4 Things You’re Doing Wrong This Holiday Season


It’s the most wonderful time of the year and you’re doing more harm than good. Let’s fix that.

The holiday season is a time to relax and spend time with loved ones, but it can also throw a wrench in your long-term goals if you let it. Here are four things you’re probably doing wrong this holiday season and what you can do to correct them.


1 | Failing to Balance Productivity and Recovery

Holiday mistake number one is failing to balance productivity and recovery.

Time off during the holidays can provide a much-needed reprieve from the day-to-day grind of school and work; however, if all you do is sleep, scroll through social media, and watch Netflix, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to make meaningful headway on the things you don’t usually have time for.

There is an upper limit to how productive you should be during the holidays though. If you spend all of your time studying or trying to be a productivity grease monkey, you will quickly burn out.

As with most things in life, it is best to avoid either extreme. Try to find the sweet spot where you can enjoy, unwind, and relax with friends and family, but also make progress towards your long-term goals.

Preparing for the MCAT or the USMLE? Use this time to jumpstart your studying at a lower intensity.

Trying to get in shape? Use this time to dial in your diet and establish your exercise routine.

Trying to learn a new skill? Use this time to read books, watch videos, and begin practicing.

Time is our most precious resource, and the unfortunate reality is that many of us don’t treat it as such.

When used correctly, the extra time during the holidays can allow you to make significant progress towards your long-term goals. When used incorrectly, it puts your progress on pause and sets you back months.


2 | Neglecting Your Finances

Holiday mistake number two is neglecting your finances.

Although the holidays are a time for giving, your generosity should not come at the cost of your financial wellbeing.

Research has shown that there is a neural link between generosity and happiness. In short, being generous makes us feel good, and that good feeling serves as positive reinforcement which encourages us to give even more.

I’m sure many of you have found yourself in the situation where you start out buying a gift for one person, and the next thing you know you have a cart full of items for all of your friends, coworkers, and their grandmas.

You don’t have to be excessively frugal over the holidays, but you do need to exercise some restraint.

Buying expensive gifts for everyone in your life, although well-intentioned, can quickly add up and put a financial strain on you that lasts far beyond the holiday season. You can easily deplete months of savings, putting a damper on your long-term financial goals.

To avoid this, factor your holiday expenses into your budget and never spend more than you can afford. If you’re trying to save for something important, like a house or retirement, continue to save as you do normally. And you should never, under any circumstances, go into debt for presents and gadgets.

If money is tight during the holidays, there are always other ways to show your loved ones that you care. Remember, the fundamental objective behind gift-giving is not to give someone a shiny new belonging, but rather to strengthen your relationship with that person.

A small, thoughtful gift is often more impactful than just buying something expensive. Be creative and really think about what that person enjoys.

Additionally, experiential gifts have been shown to produce greater improvements in interpersonal relationships compared to material gifts, and there are many experiences that you can give to someone that cost little to no money at all. The reason is that experiences tend to evoke a greater emotional response when compared to material items.

When I think back to some of my best holiday memories, they have nothing to do with the gifts that I received, but rather the time I shared with my loved ones. The time we spent together was a gift in itself.

So instead of spending an arm and a leg on an expensive gift that the person may or may not use, give them a memory that will last a lifetime. Plan a weekend getaway or road trip. Or take a yoga class and laugh at how inflexible you all are.

Creating a memory will often be much more meaningful than any item you can give.


3 | Neglecting Your Diet

Holiday mistake number three is neglecting your diet.

There is nothing wrong with indulging in one or two big meals over the holidays though. One meal is unlikely to have a long-term impact on your health.

In fact, the weight gain that you notice in the days following a large meal is largely due to water retention as a result of the increased sodium and carbohydrate intake. It is usually short-lived and will disappear as you return to your normal diet.

The issue is when you don’t return to your normal diet, and you let one or two large meals turn into an entire season of overeating.

Large holiday feasts often leave behind an abundance of leftovers, allowing you to continue overeating in the days following the initial meal. All you have to do is pop some leftovers in the microwave and you have Thanksgiving dinner part two…or three…or four.

The solution is to minimize the leftovers. The most obvious way is to make less food; however, when you have guests over, it’s usually better to over-prepare than under-prepare.

So the next best thing is to have your guests take the holiday leftovers home with them. Doing so will take away the convenience factor and decrease temptations as you return to your normal diet.

Social pressures along with increased consumption of alcohol around the holidays can also lead to lower inhibitions and self-control. “It’s the holidays, so you should have that extra slice of pie or that extra pint of egg nog”, or “so-and-so is in town, you should let loose and celebrate.”

The decreased inhibitions and lapse in self-control can then lead to counter-regulatory eating, where you eat more following a large meal than you would have if you had eaten nothing at all. This is in contrast to regulatory eating, where you eat less following a meal.

Counter-regulatory eating is often attributed to the “what the hell” effect. Once a person breaks their diet, they feel that further restriction is pointless. Since they’ve already “fallen off the wagon,” so to speak, they might as well continue to overindulge.

To combat this, here are a few tactics you can use.

Start by decreasing your caloric intake in the days leading up to a holiday feast. I personally do intermittent water-only fasts of 3 days every few months as well as before a large holiday meal.

Although I wouldn’t recommend doing something as extreme as a water-only fast, decreasing your caloric intake in the days before a feast can let you indulge without compromising your diet goals. That being said, make sure to consult with your physician before making any kind of dietary changes.

An added bonus that comes with restricting your calories before a holiday meal is that it makes the food taste even better come feast time.

Another tactic is to utilize time-restricted eating, sometimes referred to as intermittent fasting, on the day of the feast or the days following. This places the focus on when you eat instead of what you eat. Consolidate your calorie intake into a six- to eight-hour window. Within that window eat and drink freely, but don’t allow yourself to eat or drink any calories beyond that.

Lastly, use low- to no-calorie alternatives to quell cravings. If you find yourself craving something sweet, instead of reaching for a slice of pecan pie, try reaching for sparkling water or a piece of fruit instead.

I’ve found that oftentimes when I’m craving something, I just want something that tastes good and provides the experience of eating or drinking. By the time I’m done with the low-calorie alternative 10-, 20-, or 30- minutes later, the craving has usually passed.


4 | Neglecting Your Exercise Routine

Last but not least, holiday mistake number four is neglecting your exercise routine.

Between traveling and social gatherings, it can be easy to miss a day or two of exercise during the holidays. And much like the “what the hell effect” with dieting, once you fall off of your exercise routine, it can be difficult to pick it back up again.

Many people will fall off of their exercise routine during the holidays and wait all the way until New Years to pick back up again. This is a mistake as there is nothing inherently magical about New Year’s Day.

Making exercise a regular part of your life comes down to habit. And the sooner you start, the more time you have to make it stick.

One monumental effort for New Year’s will not make exercise into a habit. What will though is to stick with it, especially during a challenging time like the holidays.

Plan your exercise routine around the holidays and avoid missing two days in a row to minimize the risk of adopting the “what the hell” mentality. Even on days like Thanksgiving or Christmas when the gym is closed, plan ahead.

For instance, I typically use Wednesdays as a rest day and exercise on Thursdays, so for Thanksgiving I’ll exercise on Wednesday and take Thursday off instead.

It’s these little changes that will keep you on track and prevent you from falling off.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out our piece on How to Spend the Holidays Effectively or 10 Holiday Gift Ideas for Future Doctors. 


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