The quintessential Christmas character introduced by Charles Dickens in his classic 1843 novel A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is an excellent example of how changing your mindset can change your reality. Plus it’s a great ghost story, and appropriate for the season. As you well know, Mr. Scrooge starts the story as a miser obsessed with money, cold and devoid of generosity. Then he transforms overnight into one of the most caring men in London. Did anything change about Scrooge’s environment to change his attitude? He still worked at the same place, he lived in the same place, the same people surrounded him, yet he was greatly and irreversibly changed. He was changed from within. He decided his life was going to be different and he made it so. Do you need to be haunted by three ghosts in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve to make large changes in your own mindset? Goodness no. You need to be aware of what the problem really is, understand how you can reframe the problem, and take steps to do so.
Recognizing that there is a problem is the hardest part. I’m pretty sure Scrooge thought he was right to act the way he did at the beginning. He thought everyone else was being ridiculous and frivolous with their hard-earned money. This irresponsibility of others made him irritable. He just couldn’t understand it. The thing is, if you find fault with everyone around you, maybe the problem isn’t them. Sorry, but it’s probably you.
I have a friend who complains that no one takes time to visit her. She makes an effort to contact others, but no one ever has time for anything more than barely polite small talk if they are caught without an excuse to leave. Even her family avoids her. She thinks the problem is with all of them (everyone hates me, it’s so unfair), so she has stopped making the effort to socialize. Why should she expend the energy for people who obviously can’t be bothered to take time for her? The thing is, she is judgemental, an armchair authority on every subject, constantly complains, and is generally hard to be around. That’s why everyone avoids her, not because they are all rude. She vibrates at a low energy and no one wants to get sucked into that. If she took some time to honestly look at her life from a different perspective, like Scrooge was forced to, perhaps the awareness would inspire her to change.
My favorite character in The Christmas Carol is Scrooge’s nephew Fred. He has patience with Scrooge and is sorry for him because Scrooge chooses not to attend Christmas dinner and so misses out. Fred doesn’t let Scrooge’s bad attitude affect his own holiday. Who suffers from Scrooge’s ill will? Only Scrooge himself. Everyone else gets to enjoy the very good dinner and party games. Year after year Fred invites his uncle to participate in Christmas cheer even though he knows Scrooge will never accept. He takes Scrooge’s rudeness with a grain of salt and doesn’t let it dampen his spirits. When Scrooge finally does show up to dinner, Fred welcomes him in with open arms and makes him feel wanted. Many of us can learn from Fred. Who have you felt put off and snubbed by? Did this person’s actions really affect you and your happiness? Or could you reframe the problem in your mind so that it is not actually a problem?
If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. – Maya Angelou
Reframing simply means that you change the way you think about something. For example, my husband ended up having to work over Thanksgiving. Actually, it worked out just fine because my little girl ended up getting a fever and being sick all weekend. So here I sat, alone with a sick kid all weekend. We missed out on Thanksgiving, Small Business Saturday, and our community holiday celebration with Santa and a light parade. We had planned family pictures and a tree hunting trip up in the hills, none of which happened. Disappointing for sure, and a perfect “poor me” opportunity. But after a quick reframe, does it really matter what day we roast the turkey on? We’re thankful every day anyway.
I made the turkey since it was already thawed and froze the leftovers. Really no big deal in the scheme of things. I got to have my Paleo Thanksgiving dinner by myself without comment or outside influence. I was still thankful for the same things I would have been if everything went as planned. What could have understandably been a “Why me?” scenario was not because I reframed it in my head. I took my own advice and was not attached to the outcome. I did not “should” on my holiday (read about what I mean in my three-part series Shoulding on the Holidays), and so had a positive experience despite everything. We will see Santa, have family pictures, and go tree hunting next weekend.
Reframing involves looking at the big picture, reminding yourself of your priorities, and asking yourself what is really important. Sometimes, when I feel overwhelmed or disappointed, I take a step back and ask myself what really matters and what is just stress I’ve created for myself. Most of the time I realize that I had expectations that may not have been entirely fair. My first priority is always my child and if I remind myself of that, everything else seems to fall into its place.
Scrooge was forced to reframe his outlook on life by three ghosts sent by his well-meaning dead business partner. By reflecting on his past, clearly seeing his present, and getting an unattractive glimpse of his future, Scrooge saw the error of his ways. He got perspective. Your own experience doesn’t have to be so dramatic. What did Scrooge learn? He learned that he was the problem that he saw in everyone else, that generosity and goodwill are valuable personality traits, and that changing his attitude could save his soul. Good lessons. Scrooge was inspired to drastically change overnight, but you can take steps to change without ghostly intervention.
Once you have recognized the problem and understood that changing your attitude is the key to solving the problem, your task becomes actually changing your attitude. This may seem like a Herculean task, but the hardest part is admitting fault. Once you’ve done that the solution will likely fall into place on its own. Simply deciding to change, and realizing it is possible, may be the most important step. Sit down and do some introspection to figure out what the problem actually is. In other words, get a new perspective. Then reframe your attitude around it. Keep reminding yourself that you create your own reality and look for ways to improve it.
Ways to Change Your Perspective
- Try a gratitude practice. Being grateful increases your positivity and can give you an instant total reframe. It forces you to focus on what you do have rather on what you don’t.
- Slow down and breathe. When faced with a stressful situation, it helps to calm down and return to what is important.
- Keep your priorities close. What really matters? If your family matters most, everything else can wait. This comes in handy when setting your holiday schedule.
- Keep your ego in check. Changing is hard. You may have to endure some skepticism if you’ve been judgemental or intolerable in the past. People may not be accepting of your changes at first. That’s okay, change anyway and they’ll come around eventually. Or they won’t, but maybe those are people you don’t want around anyway.
- Be patient with yourself. Change doesn’t happen overnight and you may make some mistakes. That’s okay. Any progress is good progress. Celebrate any small win.
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