Tammy described the Norman Rockwell holiday scene she had been envisioning for months as we strolled the downtown streets. Holiday lights twinkling above us. A brisk chill in the air as our conversation crystalized into visible puffs of icy fog. The kind of night that makes you long for miniature marshmallows floating in a warm mug of hot cocoa by the fire.

Strangers passing by on the street might observe that all looked merry and bright. Until one single question radically transformed that picturesque scene.

“How was your Thanksgiving?” I inquired innocently.

Suddenly the explosive flames of Tammy’s rage threatened to consume every ounce of holiday cheer in the entire city.

“Awful! It’s MY MOTHER!” she ranted. “She is SO SELFISH! She insists on ruining ALL of my holidays! I’m so sick of it!”

Tammy then raced through the laundry list of her mother’s transgressions faster than a Black Friday shopper in pursuit of a hot deal.

“All I wanted was to host a nice Thanksgiving meal in my own home! I washed the sheets in the guest bedroom so she could spend the night. I set the table with my grandmother’s china. And I got all the food prepped the night before,” she detailed.

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” I replied.

Tammy’s eyes rolled with the intensity of a rebellious teenager. Her tightly pursed lips wrapped around her teeth like a pair of skin tight leggings.

“After doing ALL THAT WORK, she called the night before to say she wasn’t going to spend the night! And that she was only going to stay for a few hours! Doesn’t she know how much hosting means to me?” she screamed.

What if mom really didn’t know how much hosting Thanksgiving meant to Tammy?

What if your family and your friends can’t read your mind either?

Holidays and family gatherings often prompt you and I to read the same dramatic lines from our age old scripts. Holiday by holiday. Year by year. Until you and I believe the stories we are telling ourselves are absolutely true.

Nobody cares about me. Nobody pays attention to my needs. Why am I the one who has to do everything? I know my family and friends never liked me / my partner / my choices.

How do you escape your best dramatic performance award nomination this holiday season and discover joy instead?

By implementing a new formula to help you release the stories and labels that no longer serve you to make room for the ones that do.

Pause + Ponder + Prioritize

Pause. To examine whether the story you are telling yourself is still true.

Ponder. How you feel when you tell yourself that story.

Prioritize. The stories you want to continue.

In her book, “Loving What Is,” Byron Katie proposes four simple questions you can use to challenge your own toxic, repetitive stories:

1. Is it true?

2. Can I absolutely know it’s true?

3. How do I react when I think that thought?

4. Who would I be without the thought?

Pressing pause to examine the stories Tammy was telling herself about her mother ultimately saved her holiday season. And Tammy’s technique will work for you, too.

Instead of accelerating her assumptions, she paused to ask a question.

“Mom, why did you change our plans for Thanksgiving? Didn’t you know how much it meant to me to host at my house instead of coming to your house?”

Her mom stared, mouth agape.

“No, I didn’t know it was that important to you. And, now that you’ve asked, I never stopped to consider how inconvenient it would be for you to bring the food here.”

The difference between a holiday of despair and delight was pressing pause.

What story could you pause this holiday season to make room for more joy?

Originally published at medium.com