The Power of Forgiving Yourself
I’ve heard from some of you that my posts on the book “The Willpower Instinct” have inspired you to set some goals. I am already proud of you! Determining that you want to work on bettering yourself is a huge step, a beautiful step, a hard step.
The visioning step can be a lot of fun though, right? Close your eyes, envision who you want to be, and in your vision you’re already there. It’s awesome! It’s a great feeling to know that you even want to become a better person. Chapter 6 of “The Willpower Instinct” talks about this feeling. The feeling of starting something can actually feel so good that we let ourselves “quit” just so we can have that feeling of starting again.
That’s kinda crazy, right? We want to get better, so we start a program, we fail at some portion of the program, with guilt we say, “dang, we didn’t succeed”, thus we quit the program, and we start the cycle over again.
How do we interrupt the cycle? The answer that Dr. Kelly McGonigal gives is … FORGIVENESS.
“Surprisingly, it’s forgiveness, not guilt, that increases accountability. Researchers have found that taking a self-compassionate point of view on a personal failure makes people more likely to take personal responsibility for the failure than when they take a self-critical point of view. They also are more willing to receive feedback and advice from others, and more likely to learn from the experience.”
McGonigal Ph.D., Kelly (2011-12-29). The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Doto Get More of It (p. 148). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.
Forgiveness, in these cases, feels like we’re letting ourselves off the hook. I mean, if it’s “okay” any time I make a mistake or don’t live up to the expectations of my new goals, why should I even strive for the goals? The reason is that forgiveness tells us that we have to keep striving. Yes, it is okay to not succeed in the goal – to (wait for the ugly word…) fail (gasp! I said fail) in our working towards a goal. However, because it is “okay” that means that I do not have an excuse to quit. That slip up, that indulgence, that night of fun is no longer a reason to quit striving for the goal; it is another learning experience.
When we view our failures as something be okay with, they become something from which we can learn. Why did I slip up? What else might make me want to quit working towards my goal? What can I do to prevent that scenario from happening again?
Research shows that predicting how and when you might be tempted to break your vow increases the chances that you will keep a resolution.
McGonigal Ph.D., Kelly (2011-12-29). The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Doto Get More of It (p. 154). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.
Take some time to think about your goals. Can you anticipate some ways, locations, people, scenarios where it will be easy to break what you’ve outlined as your steps toward your goal? If so, what are your options? Maybe a “cheat day” needs to be built into your program. If you’re trying a diet that doesn’t allow you to eat your favorite food, maybe allow yourself to eat it once a week. Or allow yourself to eat in on Holidays. Maybe you’re trying to drink less and you may have to limit the number of days you meet your friends at a bar.
What can you do to help yourself in those scenarios where you know your willpower will be in jeopardy?
Now, I want you to tell yourself, “Self, I forgive you”. Say it again. Again. Again. What goals have you set for yourself that you have quit but you want to continue to work on? Say it again, “Self, I forgive you”. What New Year’s resolution did you set this year that you’ve already forgotten? “Self, I forgive you”. What promise did you make to yourself last week that you’ve already broken? “Self, I forgive you”.
Now, get back to your goal(s).
When needed say, “Self, I forgive you”.
Then, get back to your goal(s).