How to have a Happier Holiday

The holidays can be an overwhelming tide of emotions, expectations, and tasks. Boundaries are a great way to keep everything in check.

#1: Put all of your boundary focus on you.  What? Not on your crazy relatives, or the date someone brings to dinner, just you.  You can only control you.

Your boundaries are not some miracle wand you can wave to get everyone else to do what you want this holiday season. That is not what boundaries are about. Use your boundaries to free your mind of, “Things you can’t control”.

Boundaries are about how you will take care of you, your own emotions, and your own expectations.

#2: Use an OPTION or ALTERNATIVE when necessary. If there is a family that indulges in things you don’t like, such as too many gifts, too much drinking, too much eating; it is okay to take steps to take care of you. You can excuse yourself from participating. You can join in later or earlier, you can skip anything that is unhealthy or dangerous for you. In fact, please skip things that are unhealthy for you. You can bring foods that you can eat. Think ahead about options that will work for you and take steps to not be in the back seat when your drunken relative is driving.

If your family has dangerous and unhealthy behaviors, maintain control of your own transportation and safety at all times.

#3:  Make a list of 3 private things that you will find deeply satisfying during the holidays. These can be personal things that you enjoy, whatever gives you a little quiet and peace of mind. You may find some surprising simple things on your list. My 3 things were time to see the snow, reading a novel, and knitting. Use your boundaries to protect your time from work, your phone, and other distractions and do a few satisfying things during the holidays.

#4: Respect your feelings.  If you have grief, or sorrow, that visits you during the holiday season, allow yourself time with your feelings. The holidays have many symbols and triggers for our memories, and our feelings may swell. Try not to isolate yourself. Make coffee or tea dates, go for a walk with people who are accepting and understanding. Join in with others. Do some art, or journaling, or poetry, or singing, to let your feelings be expressed. Try not to hold everything in. It makes the ache worse. If you have lost a loved one, bring out their photo, light a candle by it, wear something that reminds you of them. 

#5. Give calm, peaceful, appreciative energy to yourself and others as much as possible. Many people experience higher stress during the holiday season. Try not to take decisions or actions personally. The decisions and actions other people make are about them, not about you. Notice if you are spending time adding to your own mental stress by nurturing anger and resentment or if you are helping yourself get calmer and appreciative. 

The most important boundary to have a happier holiday is be fully present. Sometimes our minds get busy judging, expecting, wanting, and we miss the beautiful moment that is happening. Quiet the noise in your head, and notice your present.  

Join me for my next Transform Your Boundaries® Workshop  December 4, 9am-12pm

Meet The Book Midwife

 Deborah Nedelman, Ph.D, is my book midwife.  I shape my books with her by my side because she has both the clinical understanding and the diving skills required for writing. She writes, offers writing workshops, and works with individual clients as a manuscript coach and an editor. One of her workshops is called Writing To Heal. My book, Transform Your Boundaries, has a journal component, to encourage you to write and dive into your experience.

There is a large body of psychological and medical literature that supports the idea that writing about difficult life events can enhance the healing process, both emotionally and physically.” Deborah Nedelman

1.You were a therapist and a psychotherapy professor. When and why did you decide to become a writing coach?

As you know, Sarri, I worked as a clinical psychologist in private practice for 35 years. In 2005, I wrote a self-help book with a colleague. In that process, I realized that writing was what got my juices flowing. After that book was published (with the help of a writing coach), I had caught the bug and began writing and taking classes in writing and editing. I eventually retired from my psychology practice and enrolled in an MFA program in Creative Writing through the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, where I focused on fiction. That experience was life changing for me.

In addition to gaining skills in the craft of writing, I learned a tremendous amount about the process of getting a manuscript from the concept stage to publication. It seemed natural to combine my personal interaction skills, so important from my days as a therapist, with those I’ve gained in my years as a writer and student of writing. I now lead writing workshops where participants feel safe, supported, and encouraged to write from their hearts, and I offer individual manuscript coaching where I get the pleasure of working with writers to craft their vision into reality.

2. What is the difference between keeping a journal and writing to heal?

I am a deep believer in the power of journaling to promote growth and self-understanding (as well as a way to keep track of the spontaneous insights and bits of genius that pop up in all our minds from time to time and demand to be written down). And, yes, journaling can lead to healing, without a doubt.

A large body of psychological and medical literature supports the idea that writing about difficult life events can enhance the healing process, both emotionally and physically. But it is easy to get into an unproductive loop in a personal journal, where a writer goes over the same material from the same perspective without gaining new insights essential to healing. On the other hand, it can be tempting to avoid writing about traumatic events; without a sense of safety and a structure for the writing, the risk of re-traumatization is very real.

I have developed a Write to Heal workshop to provide a supportive structure for healing to happen. This structure is based on the work of James Pennebaker, Ph.D., Pat Schneider, and John Fox, among others. The most recent workshop I offered was co-lead by my colleague, Iris Graville, an experienced writer and maker of handcrafted journals. In that workshop, we incorporated the process of creating a hand-made journal as a safe container for exploring the charged subjects we wrote about.  Participants left with a set of questions to use as prompts for continued work, an emotional vocabulary list to facilitate deeper examination, and a journal they’d made themselves to contain the process.

3. What are some tips you would suggest to readers to use writing as a path to heal? What are some ways to begin?

Be gentle with yourself. When you set out to write about trauma, whether physical or emotional, it is important to be compassionate with yourself. This process can be painful, angering, confusing, and often, extremely tiring.

Give yourself permission to make mistakes. Give yourself permission not to write to anyone else’s standards – that includes Daniel Webster’s! Don’t worry about things like grammar, spelling, or punctuation.

Take your time. Be patient with yourself. This writing is for you and is best thought of as a way to help you reframe your experience so you can move on. Don’t push yourself to write about a traumatic event in any kind of chronological way. Try focusing in a particular detail, perhaps the shoes you were wearing or the taste in your mouth. Just stay with that detail and describe it as closely as you can. Let other things emerge as they will.

4. You have written psychotherapy and self-help books. What advice do you have for someone who wants to write a self-help book?

I love coaching folks writing self-help! So often these are brilliant therapists or experts in some other field who know so much and are great teachers, but they may not be experienced at writing books. It’s quite challenging to convert a body of knowledge into an effective self-help book.

My first bit of advice is to read! Go to the library or your local independent bookstore and pick up a stack of self-help books on a variety of subjects. Spend some time analyzing what works best for you: look at how the book is organized, how it is laid out, whether it is effectively illustrated. Are there specific things that grab your attention? Would you like your book to work in the same ways or are there things that won’t work for your subject matter? And while you’re at it, start a list of where these books were published and, if you can find them, the names of the agents who sold these books to the publishers. Such a list will be invaluable when you begin your journey to publication.

5.What have you been writing lately?

I am always working on a number of projects at the same time.

I recently completed the umpty-umpth draft of a novel I’ve been working on for years. It’s about family secrets and lies, loyalty, and logging in the Pacific Northwest during the spotted owl controversy.

I have a number of short stories in various stages of completion and am working on bringing them together into a threaded collection of tales.

And I’m playing around with some memoir material that has been bubbling up in me for a while.

You can reach Deborah at

Starting September 1, 2015 Deborah will be editor-in-chief of Soundings Review, a literary journal produced by The Northwest Institute of Literary Arts.
Soundings Review, which publishes works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, as well as writing for children and young adults, is always looking for good writing.
Soundings Review is open to different styles and voices, and is passionate about accessibility and depth. The submissions window for the Winter 2016 issue opens September 1.  Check the website for submission guidelines.

Opportunities to submit your writing to Transform Your Boundaries:

Transform Your Boundaries is sponsoring a writing contest. We are looking for an essay about an experience when you learned a powerful lesson about boundaries. Nearly every story ever told involves boundaries. Boundaries are integral to how we live, how we choose relationships, and how we make decisions. We are looking for essays that reveal the power of what happens when you really listen to what is a Yes for you and what is a No, and how your life changes. Submit by October 10. Prize money for best essays. More info:

"Where does self-awareness come from?"

This was a question I was asked in a boundary workshop.  Self-awareness is a big part of boundary awareness, so this question is a significant question.

When I was asked the self-awareness question, my first response was, “Where do you think it comes from?” Not in an obnoxious way, but I was genuinely curious. I wanted to understand more about his question.

He said, “I think it comes from those personality assessments like Myers Briggs, right? Should I take more assessments to be more self-aware?”

What an important question!

First, I’d like to distinguish between profile-personality assessments and self-awareness.

I have learned some useful things about myself from profile assessments. One valuable lesson I learned from these profiles is how, ‘a strength can become unbalanced’. On the Leadership 2.0 Assessment, I am a “maximizer”. A maximizer takes things from good to great, optimizes and pushes groups to excel. That all sounds like a strength, however if I am too driven in my maximizer mode, I can become a “workaholic” and over-work.

Profile assessments, may provide a window and some words for noticing your tendencies, but they will not build the scaffolding of self-awareness that you will need for personal and professional development over a lifetime.

Self-awareness is gained through an on-going process of reflection. As a therapist I have learned that self-awareness is not a place you ever reach, it is a journey you keep taking. 

I was so touched by this question in the boundary workshop because I realized that in my field as a therapist, self-reflection is a big part of working with others, but there are many professions that probably don’t teach it or discuss it, and if they do, it may not be to the depth that therapists are immersed in it.

And yet, every successful leader will find themselves on a journey of self-reflection and growing awareness. It is an important leadership skill. Leaders with greater self-awareness understand how they are impacting others. Leaders also learn what it takes for them to bring all their strengths and the strengths of others forward.

But let’s return to the original question, how do you do it?

Self-awareness is a journey of ongoing observation. You begin by noticing. You are not only observing yourself, but you are observing your interactions with people.

Some people have found that their noticing is sharpened by writing (journal style), meditation, running, or quiet walking while thinking about interactions you have had through the day.

As you reflect on an interaction, you ask yourself questions; Questions are the routes you take on this on-going journey.

Here are some sample questions for reflecting on an interaction:

What else did I notice? What does my gut tell me, my feelings, my intuition?

Was there something I think we should come back to?

Do I wish I handled something differently?

Did I seem emotional or reactive to something? What is that?

           What did I learn about the other person?

           Is there more I want to know about them?

           Is a boundary needed here?

My questions are just some questions to get you started. You can ask yourself your own questions when you reflect.

You can also reflect with other people by debriefing. You can do this with someone one on one or you can do it in a group.

In business, a group can reflect together on questions:

What did we do well?

How could we improve?

What did we learn from the experience?

What can we predict about the future based on the experience?

What can’t we predict?

What will make us stronger?

While these questions may sound familiar, I have often seen in business that people do not go to the reflection table often enough. These questions have more value if they are examined often.

The LEAN manufacturing process uses, “The 5 Whys” as a reflection and awareness tool. This form of questioning forces people to get underneath issues and look deeper.

When you reflect with someone one on one, pick someone who will ask good questions.

I have certain people in my life who ask me good questions. I have lunch or coffee meetings with them when I feel stuck or if I feel I could use some insight in handling a situation. I often will ask them, “What would you do in this situation?” I have gained some useful awareness with this question.

To me, the heart of self-awareness is found in a lifelong process. It is about staying in a conversation with yourself and others. It involves asking questions to probe below the surface of things. You carve who you want to be out of your interactions, your challenges, and then push yourself to grow.

Back to our original question in the boundary workshop: He asked an essential

You can’t really improve or know where your boundaries are without self-awareness. Boundaries come from the inside. Self- awareness comes from the inside. Asking yourself where you need a boundary is a self-awareness question.

If you want to become more self-aware, ask yourself specific questions as part of a daily process.

Decide what the important questions are for you.

Listen for your answers.

What you do with that awareness is the next step.

The World Happiness Report 2015 and You

Oh yes, there is A World Happiness Report 2015 and it was first issued in 2012 in support of a United Nations Summit on Happiness and Well-being. The 2015 report is focused on how nations are starting to use well-being and happiness as a way to guide public policy and development.

The happiness data is being used to improve sustainable development, improve mental health for children, and create community-level supports for happiness. 

It is exciting to see there is an interest in happiness and well-being. The World Happiness Report reviews life reports about stress, depression, pain, sadness, ability to sleep at night, feeling safe, trust within a community. 

As you can guess, we all can improve in happiness and well- being. 

Start by answering 4 questions thinking about your home, your work, and your community.

1-What could you do to increase your happiness?
2-What could you do to lower your stress?
3-What could you do to contribute to the happiness of others?
4- How can your leadership become an influence to lower stress and increase happiness?

I find this report relieving to read. Though our country includes the pursuit of happiness as our reason for being, we seem to have lost sight of it as a priority. We have so much work to do to improve on well-being. 

I do believe a significant way to improve well-being is to  connect to the power of your Yes and No. To listen to your boundaries. Some of the benefits of living in alignment with your own Yes and No is it will allow you to lower your stress and increase your happiness. As you develop healthy boundaries, you will be able to support others to have healthy boundaries and better self-care.

What Is a Boundary Pusher and How to Set Limits

Who is the person you find most annoying to deal with? This person seems to exhaust you, contacting you constantly and never satisfied. The irritating requests come at all times of the day and things that were resolved are brought back up again. You might feel like this person’s personal complaint department! It just never ends!

This person is a boundary pusher. Boundary pushers can show up anywhere: your customer, your employee, your father-in-law, your friend, your spouse… Your boundaries are pushed in very small ways all the time. It may even be part of your job at work to find yourself dealing with boundary-pushers all day long.

The worst strategy you can use with a boundary-pusher is trying and trying to please him. You keep thinking if you just give him what he wants, he will go away satisfied and appreciative. Oh, how wrong you are! A boundary pusher won’t be satisfied.

A boundary-pusher is engaged in the search for satisfaction that she almost never feels.
What’s the best strategy to use with a boundary pusher? Stop letting her decide if you have done a job well. You must always set the terms of the job or contract, with expectations clearly spelled out ahead of time. Since a boundary pusher will likely not know if she is satisfied or not (because remember, she is never satisfied), it’s best if you establish your own criteria for a job well done.

In addition to establishing your own criteria for success, you need to do two other things, always:

First, recognize the boundary pushers. Is the behavior a pattern?  Do you hear them expect people to serve them or take care of problems for them? Do they expect you to handle their responsibilities? Do they seem to have one problem after another?  Do they act like you “owe it to them” to solve their problems?

Second, set limits. Manage your time, access, and availability. Do not allow drop-in visits if you are someone who schedules your appointments. Boundary pushers will often not think about time or place. So, perhaps you are at your kid’s soccer game and the boundary pusher wants to discuss his job with you. It is OK to say, “I’d love to talk about your job. Let’s set a time to meet at my office. Right now, I’m watching my child play soccer.”

If you’d like to learn more about how to use your boundaries to take care of yourself and prevent stress, overload and other symptoms, come to one of my workshops, April 18th or May 8th. Register online at 

Preventing Overwhelm On the Job

Business today requires using a wide range of skills. This may be especially true if you are an entrepreneur or business owner. Notice which skill set you are using the most – or possibly over-utilizing.  For example, I am a therapist and a skilled listener. The kind of listening that I do is very focused. I use this skillset for hours at time.

In order to prevent overwhelm, it’s crucial to rest the skill that you’re using the most. Think about your business in terms of your skill set. Are you a problem solver? Negotiator? Finder-of things? Decision-maker?

I’m very reliant on my listening skills. When I come home from work, I intentionally “rest” my listening skills. I stay off the phone as much as possible. I don’t have background music playing all the time. I rest my ears and my mind.

Have you ever had tennis elbow, or some other over-use injury? Our business skills can also be “injured” from over-use. If you are a problem-solver or decision-maker all day long, it is important to rest so you can refuel and be ready for tomorrow.

Many people don’t really think about how they are using or over-using their strengths. If you don’t rest your skills, you will very likely experience depletion and burnout. It can be challenging to unplug when in the pace of business today, the start and end of the “work day” has become blurred by our use of technology.

If you’d like to learn more about how to use your boundaries to take care of yourself and prevent stress, overload and other symptoms, come to one of my workshops. My workshops can be offered at conferences or in workplaces.  Registration link is on my website for April 18 and May 8 workshops.  
April and May workshops are also offered in partnership with the Mukilteo Chamber. If you are a Mukilteo Chamber, please ask me for the registration code.

How can you recover from anxiety?

A high level of anxiety means your boundaries need to be checked. You may have too many stressors. Your mind-body-spirit may be overwhelmed. You also may not be responding to the anxiety in a way that addresses the life issue.

Are you anxious about a relationship, or job, or someone in your family with a drug/alcohol problem?
Do you worry about money or health issues? Do you feel a sense of dread about something?
Do you find yourself ignoring or postponing a decision, leaving you with anxiety or worry? Do you find yourself going silent and holding back because you are afraid to speak up or there doesn’t seem to be a point in speaking up?

Your anxiety is a signal, a warning that you may need to raise your boundary or address a situation in your life in a different way.

If you aren't using your boundaries when you get a signal, your anxiety symptoms may get worse. 
Anxiety is not the only signal we get to raise our boundaries. Sleeplessness, depression, and other symptoms are also signals that we may need to manage our boundaries.

Boundaries involve more than your relationships to other people; boundaries are about how you relate to yourself.

Your boundaries are your life preserver. They help you take care of yourself at all times. We receive signals and often symptoms prompting us to use our boundaries. If you ignore the signals, they will get louder and the symptoms will become difficult to ignore.

We get very busy treating anxiety and other symptoms. We think that if we quiet the anxiety with medication, or yoga, the anxiety is gone. But the quieting is temporary, and you will find more symptoms coming up until you address the deeper issues that are stirring up the anxiety. Anxiety is often trying to help you. Learning how to listen and build a life preserver will help you recover from the troubling symptoms of anxiety.

Part of recovery and healing will be to dig down and understand how to strengthen your boundaries and use your life preserver tools.
Sometimes people think, "If I haven't been using my boundaries, it's because I don't have any boundaries."  This is not true!
Even if you haven't been using your boundaries, they are there, and you are getting signals to use them all the time. 
Learn to recognize your boundary signals and use boundary tools that are effective and guaranteed to help you feel better.

A few times a year, I offer a three-hour workshop to learn how to recognize the signals and strengthen your own boundaries.   The next workshop is on Whidbey Island from 9:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 21st.  At the workshop, you will gain many tools to help you recover from stress and anxiety.  Registration information is here.