Remember ‘To Be,’ Not ‘To Do,’ This Holiday Season

‘With every little task we accomplish without mindfulness, we forfeit our joy.’

Nov 22, 2019

SMITH BRAIN TRUST  It’s a time of the year meant for joy and celebration. But what do we really mean when we ask, “Are you ready for the holidays?”

When visiting family, frantic shopping and financial pressures extend our to-do lists during the holiday season, it seems that more people spend time bracing for impact, rather than kicking back and enjoying, says Maryland Smith’s J. Gerald Suarez.

“The anticipation of holidays is now requiring that we get ready, instead of approaching it as a time to let go, enjoy and be in the here and now,” says Suarez, professor of the practice in systems thinking and design at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Too much of our focus and attention during the holiday season is consumed by clutter, busyness and the next task on our to-do list. Constantly worrying about what’s next comes at the expense of enjoying the present, he says.

“The issue with busyness and things to do is that we forget life ought to be around ‘how to be,’” Suarez says. “With every little task we accomplish without mindfulness, we forfeit our joy.”

Suarez acknowledges that the holidays are burdensome for employees in certain industries – retail and healthcare, for example – because of the nature of their work and the demands on their schedules. However, he says, those who are able to take time off must leverage that period and slow down.

“We need to take advantage of the chance to decompress, reflect and recharge,” Suarez says. “This is an opportunity to step back from the daily rigor and make an effort to adjust the pace of a hectic routine.”

To get the most out of the holiday season, Suarez offers the following tips:

Imperfect is Perfect. “We need to let go of the self-imposed burden of perfection,” Suarez says. “The perfect house, decorations, dinner and gifts. Rigidly adhering to these high standards is a recipe for stress, because there is always more to be accomplished if we are aiming at perfection.”

Recalibrate. Suarez recommends calibrating expectations and redefining what makes a great holiday season. “Maybe it’s disconnecting from technology, exercising more or relaxing and reconnecting with friends and family.”

Less is enough. “We have to indulge in simplicity and declutter our brains from things to do,” Suarez says. “Also, appreciate with mindfulness every moment and interaction, find meaning in what is happening around us and embrace the spirit of the season.”

Zoom out. Look at the calendar and not at the clock, Suarez says. “Look at the big picture of your day, not at the nitty-gritty of activities and the fragmentation of your day. Appreciate the big picture and approach it for what it is: a season. It’s not a short-term event; it’s a joyful time if we make it so.”



About the Expert(s)


Dr. J. Gerald Suarez is a premier educator, speaker and consultant in the fields of Organizational Design, Systems Thinking and Total Quality Management. Suarez joined Smith in 2005 as Executive Director of the multidisciplinary Quality Enhancement Systems and Teams (QUEST) Honors Fellows program. He was a Ralph J. Tyser Teaching Fellow and an Executive Education Senior Fellow. From 2008 to 2010 he served as Associate Dean of External Strategy, leading the offices of marketing communications, recruitment and career services.

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