The best defense is a good offense.

This adage has been used in times of both war and peace. Only you know which one will describe your holidays this year. (The best ones have a bit of both, don’t you think?)

Carnage or not, having a good offense is an excellent strategy to use going into the holiday season. I’m already working on mine and I’m sharing my easy steps so you have yours in place as well.

Step 1: Start early. Like, now.

The department stores don’t wait until the season is actually here to think about it, and neither should you.

Don’t wait until you’re driving to dinner to think about your strategy if crazy Aunt Myrtle corners you.

By brainstorming about this now, you have more time to visualize how you want to handle things. And once you have an idea, you have more time to commit it to memory and make your strategy second nature.

When you have a plan and know it by heart, you will be able to draw on it in a pinch.

Step 2: Anticipate your top 3

When I’m helping my clients with goal setting, a crucial step is to identify where things could go haywire with the plan. Nothing works as intended, right?
So let’s look at your possible roadblocks.

What are you cringing about?
What are you most afraid will happen?
What stresses you out when you think about the holidays?

If you answered ‘Everything’, try to make it more specific. You may have a list of 20, but narrow it down to the most cringe worthy.

It could be a person, a food, or a mode you go into when you get around everyone (like regressing back to middle school or trying to play peacemaker with everyone).

Think of your top 3 stresses and write them down.
Don’t worry that you’re leaving stresses 4 – 20 off the list. You will see that tactics can be applied anywhere you need them.

Step 3: Develop your tactics

Now that you have your top 3, let’s look at how to get ahead of them.
For each stressful thing, write down 5 moves to get around them.

For example:
Eating too much pumpkin pie. (This usually makes my top 3.)

5 Tactics:

1. Volunteer to bring a dessert for the table.
It will be delicious and you’re in control of what’s in it. Double points.

2. Decide ahead of time how much you want. 1 slice? Nothing?
Setting your standard ahead of time can save you from wavering come dessert time.
Decide now so you don’t have to decide later.

3. Get a shiny new thought just for the occasion.
If you’re beating yourself up about ignoring what you decided ahead of time, then that alone will make you stress out and less likely to say ‘no thank you’.
What can you think that will make you feel calm?
Getting out of stress mode and into calm mode will make all the difference.

A few of my favorites:
“My craving is just a thought – and I am not my thoughts.”
“I only want to be kind to myself today”
“Pie is not love, it’s just an object on a plate”

4.Take a time out to Feel.
Something I do is excuse myself to the bathroom to do a quick 3-minute breathing exercise. I just close my eyes and breathe deeply in through my nose and out my mouth. My body relaxes, I feel whatever emotions are going on and I get back in touch with myself. It will give me the separation I need to either get a shiny new thought, or show compassion to myself.

5. Whatever happens, be compassionate to yourself. **
Beating yourself up before, during and/or after you’ve done something you set out to avoid only makes it 100 times worse. Instead of picking up and moving on with the plan, you’re more likely to say ‘forget it’ and check out for the entire day. Show yourself some love. And remind yourself that ‘nothing has gone wrong here’.

**I suggest that #5 be one of your tactics for every stress.

Step 4: Remember that all roads lead to Rome

The holidays are magic- they can make us morph into people we don’t even recognize. The key to surviving (and to staying the same size) lies in having a good plan ahead of time and, if all else fails, falling back on being compassionate to yourself.

No matter how it all turns out, nothing will have gone wrong. Remember – all roads lead to Rome (even if there are a few roadblocks made of pumpkin pie and inappropriate comments). If something doesn’t go as planned, you don’t have to give up until January. You can always start fresh the very next time you sit down to eat.