Focus On This Podcast

116. How to Set & Keep Meaningful Traditions



The holidays are approaching, and you wish you had more traditions in place to make the time more meaningful and celebratory. But where do you even start? Do traditions happen accidentally, or can you intentionally create the kind of experience you want?

In this episode, Courtney, Verbs, and Blake go over four steps to creating a new tradition. They discuss how traditions can be like rituals or habits that you automate. When you take what you know about goal-setting and apply it in this context, you can create new traditions that help you slow down and make memories you and your family will look back on fondly long after the holidays are over.

In this episode, you’ll discover—

  • How to use the components of setting goals to create traditions
  • The value of deciding on timing and scheduling traditions in advance
  • Why it can be helpful to adapt a tradition to honor people you’ve lost 
  • How the Self-Care Planner helps clarify the outcomes you want


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Episode Transcript

Courtney: So, guys, when Kit was born (this was about five years ago), I realized… I had a lot of traditions around the holidays. Most of them were passed down to me from my family. So, I really wanted to be intentional about asking, “What kinds of traditions do I want to create for them?” One of those that my husband and I have done is, each year, we go and purchase… Honestly, they’re kind of ridiculously expensive ornaments, but they’re beautiful. We let the girls pick them out.

For Kit, specifically, one year she picked one that was… You know those really old-school telephone toys that you would pull on the string? That was the ornament. It kind of reflects where they were in that stage. Then at the end of the Christmas season, we write on a tag everything that happened that year. Then the next year, when we go to pull out those ornaments, we pull out the ornament and read about what was happening in their life.

The idea is when they leave our house when they’re grown, they’ll take all 20 ornaments with them. The goal is when they’re 60 years old, they’ll still have these ornaments that talk about, “Hey, when I was 5, I was obsessed with reading and Hatchimals, and I loved to do X, Y, Z.” That’s a tradition we’ve started, and I’m curious, as we get into this episode, to hear more about the traditions you two have.

Blake: We’re going to be digging into traditions. I love talking about traditions, because it says so much about what we value and, directionally, where we see our family culture or our personal culture going, what we want to carry on. So, we’re going to dig into it in this episode, and I’m excited, as well, to talk about how to start some new ones, if you want to, like Courtney, think about your kids being 60, and why and how to make a great tradition.

Verbs: Welcome to another episode of Focus on This, the most productive podcast on the Internet, so you can banish distractions, get the right stuff done, and finally start loving Mondays. I’m Verbs, here with Courtney Baker and Blake Stratton.

Blake: Happy Monday, Verbs.

Verbs: Happy Monday to you, Blake.

Blake: It’s Thanksgiving week, which is very exciting. I’ve not eaten in 12 days just to allow myself the space required for this upcoming week. We’re talking about traditions. You know, we don’t talk about traditions… I don’t know if we’ve ever talked about this. We talk about goals. We talk about rituals, but really, what we’re talking about when we think about focus and think about accomplishing things is…How do we create the life experience we desire? How do we live with greater intentionality rather than just sort of reacting and drifting through our lives and wishing things were different?

This is a perfect week to think about a way to set an intention, a rhythm, just like we would set up a ritual, but in a bigger way, in a way that’s bigger than just us. Maybe the traditions could be personal, but a lot of times, we do traditions with our people, whatever that looks like in your world. So, I’m excited to dig into it and help people create that same intentionality but with an annual tradition.

Verbs: Today, we’re going over four steps to creating a new tradition. Courtney, would you do the honors of walking us through this first step?

Courtney: Absolutely. The first step is to define what you want. It’s funny. This is sometimes the most obvious thing but also sometimes the hardest thing. This is just like when we’re setting goals. We use the SMARTER framework when we do that. A lot of those same components work when creating traditions.

For one, you want to clarify what you want to do. For me, in my example, it was like I wanted… I don’t know if y’all know this about me. It’s kind of why I struggle with celebrating. I struggle even remembering what has happened. Like, “Yeah, this year went really fast. What happened this year? I don’t know.” It was really a tradition to help me take stock…

Blake: “Who are these people around my Christmas tree? What are you doing here?”

Courtney: “Is this a baby? How did she get here?” Yeah. It’s a tradition to help me have that moment of thinking back on all of the things that have happened. So, this is really important. Maybe you want to cook with your family. That’s probably a pretty general one that most people do, but what time of day? Maybe you want to practice more generosity around the holidays. What would that look like? What day would you do that on? Who would you do something generous for?

I think the key here is to remember… You don’t want to just have, like, “Oh yeah, that would be great to do something generous for other people,” but really describe something you can actually do. Like, “We are going to go feed people who are vulnerable in our community on the day after Thanksgiving or the day before Thanksgiving. We’re going to do that every year.” So, what about you? Have you two ever created a tradition like that?

Verbs: You know what? I haven’t done one quite that detailed. We do have, I’ll call them, pseudo traditions, things we like to do during the holidays. You know, Thanksgiving morning we’ll go take a hike in the morning time. But I had an epiphany a couple of days ago of wanting to really define or start or begin a tradition with our kids.

My 9-year-old turns 10 in December, and it dawned on me you only turn double digits one time in your entire life, so this 10-year-old birthday has to be something that’s memorable. My son is really into cartoons and animation. He loves the classic stuff like The Flintstones and The Jetsons and all these types of things. So, I was like, “How cool could it be…?”

Blake: Raising him right.

Verbs: I know, right? That’s the good stuff. That’s the stuff that gets you up early on a Saturday morning. But I thought, “How cool would it be if I took him on a trip?” I was thinking about taking him down to Atlanta. I was like, “Man! If I could take my son to the Cartoon Network and somehow organize some little impromptu tour, that would blow his mind forever, and he will forever remember turning 10, being in Atlanta, and going into this space that has all of the things he loves immensely.”

So, I’m trying to figure out and think through what that day looks like for him, and then when my younger son turns 10, and make that an established tradition. It’s this once-in-a-lifetime changing over to the double digits, and how cool would it be. So, something I’m working on.

Blake: I love that. Traditions are kind of like rituals, because you start at the end. You start with “What’s the feeling I want or the outcome I would want?” Then you can sort of reverse-engineer what would be fun. I think the first tradition I started was… My mom listens to this podcast from time to time, I think, so she may fact-check me on this, but I’m going to go ahead and take credit for it. I think I was 7 years old, and I told my parents, “We should have a caroling party.” This was obviously around Christmastime.

So, we invited our friends, kids, and everyone over to do this caroling party. We started out going around the neighborhood, as you do, and then coming back and playing this same… Do you guys remember the game…? It was called Guesstures. Kind of like charades, but with a little wrinkle in there. That was the tradition for year after year after year. We started venturing out… We went into Target. We’d go into stores and just carol around.

Courtney: Oh my gosh! This tradition sounds like my worst nightmare.

Blake: Oh my gosh. We would go into Borders. Do you remember that store?

Courtney: Oh yeah.

Blake: They really hated us there, but that’s what you get. No Christmas spirit at Borders. We all know what happened.

Verbs: You guys actually went into the store and sang.

Blake: Oh yeah. Unannounced, group of families, a bunch of kids.

Verbs: That’s amazing.

Courtney: No. Worst nightmare.

Blake: You know, “Joy to the world!” Everyone is like, “What the…?” Yeah, we got a lot of dirty looks, but it was the 90s. The Bulls were winning championships. Everyone was happy, you guys. You have to remember that. Then we realized… One year it was super cold, and we were like, “Can we just go to the part where we’re having your mulled wine, your cider, and whatnot, and your Guesstures?”

We basically had the caroling party for another decade, but we didn’t go caroling. Then that became a funny thing. Basically, we have so many memories where it’s like the kids now have kids, and they’re at the caroling party. We’ve tried to bring that to Nashville but struggle to do it, so I’m open to the advice of the rest of this episode to see if I can resurrect the legendary Stratton Christmas party.

Courtney: Let’s take it to step two. Again, step one was define what you want. Step two is decide when you’ll do it. Obviously, an easy part with traditions is usually there’s a time marker that makes you do it again, or a season. Really, you just need to decide when, Blake. When do you want to go annoy people at Target with your singing?

Blake: When are you available, Courtney? It sounds like you were really into the idea, so…

Courtney: Listen. I don’t know how much money you’d have to pay me to get me to go into Target to sing to other people. I cannot reiterate that any more. But I would come listen, especially if you bring that stand-up bass. I’ve heard you’re very talented.

Blake: Those are super portable, so that shouldn’t be a problem at all.

Courtney: Perfect. Let’s go. So, you decide when you want to do that, and then you’re ready for step three.

Blake: Step three is the important part. You have to schedule it in advance. You have to think ahead and actually put it on the calendar. You’ve heard us say before, “What gets scheduled gets done.” I am very much the guy who does not like to schedule ahead, and it’s like, “Oh, let’s just see what happens.” Then it’s like, “Oh, actually, it’s too late” or “This is a wrinkle” or “We can’t do it this year,” that sort of thing. What, Courtney?

Courtney: Can I give you a tip on this? I actually have another tradition. My neighborhood… I organize this every year with a friend. We put luminaries out on all of the streets one night each December. Rather than it just being a random day in December, it’s always the first Friday of December. So, I wonder, for you, if you could make it kind of a reoccurring day. It takes out some decision-making. You just know, “Okay. The first Friday in December is when we go annoy people at Target.”

Blake: Yeah. Courtney, I don’t know if you realize this, but, actually, the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loudly in Target for all to hear.

Courtney: Oh, nice. Very good.

Blake: I’m pretty sure it’s either in the movie Elf or it’s in the Bible, but it’s one of those two. I know that.

Courtney: Okay, okay. Step four… This is important. You have your date, Blake. You know what you want to do, when you’re going to do it. You’re going to schedule it in advance because you have this automated time. You just have to go for it and enjoy. I wouldn’t be enjoying that tradition, but I know you would. You just have to do it.

Blake: We’ll just have to make your house a stop along the way. We’ll just knock on your door and sing, and then you’ll have to look your daughter Kit in the eye and say, “No. This family does not have fun and go sing carols. We’re not joining this caroling brigade.”

Courtney: Truth be told, she would love it so much. Actually, as much as I’m teasing, that does sound like a wonderful tradition. I feel like you’ll have to update us on how that goes. Are you thinking you’ll do that this year?

Blake: Oh, gosh.

Verbs: Do it, Blake. Do it.

Blake: I think we might have to. Right? I mean…

Verbs: You have time, buddy.

Courtney: Yeah. This is it.

Blake: These are the moments.

Courtney: These are the moments.

Blake: They’re slipping away.

Verbs: I’ll say, also, as we wrap up step four… If you want to think about how you could adapt a tradition, maybe, there’s opportunity there as well. I’m thinking through this, because I know a lot of people with the year we’re coming out of… There may be people listening who have experienced some sort of loss, maybe of a friend or a family member who might have been an integral part of that tradition, so not having that presence there… For some people, it’s like, “It’s not going to be the same if we do it,” or it’s just tough to do it remembering that loss.

So, this could be a perfect opportunity that’s presenting itself to… Do we need to adjust the tradition a little bit or do we need to think about it in a different way? You could still honor the loss, but also bring you into this sense of still enjoying the holiday so it doesn’t slip into something that’s not as enjoyable or put you in a moment of missing that individual to where you can’t fully enjoy or feel guilty about enjoying the holidays. So, there’s opportunity there. Again, maybe think about or recreate a tradition that is important to you and your family that could still be carried on and celebrated and still allow you to enjoy those holidays.

Courtney: I love that. I think that’s really wise, Verbs. That’s a good way to frame that, even. What would that person we’re going to honor in this tradition…? What could that look like? I think that’s really beautiful.

Verbs: As you enter into the holiday season, the good news is you don’t have to stay stuck wishing you had more traditions. You can create traditions that stick when you define what you want to do, decide when you’ll do it, schedule in advance, and then go for it. Courtney, Blake, this has been fun sharing back and forth what our families do for traditions. Do you have any extra final thoughts for our Focus on This listeners?

Blake: One of the favorite topics that we cover is rituals, and traditions are essentially rituals that occur once a year or every quarter or something like that. It comes back to determining “What kind of life experience do we want to have? What feelings or memories do we want to create? Then what could we do to do that in a way that’s manageable, in a way that’s fun, in a way that’s memorable?”

As we talked about, sometimes things get disrupted. We can’t be with people in person, for instance, or…you name it…the timing, just people aren’t here, or whatever. But think through what would make this upcoming season special for you. Wherever you’re at listening, wherever your family is at, what would make this memorable? What would make this fun or enjoyable or connected or whatever that outcome is? Then think through a creative way you could do that.

Especially when you’re trying to gather together friends or family, it always… I feel like it adds a little extra juice to say, “Hey, let’s start this tradition,” because then it feels less like, “Hey, I’m trying to figure out this one-time thing to do,” but people can feel like, “Hey, we’re a part of something that’s going to live on and turn into folklore when Courtney’s kids are 60.” So, I just want to encourage people listening: Don’t be afraid. Start a new tradition this year, and make it count.

Courtney: I would like to officially invite you two. If you, Blake, want to really do your tradition, you actually can come do it in my neighborhood the night we put out all of the luminaries.

Blake: There you go.

Courtney: I will join you. I will lip sync. There will be no songs coming out of me.

Blake: Scrooge!

Courtney: And Verbs can come too. How fun would that be? So, there you go. There’s my pitch.

Verbs: Guys, I actually have a final thought. It just came to me, as an extra and an aside. If you’re thinking through traditions and you need an extra help, something that can guide you through the thinking process, if you use the self-care planner in the Weekly Preview when you’re thinking about what you want to do to relax, what you want to do to connect, what you want to do to move…all of those things…you might come up with some good ideas to help you formulate and design a new tradition.

Courtney: So good.

Blake: That is a good final thought. I was thinking in my head… I was like, “Courtney, where’s our tradition optimizer free PDF download?” It feels like we need that.

Courtney: I’ll get on that.

Verbs: Thank you, guys, for joining us on Focus on This. This is the most productive podcast on the Internet, so share it with your friends, and don’t forget to join our Full Focus Planner Community on Facebook. We’ll be here next week with another great episode. Until then…

All: Stay focused!