by Megan McDonough

Ah, the glory of the holiday season. This is the time when families gather around warm fires and sip hot cocoa—not the instant kind you nuke with water but the old-fashioned kind you make with milk warmed on the stove. Stockings are hung with care and trees are trimmed while carols are being sung. Children’s cheeks are rosy from sledding, and good cheer fills the heart and home.

Until, of course, Mom has a meltdown over the never-ending shopping list filled with people she has no idea what to get, and Dad throws the Christmas lights on the floor, unable to find the defective bulb that’s holding the whole strand hostage. Like a bad thriller movie featuring the sweet guy who turns into a demented killer, Christmas cheer transforms into holiday hell.

Here’s my personal interpretation of the hectic life: Its job is to build constructive attention. Constructive attention happens when we make a conscious choice to focus on the positive, thus developing our ability to use our attention to create positive feelings and experiences.

What are you paying attention to? To hear the quiet whisper of truth in a rock-band-volume life takes great discipline and nerves of steel.

For me, that discipline is not a display of brute force in which I push myself to do certain tasks. Instead, it takes the form of questioning, observing, and listening, with questions like these:

What is my mission in life?

What drives and motivates me to do what I do?
From where do I take my direction?

What is the source of my decision-making?

Given that, what are my priorities for the new year?
What step-by-step process do I follow to get that done?
Who can help me with those steps?

Each year I go through a business and life planning process. Sometimes I plan with a group, sometimes alone. Some years the plan is detailed and long, other times short and sweet. Sometimes I pay someone to help me create a plan of action, other times I do it myself.

One thing I know for sure: The form of the plan doesn’t matter in the least. What counts is the clarity, focus, and peace the planning process brings to my mind. The planning process, not the plan itself, is the gem. Through the process, I spend time questioning, considering, and listening instead of doing, implementing, and taking action.

Once you have given yourself permission to sit with the possibilities and dream about the potentials, your mind finds freedom instead of getting trapped listening to a broken record that keeps squawking about what needs to be done. The planning process develops constructive attention.

May your daily truth be one of peace and love, even if the occasional meltdown blows apart the fairy-tale myth of the perfect family gathering.

This post is adapted from A Minute for Me: Learning to Savor Sixty Seconds, © 2012, by Megan McDonough.


Megan McDonough is CEO of Wholebeing Institute, an educational organization co-founded with Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar. WBI is committed to spreading ideas and practices that can help individuals and groups live life to its fullest.

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