Control what you can
He was dreading the event. A family function that was sure to bring with it drama and hurt feelings. But his dad asked him to be there, so he agreed.
A few days before the event, we brainstormed ways to make it more tolerable. He recognized he couldn't control anyone else, but he could control himself.
So here's what he did.
I encouraged him to practice pre-framing, a concept I learned on the Meanwhile podcast. He decided to frame the event as "I'm here for my dad." So when something awkward or uncomfortable happened, he could say to himself or even out loud, "I'm here for my dad."
He minimized contact and controlled his exit by driving himself to the memorial service, rather than riding along with others. Even though the ride was long and he would have saved gas money and wear and tear, this allowed him to have time to himself and minimize time with the people who caused him stress. He could leave whenever he was ready, and since he could control aspects of the drive...
He improved the journey by making sure he had his iPod with him so he could play whatever music would suit him best for the drive.
He had something to look forward to. I asked what his plans were for the evening. He said he would have dinner with his wife and daughter and maybe they'd go to the park. He might have had dinner with his family and time at the park anyway, but choosing it in advance and having a fun night to look forward to helped him better get through a tough day.
He gave himself an out. We discussed that if it didn't go well, he would learn from the experience and be in a better position to say no next time.
You may not have an uncomfortable family situation coming up. But if there's something on your calendar or to-do list that feels overwhelming or inevitably terrible, control what you can. Ask yourself, "How can I make this less painful?"
Control what you can.