Our time is limited. We know this. And yet we still over-schedule ourselves and our families. We still cram our lives with activities we don’t really want to do. We hold onto items we don’t wear or even like all that much.

Part of the problem is that sometimes we live by default—we don’t stop to reflect. Because, well, we’re just too busy. It feels like life is a moving train, and we have to hop on, or we’ll miss our destination (which destination we’re not quite sure). Part of the problem is that sometimes we have a hard time saying no. We think we’re letting people down. We think we’re being bad or selfish. (We’re not. And thankfully we can say no compassionately and gracefully.) Part of the problem is that sometimes we live according to others’ rules and values.

This naturally extends into the holiday season, and it leaves us feeling so utterly exhausted and empty. It leaves us feeling disconnected from ourselves and our loved ones. It leaves us dreading the holidays because we hyper-focus on all the to-dos, and to-buys.

I’ve been thinking lately a lot about decluttering, simplifying and creating meaningful moments and days and not getting sucked into shopping for hours and hours for gifts I’m giving because I feel obligated, because I feel like I have to buy someone’s love. Because I want to focus on what really matters, and what really matters is not pricey presents or piles and piles of clothes or perfect holiday decorations or perfect gatherings.

What matters is a very few people and a very few things and a very few activities. And it’s so hard not to get caught up in doing more and more and more and buying more and more and more. Which is why regular self-reflection is so vital and powerful. We need to pause and check in with ourselves. We need to pause and reflect on where our attention is leaning, and whether that’s where we want it to turn.

Below are some questions and exercises about the holidays to help you create the season you want to create:

  • Make a list of everything that the holidays represent to you—not to anyone else, not to your parents, or your friends, or your social media feed. Forget the shoulds, and focus on yourself.
  • Name three things that are essential and vital and musts for you this holiday season.
  • Identify your favorite holiday traditions, the traditions that are most important to you, which you absolutely want to engage in.
  • Identify what you don’t want to do, because it truly drains you.
  • Think about who you genuinely want to give gifts to. Think about what you want to give. Drown out the noise of Black Friday or Cyber Monday or any other sales by identifying your values and priorities around gift-giving.
  • If this was your last holiday to spend on earth, what would you want to do? What would you skip?
  • What do you want to see, smell, hear, taste and touch this season?
  • Explore how you can use your creativity this season. Explore how you can play. Explore how you can do this together with your loved ones.
  • What are you excited about doing?
  • What is sacred to you?

In his powerful book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, author Greg McKeown talks about focusing on and doing what’s essential to each of us. Which includes saying no to all sorts of things, so we can say yes to what counts. For instance, he’s said no to a networking event, so he could say yes to wrestling with his kids on the trampoline. He’s said no to a speaking engagement so he could say yes to date night with his wife. He’s said no to TV and movies on business trips so he could say yes to rest and reflection. He’s said no to Facebook scrolling so he could say yes to a regular call with his 93-year-old grandpa.

Ultimately, this holiday season, what do you want to say no to, so you can say yes to what really matters to you?

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash.