10 ways to win December

How to not completely crush your physical and mental health during the holiday season

Ah, the holidays…

If your house is anything like mine, things are gearing up for the season of cheer.

Yes, the stockings are hung by the fireplace with care, the fake Christmas tree has vacated the attic for its month-long living room stint, and the sweet sounds of “Alexa, play Christmas music” are emanating from the kitchen. Not exactly a Norman Rockwell painting, but you get the idea—it’s nearly time for the festivities to begin.

Soon we’ll be winding down our remaining work obligations and calling it a year.

Sounds pretty relaxing, don’t you think?


There’s the idea of the holidays, and then there is the reality of the holidays. And in reality, while many of us will get extended breaks around Christmas-time, there is always a manic rush to get there—and when we do get there, it’s not always the Zen-like picture of tranquility that we might have imagined.

So how can we survive this season of joy that all too often feels like the season of stress?

Here are 10 strategies for you to consider that may help to make your life just a bit better during this time:

  1. Prioritize — Here’s the thing. You can’t do everything. You can’t complete every work task by the end of the year. You can’t attend every friend’s party. (Or is it a Zoom happy hour now? I’m not sure…). You can’t hunt down every single address for your Christmas card. You can’t send a note to every single person who deserves one. You can’t buy every single gift for everyone on your list.

    You can try. But you’re going to be absolutely miserable if you run yourself ragged attempting to be all things to all people.

    Here’s a question. Do people really care? I mean really. What happens if you don’t do every single thing on your list? One way to think about this and to preserve your sanity is to consider the 80/20 rule. What tasks can you complete—whether it’s finishing a work project or buying a gift—that will have the most (say 80%) impact? That might help you to figure out what you should prioritize and what can either wait or doesn’t need to be done at all.

  2. Organize — Okay, once you’ve figured out what you need to do, you need to determine when and how. My wife has Christmas spreadsheets for all the gifts that need to be purchased. There may be color-coding involved. I’m not sure. I don’t know if this is next-level planning or just Excel nerding. Maybe it’s both. But you probably don’t need to get that granular. A regularly updated to-do list can also do the trick. It’s all about planning in advance. It’s not just the tasks, but you need to plan your time as well—so that you use it most effectively. Those vacation days slip away without a well-organized plan to get everything done—from the dentist appointments to the oil changes. I used to hate schedules. I thought I was so spontaneous. Now I love them. They bring order. What changed? Three small children likely had something to do with it.

  3. Help (or accept help) — Is it really you that needs to do all this stuff anyhow? I used to try to complete every single work task myself—working nights and weekends non-stop—and then I realized, “Hey, I’m driving myself insane. Other people can do this.” Check that. Other people want to do this. Seriously, they really do. At work, other people want a chance to shine. Let them shine.

    At home, other people want to help, too—whether it’s a parent or a friend offering to watch your kids or pick up some groceries, you know what you should do? Let them. It’s actually tremendously valuable.

    If you have a tendency to be a tiny bit of a control freak now and then, I recommend that you give a little more consideration to these offers for assistance, and when someone asks “Do you need some help with that?” do something crazy, and say “Yes. That would be great.”

    Maybe you’re the one who can provide some help—to a friend or family member in need or someone in your community who is going through a rough time. Awesome. Do it. It’s really a win-win. The helper often gets as much out of it as the one being helped. It can be rewarding, it can feel great to be appreciated, and it can bolster one’s sense of purpose.

  4. Watch what you eat — Okay, this one is tricky this time of year. But you know what? We might actually have a chance given that all those drinks events are canceled and we won’t be tempted by our co-workers’ Christmas cookies this year—there are positives to this pandemic. Hey, we need to be realistic. We’re going to be eating some cookies and candy canes and all of that good stuff, but it’s worth having a plan going into this dangerous-for-the-waistline season.

    I find that when I run into trouble here it’s when I have no guardrails. If I am free to eat whatever I want over the holidays, I will dominate every ginger snap, every peanut butter cookie with a Hershey’s kiss on the top (is there a name for those?) and, well, you name it, I will consume it. And then by the end of it all, I’ll just feel… gross.

    Is there a happy medium here? I like to think so. How about this: during the holidays, allow yourself one sweet treat per day. Listen, you still get to savor that chocolatey, peanut buttery, pepperminty goodness—but just in moderation with some guardrails. Going cold turkey is rough and not fun. This strategy is actually doable and decreases your chances of feeling like a disgusting slob by the time January rolls around.

  5. Exercise — Here’s a question for you. Can you exercise every day for the entire month of December? Probably not, because it’s already December 3rd and you’ve already dropped the ball. What were you thinking?!?

    Seriously though, I think you can actually work out every single day from now until January 1st—even on Christmas day. It’s entirely possible. I’ve done it before. I went 483 days without missing a workout. Am I the fittest guy you know? Nope. I just decided to do it. And you can do it, too, without superhuman willpower.

    It’s all in how you define what a workout is—and then sticking to it. Even if you define a workout as just 5 minutes of push-ups and sit-ups or a 10-minute walk, there is something very rewarding about sticking to a goal like this. Oh, and of course, exercise is one of the single most important things we can do to lose weight and feel good both physically and mentally. So why not gamify it a bit? I love streaks. You should try it—just 28 days. If it doesn’t work, you have my money-back guarantee. However much you paid for this newsletter, I will refund 100% of it. No questions asked.

  6. Go somewhere new — I know, how can we even get out of the house much less travel to some new and enticing location? It’s tough this year and most of us will be sticking close to home during the holidays. But here’s the thing. Our brains like new adventures. Our neurons light up with new connections when we visit unfamiliar places, walk different paths, or try new foods. Is there a place you’ve been meaning to go that’s actually not that far—maybe only an hour or two away—that you can check out this holiday season? Of course, we are all avoiding COVID-19 like the… well… like the plague… but still, there are options. What about something outdoors? A mountain to climb, a trail to hike, a bike path to walk or ride. This is a great time of year to do it, and if the weather cooperates, remember, we thrive on fresh air and sunlight too, so go find some.

  7. Do something nice for yourself — Have you ever tried the “one for you, one for me” method of gift-buying? It’s great. You really end up with stuff you actually want. Just kidding. Kind of. Not really.

    But seriously, don’t forget to treat yourself this holiday season. Maybe that does mean buying yourself a gift. I mean really, is anyone else actually going to get you what you want? Of course, it doesn’t all need to be about materialism either—carving out time to read that book you’ve been meaning to read or to meditate or to do the other things on this very list that you are reading right now is not selfish. Actually, it’s necessary to make sure you have the mental and physical energy to perform those 1000 roles in your life that you are expected to execute flawlessly day in and day out. So go ahead, treat yourself.

  8. Practice gratitude — One proven method for achieving happiness is by practicing gratitude. It’s like a little hack for the brain. I don’t claim to understand the science, I just know it works. We think we’re too smart for this to actually work on us, but then we try it, and guess what? Our mood brightens, our perspective changes and our overall sense of well-being improves. It’s not enough to just say “oh yeah, I’m grateful for what I have.” It actually needs to be a practice—but not a time-consuming one.

    Here’s a challenge for you. Write down one thing that you are thankful for every day for the rest of this month. Easy right? It is. I try to do it every day. Some days I fail. Like today. Shoot. But I like this practice because it forces me to sit down for a minute and think about what I am actually thankful for. And by doing just that small act, it cements in my mind that, yes, I have a ton to be thankful for, and it gives me just that little extra bit of perspective that I needed.

  9. Rest — I think I’m going to write an article on this over the holidays but rest is so important. In theory, rest is a lot of what the holidays are supposed to be about. Usually, however, they are so manic with the run-up to Christmas, and the headaches of travel and family controversies, that they end up being even more stressful than our everyday lives. Well, maybe this year will be different. In order to do great things, we need to rest, and rest often. Our willpower and focus and creativity are like muscles—in order to grow them and use them most effectively, we need to work them hard, and then rest. So take some time away from the computer screens this month. Enjoy a movie, or a book, or some time with family and friends. Exhale. We’ll be back to our usual crazy pace soon enough, don’t forget to stop and take a breath.

  10. Plan — I know, I know… they’re New Year’s Resolutions, not December Resolutions. But look, by the time January comes around, it’s going to be off to the races again with work, and school, and every other commitment. When you’re doing all that resting, take some time to think about next year. I’ve written a good bit in this newsletter about accomplishing big things and working on what’s most important to us. This is the perfect time of year to sit back and look at those big things.

    In every part of our lives, we get so caught up in the tactical that we forget the strategic. What are we really trying to do here? Who are we really trying to be? (I wrote about this earlier this year). What are those big, big things we want to get right? Let’s sit back this month and think about the direction we’re heading and make sure we’re fully committed to it, then when the calendar hits January, it’s just about executing and getting it done. So ask the big questions this month and decide where you’re going. Your future self will thank you.

And that is it, my friends. The blueprint for ‘winning’ December. Not too difficult, right? Have a great week and a better month.


Pro holiday tip: James Taylor at Christmas is the best holiday album to tell your Alexa to play. Try it now, thank me later.

Photo credit: Guneet Jasal (@guneetj) @ Unsplash.com