Principle 5: Practice Self-Forgiveness

Self Forgiveness

It is challenging to sprinkle empathy and forgiveness upon others, but the greater obstacle is practicing the art of self-forgiveness.

Anyone that has completed a “self-performance review” knows we are less forgiving when evaluating our own performance.  I suspect that same truth is what makes self-forgiveness feel like a tough mudder marathon.

A good friend and I often joke how someday we hope to live one of the glamorous lives that everyone seems to promote on Facebook.   You know what I mean – perfect family weekends at the cottage, extravagant parties, 5-star dinners, not to mention the exotic trips abroad.  Oh, and those smiling, repetitive, and posed selfies.  Enough already!  Is nobody else struggling?

Our struggles are below the surface

When working with clients and teams, I’ve noticed it is not the successes that need attention; it is the disappointments that cast a permanent shadow of doubt and uncertainty that hold us back.   It takes courage to remove the rose coloured facebook filter to reveal the personal and professional setbacks, failures and disappointments that hi-jack our inner thoughts (and rarely, if ever, are shared on Facebook).  When was the last time you read a Facebook post that shouted: “OMG, my 23 year marriage is ending, my boss gave me a final written warning, I am teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, my father was diagnosed with dementia and my oldest daughter just entered rehab for the 4th time.”  Seriously, Facebook – where is the emoticon for “oh crap”.

Optimism, courage, and confidence fade following a succession of disappointments and cause the inner critic to work overtime.  It can be paralyzing as we burrow into the depths of shame, despair, and frustration.  Our Facebook voice becomes silenced and we avoid the random messenger notes of “Hey, what’s up?  Where have you been?  Everything okay?”

Brene Brown’s book “Daring Greatly”, which spent 64 weeks on the NY times Bestseller list, opened up a global conversation about the importance of leaning into vulnerability.  Mindful awareness and reframing can help individuals, employees and teams take those first tentative steps toward the light.

Nobody sets out to fail

When was the last time you rolled out of bed and shouted: “Today is the day I am going to make a decision I will regret for the rest of my life?”  Instead, we optimistically reach into life’s cookie jar and hope to find a double chocolate chip macadamia cookie with our name on it.  When all we discover are crumbs from a dry ginger snap the downward spiral begins.  If the pattern repeats every day, the results are debilitating and soon we stop reaching into the jar.

I must be the problem

“I have the same cookie jar as my neighbor, so the problem must be me!  I failed to learn how to bake because I goofed off in home economics 20 years ago!  I tried to bake but was given a flawed recipe!  I can’t follow the simple instructions on the Nestle package!  My oven temperature is off so why bother?  My Mother wasn’t a good baker so it’s genetic!  I planned to bake but the bottle of merlot was calling my name!”

You’ve failed, made mistakes, chose poorly, or been misled – the possibilities are endless, but one thing is clear; the regrets now hijack your thinking.  Whatever the cause, you find yourself at fault and wonder if you’ll ever taste chocolate again.  You are drowning in the quicksand of “would of, could of, or should of”.

Failure and setbacks birth change and forward movement.

Bringing honourable closure to a poor decision through self-forgiveness is not that difficult when a valuable lesson can be found that will grease the wheels for future success.

Now that I know better, I can do better.

Personally or professionally, failure and setbacks are part of the experience (even though they are not celebrated on Facebook).  Individuals, teams and organizations seeking innovative breakthroughs must accept that failure is an important step to allow greatness to emerge.  Focusing only on success makes individuals, teams and organizations risk adverse when perfection becomes the only acceptable outcome.

Moving forward after a setback need not be debilitating.

1.  Claim the Choice/Decision that Led to Disappointing Results

If you have persistent thoughts that linger on a failed choice or decision, it is a good sign it needs to be released.  Whether it is personal or professional, hanging on to a past blunder will invoke negative feelings that prevent you and your organization from realizing your full potential.  Others may want to hang onto your mistake, but you do not have to.  The first step is to get clear on the actions or decisions that to forgive.

2.  Change the Inner Dialogue

Disentangle the impact of a poor choice from who you are as a person.  Making this separation changes the inner dialogue from “I am no good” to “I made a decision that wasn’t good”.  This is a critical first step.  It is a subtle but important distinction.  “I am no good” creates feelings of shame and unworthiness.  Changing the inner self-talk to “My decision was not good” moves the needle from shame to regret — a much healthier launching pad for moving forward.  Shame prevents future risk taking while regret provides a stepping stone to move forward – even if wrapped in caution.

3.  Claim Private Victory

There is always a lesson hiding in the shadows of “would of, could of, or should of.”   Revealing and accepting a life lesson is empowering and is the heart of “now that I know better, I can do better.”  Let go of the idea that things should have been different and accept that you made the best choice at the time based on what you knew then.  Get clear on how your choices will be different moving forward and you’ll begin to ride the wave of confidence.

4.  Claim Public Victory

Declare private victory by being vulnerable and proactively sharing your story with others.  Share the choice you made, what you learned from the situation and most importantly what you plan to do differently in the future.  Sharing is an important step because you proactively head off criticism while releasing any lingering shame or resentment.  Others will appreciate and perhaps even benefit from learning about your misstep.  Claiming public victory is about moving out of the darkness and into the light.

Be creative and have fun.  How about a cake on casual Friday?  Include royal frosting that reads “Way to go, team; we screwed up this project.”  Acknowledge what went wrong, identify what was learned, declare what can be different moving forward then begin passing the plastic plates and forks.  If there is no budget for cake, how about announcing your triumph on Facebook (which is sure to freeze the scrolling of friends and colleagues).

Finding honourable closure through ritual, celebration or a simple conscious choice is the key to permanent release.

Ready to practice?  Download our skill builder here.

Courage is getting up and trying again tomorrow .. or maybe on Monday!  Oh and remember, despite what you might see on the surface, there is a good chance others are struggling with some issue that isn’t visible.  Silently ask this question the next time you find yourself in a crowd of strangers, at a team meeting (or perusing Facebook) “I wonder what they might be struggling with and not have the courage to share”?  Offer a smile as you remind yourself that everyone’s life is as difficult as your own.

Made to Measure supports the transformation of Individuals, Leaders, Teams and Organizations.  They take pride in creating flexible solutions tailored to fit.  Their signature program, “Discover Your Greatness Within” provides an integrated framework for individuals looking to bring more authenticity to their professional and personal lives.