Stress mounts up during the holiday season. Life with all of its stresses doesn’t stop and piled on top of that are the calories of holiday indulging, the oh-so-right gifts to purchase, the interactions with family members we manage to avoid most of the rest of year, impending new year’s resolutions that already feel burdensome, the darkness of winter fully descending, the sadness of another year that wasn’t quite what we hoped it would be, and so much more.

Some stressors might be removed if a million dollars landed in your lap—but you can’t control that. Some stressors might be removed if Aunt Sally and Uncle Harry decided at the last minute not to visit—but you can’t control that, either. The one thing you can control, and the very best way to reduce holiday stress, is to stay on your own path and not be pulled around by the nose by the demands of the holiday season. That presupposes, of course, that you have a path. Do you?

Another way to say this is, have you ever stopped to carefully name and frame your life purposes so that you know for sure where you intend to make your meaning and how you intend to make yourself proud by your efforts? The better you know these things and the better you hold your life purposes close, the less this holiday season will stress you out.

Let’s say that you have named and framed your life purposes (and I hope you will!). How can you hold them close in an easy, useful way? The very best way is by creating a life purpose icon that visually represents your life purposes and that instantly centers you and focuses you. Here’s what I mean.

As important as it is for you to be able to describe your life purposes to yourself in words, in, for example, a life purpose statement, it is even more important that you hold your life purposes in a wordless, intuitive, iconic way. This allows you to meet life’s circumstances without having to think about your life purposes or remind yourself how you intend to be and it frees you up to just live—even through the holiday season!

Think of the way that a Christian cross or a Jewish Star of David holds a wealth of meaning for Christians and Jews. For them those icons carry, in a simple, portable, brilliant way, volumes of information about what life means and how to live. Other life purpose icons include the clenched fist of black power, the dove of peace, the image of the Buddha, and the rainbow flag of gay rights. These images provide a wealth of information and meaning for people who hold them as icons.

There are countless group icons of this sort including the flags of nations, the iconic saints of Orthodox religions, historical figures of national identity like Washington and Lincoln, and so on. But rarely does an individual create a personal icon that she employs to encapsulate her life purposes and to serve her in this portable, shorthand way.

People tend never to do this because it doesn’t occur to them to do so. Even if it did occur to them they would still be challenged to accept that they had a right to create a personal icon as weighty as a Christian cross or a Jewish Star of David. But you not only have that right but the obligation to hold your personal meanings as exactly that important. 

Let’s begin to think about your icon. Imagine that you could carry your life purposes around with you in such a portable way by creating your own icon. What would you design or choose? How would you “carry it around”? Might you carry it around physically or just in your mind’s eye? Let me share a few stories from folks who’ve given this matter some thought.

Paula, a painter, explained: “My life purpose icon is the walking stick. I selected it because I find it to perfectly represent my personal journey through life. I do have a walking stick in real life and I treasure it. It is somewhat crooked, as is the path of life. But it is sturdy and I cannot break it. It is a light and dark stick, representing the duality of life - day and night, stormy and peaceful, happy and full of strife. It is everything that life is and is not. And it was born from something rooted to this earth, just as I am.

“My walking stick icon is a great comfort to me when I feel afraid or lost. It supports me when I feel weak and protects me when I feel scared. Probably in creating it I was thinking about the phrase ‘Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me,’ from Psalm 23, but now it has taken on a completely personal meaning. I don't at all regret not having a lot of material or monetary wealth, for I long ago realized that those things are not what bring me satisfaction and peace at the end of the day. Instead I just keep painting and walking, accompanied by my walking stick.”  

Sandra, a sculptor, explained:

“My personal icon is a lighthouse. First of all a lighthouse is steadfast. To pursue my art, I have to be persistent and work consistently. I have to be dedicated to doing something every day to get the word out about my work and to practice my art.

“A lighthouse has its own beauty and strength. It’s built to withstand the worst storms, it’s a fantastic design with a tremendously useful function, and it’s a genuinely positive image. If my art could be that powerful I would be truly fulfilling my life purpose.”

A walking stick, a lighthouse – what will your life purpose icon be?

If you want to reduce holiday stress this season, then stay focused on your personal path, your life purposes, and on the meaning you intend to create in and with your life. To help with this, dream up your own life purpose icon. That might be the key to making this your best holiday season ever! If you’d like more help with this, I suggest that you listen to my audio class called Life Purpose Bootcamp that is immediately available to you right now. Just visit here and get a real leg up on a better holiday season.


Eric Maisel, Ph.D., is the author of more than 40 books including the forthcoming Making Your Creative Mark (New World Library, 2013) and Why Smart People Hurt (Conari Press, 2013). Widely regarded as America’s foremost creativity coach, Dr. Maisel founded natural psychology and leads workshops nationally and internationally. You can learn more about Dr. Maisel’s books, services, trainings, and workshops at You can learn more about natural psychology at Dr. Maisel can be reached at






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