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Plan for Holiday Self-Care By Mike Haarer

Participate in NOvember For the Holiday

We all know that the holiday season can tend to be a stressful time of year if we are not intentional about managing how we spend our time and energy. The busyness of the season affects all areas of our personal and professional lives. As leaders, it is wise to do some self-reflection, planning, and then intentional action to set ourselves up for not just surviving, but truly thriving and enjoying the holiday season. We also have the opportunity to impact the way others experience peace or chaos during this time as well. 

This year, I invite you to prepare for this holiday season by taking part in NOvember! That’s right, to fully embrace the reason for the season, we need to start by strengthening our “no” muscle. One of the reasons I believe so many of us are stressed and overwhelmed during the holidays is because any flaws in our interpersonal behavioral patterns are emphasized and strained due to the intensity of all that goes on during this season. For many leaders, this includes a lack of intentionality around setting personal or even professional boundaries.

Here are three reasons people find it hard to say, “NO.”

People Pleasing

This is a pattern of over-accommodating to meet the needs of others that has its roots in the desire to maintain the friendship or admiration of others. For a host of reasons, we unconsciously, yet repeatedly, tell ourselves that it is more important to keep others happy than it is to make wise decisions with our time and energy. Sometimes as leaders we have to be honest with ourselves about whether our decisions are aimed at doing the right thing or being liked. 


 Often with the best of intentions and even a deeply-rooted faith at its foundation, this is a pattern of behavior that habitually denies one’s own needs, even to personal detriment. Leaders exhibiting this pattern may believe that this type of self-sacrifice is what their faith requires of them or that this is their duty to make the world a better place. We can even develop a “hero complex” where we think it’s our job to personally rescue everyone we meet. What we don’t consciously realize is that continually depleting our own resources and reserves without attending to our own needs is not a sustainable long-term path for loving, giving to, or impacting others. 

Caretaking Enabling

Leaders exhibiting this pattern may see those around them through a lens of neediness or even weakness. We may naturally step into the parent role and allow those around them to be in a child role, helpless dependent role, or even a victim role. By caretaking others, we can get a nice internal reward for feeling like we are doing something good. In reality, our enabling patterns may actually foster helplessness or inappropriate dependent patterns in others that keep them stuck where they are at, and dependent on us as leaders to always be there for them. 

Conflict Avoiding

I venture to say that most people, aside from maybe 8’s on the Enneagram, do not relish challenge or conflict with others. We would rather avoid difficult conversations and go great lengths to avoid hurting others’ feelings. What we may not realize is that boundaries and healthy conflict actually enhance relationships. When we care enough to tell each other the truth with grace, this actually fosters trust and connection. 

Give yourself space to be present this holiday season.

So, this NOvember, I invite you to take steps that will allow you to meaningfully engage in the holiday season with those you love. Here are some activities for strengthening your “NO” muscle which, although counterintuitive at first, will help you to be fully present with everything and everyone you say, “YES” to:

A Weekly No

Say NO to at least one request per week. It is often helpful to remember that when you say “yes” to the person in front of you at the moment, you are also saying “no” to others in your life. For example, saying yes to an extra project at work may mean saying “no” to meaningful time engaging with your spouse, tucking your kids in at night, or enjoying a connection with a friend. So, each week in NOvember, be mindful of what is being asked of you and challenge yourself to decline an offer, opportunity, or exciting new work project in order to free yourself for more time with those you love or more time to refuel your tank. 

Quit One Thing

Many of us tend to be overcommitted in regard to our roles and responsibilities. I have a couple people in my life, currently my wife and my boss who, when I tell them I want to start an exciting new activity or opportunity, will invariably ask me what I’m going to give up to make time for it. The time will come from somewhere. Take an inventory of your commitment and decide what it’s time to let go of. For some, this may be a volunteer position or a league or group of some kind. For others, it may be a decision to quit spending significant time on TV or social media in order to create time for meaningful connection or activities that fuel, instead of drain, life and energy. 

Have the Conversation

Have a difficult conversation you’ve been avoiding. You can probably think of at least one conflict you’ve been avoiding. Take a small risk to step into a healthy conflict that will allow you to experience that having a truthful conversation (with lots of grace and compassion) will foster a closer connection than years of playing nice. 

I wish you all the best as you explore ways that you can take part in NOvember this year so that you can create space and energy for a meaningful and rejuvenating holiday season!


Mike Haarer is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Executive Director of Compass Rose Academy, a Christian residential treatment center for teen girls, located in Indiana. Also adjunct faculty with the Townsend Institute at Concordia University Irvine, Mike enjoys teaching, training, and presenting on a variety of topics including counseling skills, trauma-informed care, psychodynamic psychotherapy, and leadership.

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