan where the next month and a half can be a time of closeness and reflection without derailing your life. This DOES NOT have to be a time of excess, sadness, fatigue, fiscal imprudence. Less, less, less is more more more!



  1. I'm glad I could add to the social part of your day! Thanks for the great conversation and the tea. Here's to more neighborly coffee klatches.

  2. Yay for coffee klatching - feeling like Laura Petrie!!! Fun to have such a smart and accomplished neighbor!