I studied Psychology at Cornell College but when I was in school, there was not a class for positivity — “positivity psychology” was a new term for me. It’s currently one of the most popular classes at Harvard, and I learned about it from Cleo Wade, the author of Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom for a Better Life, at a panel I moderated at the Women Empower Expo where she was the keynote speaker. I picked up her book after hearing her speak and was already finished reading it by the time I went to her conversation at Politics and Prose, one of my favorite local bookstores in Washington, DC. There are some people that I know I would be friends with if we had the chance to spend time together, and I’ll admit, the entire panel was a group of women that I would have loved to have dinner with. During the conversation, Cleo mentioned the Harvard class and she shared something that stuck with me: the key to happiness is forgiving yourself. It sounds so simple, but like many things in life, it’s easier said than done. Here are a few key things to remember when you are working on forgiving yourself:
Admit how you got it wrong
You cannot make amends if you don’t believe that you did anything wrong and take ownership of what you did. You have to deal with it, face what you did, and the situation that was created by what you did. We are all human and we are all going to make mistakes — remember that nothing you do will change what happened and that you did the best that you could with the tools that you had at the time. Say it with me, I cannot undo the past. Say it again and again until you believe it.
You can process what happened, give yourselves better tools for the future, pack it into a box, or rewrite it in your mind, but you can never change the past. What those things can do is allow you to let go of the pain of the past and allow you to learn the lesson that the past has to offer. What will not help you is beating yourself up for it over and over again.
So you did something wrong, by accident or possibly knowing better. What is done is done, now let’s deal with the feelings you have built up around it and forgive yourself.
Prepare for a restart and try again
We all are our own worst critics, but beating ourselves up does not help us live in our light and be our best selves. Punishing yourself for the past only blocks you from your own happiness in the present. You are allowed to grow and to become a better person. Comparison is the thief of joy, so do not set your sights on anything other than being better than you were yesterday — if you focus on that, you will feel so much better than if you’re just worrying about what other people have. In order to live each day better than the last, you have to stop looking backwards.
Make amends with others and yourself, keep what you have learned, and let go of the rest.
Think about what happened and figure out what limiting beliefs you have built about yourself regarding it. Often we go to the very worst thoughts about a situation — if you’ve had four jobs and lost two, you might start to believe that you cannot keep a job, despite evidence to the contrary in the other two jobs you kept. Just because you have lost jobs in the past does not mean that you can never keep a job; just because you have not found a relationship that fits, does not mean that you will be alone forever.
The only way that these things become truth is if you start to believe them into happening. The things that you believe have power because you believe them. Let go of those negative beliefs to give yourself room to grow.
A restart is not a redo
While it’s important to forgive yourself, there are two things you have to remember: others may continue to hold on because you cannot control how anyone else thinks or feels, and forgiveness is not permission to do it again. You can’t force someone else’s forgiveness, and just because you apologize doesn’t mean that the person who feels slighted will accept it; however, that does not mean have to continue to punish yourself for whatever happened. The world is a better place when we all have space to be better people than we were yesterday. In order to grow as people, we have to learn from our mistakes and our past. We have to forgive ourselves even when others might not. Forgiveness is an important and necessary part of building a loving and trusting relationship with yourself.
The best thing that you can do to show your sincerity is to continue to grow as a person and to be the best version of yourself everyday. You (and the world!) deserve the best you have to offer. What happened before will never change — but you can. We are evolving, changing and growing constantly, the only thing that stops us from growing is our own limiting beliefs. An old dog can definitely learn new tricks — it might take a little longer, but if you believe it, you can achieve it. So believe that you are wonderful, worth, brilliant, and so loved — because why waste your time believing anything else. If for now it’s only you loving yourself, that is a wonderful place to start, because you can teach other people how to love you too.