SALT LAKE CITY — Each January for the last seven years, I have written an article recommending one New Year’s resolution that would have a great impact on the quality of your life. This year we recommend forgiveness: total, unconditional forgiveness for yourself and others.
Here are some principles that will make forgiving yourself and others easier:
We believe this is a profound and life-changing truth: the way you choose to see, judge, condemn or attack others also determines the way you see, judge, condemn and attack yourself.
If you are quick to see faults, flaws and mistakes in other people and you let those mistakes determine their value, or you see them as bad guys, you are giving power to the damaging idea that people can be "not good enough" and that human value is changeable and can go up and down.
If you give power to this idea, it will also affect the way you see yourself and your own value. You will also see your own value as changeable and in question, and you will constantly be afraid you aren’t good enough.
But it is human nature to subconsciously look for the bad in others, gossip and judge to make ourselves feel better. If they are the bad ones, we think we are the good one. But the more we put down, criticize or gossip about others, the worse our own self-esteem becomes. There is no escaping this cause-and-effect cycle once you start judging. But you don’t have to live this way.
You could decide to let all your and their past mistakes go, and see life as a classroom, not a test. This means letting everyone be a struggling, scared, amazing, divine, infinitely valuable, and innocent being who is doing the best they can with what they know at each moment. It means giving them and yourself the freedom to be a work in progress and not expect perfection from anyone.
You have the power to choose a compassion mindset where we are all innocent, silly, sometimes stupid, learners, whose value is (fortunately) not in question or changeable. You could decide to see all humans and their value as infinite and absolute and see every human being as having the same value. This mindset will make you feel better about yourself, and you will also treat other people with compassion. But you must give up judgment and criticism to claim this.
Start today and eliminate judging others from your life. Forgive them (whoever they are) for all their mistakes. Focus on the lessons each experience taught you, and let a higher power (or the universe) be in charge of your and their classroom journey from here. Forgive them and move forward without any anger, hurt or pain around what happened. Bless them on their way.
Of course, sometimes you have to still associate with the person. Just remember, just because you forgave them, doesn’t mean you have to trust them again or want them in your life. But you can choose to see their value as the same as yours, because you don’t want your mistakes to affect your value, either.
Forgive yourself for all your past mistakes. They were just lessons and they don’t define who you will be moving forward. Use them to become a better version of yourself in the future and let go of shame and guilt.
When a painful event happens in your life, it is normal to feel pain and suffer for a while, but eventually, you must decide how long you will live that way. No situation or person can cause you pain forever, because it is your thoughts (about the situation) that are continuing to cause the pain, and you do have control over your thoughts.
Sometimes when an offense is fresh, you will need to feel the pain and can't expect to choose your way out of it yet. But eventually, you will have the power to decide how miserable and for long you want to feel that way.
In the end, no one can take away your peace or give you peace. No one can make you feel terrible or make you feel better. You alone have that power. If you struggle to understand this principle, read my KSL article about choosing to be upset.
You have the power to choose peace, joy, confidence and forgiveness in any moment. Owning this truth gives you the power to not continue to hurt over an offense or feel like a failure because of a mistake.
Your family is your primary forgiveness classroom. This is especially true because the people closest to you are the ones you allow to hurt you the most.
When you see your family life this way (as your classroom) you will finally be seeing them accurately. Every fight, offense or disappointment that shows up is a chance for you to practice seeing human value as infinite and practice forgiveness toward yourself or others.
Your family, and especially your spouse, provide you daily opportunities to stretch the limits of your love and work on forgiveness.
We teach our clients that "SHAME" is an acronym that stands for: Should Have Already Mastered Everything. If life is a classroom though, shame is ridiculous. You are a student in the classroom of life, there is no way you could have known it all, all along.
Give yourself permission to be a work in progress. You are learning and growing, and have much more to learn. You are on the path of self-improvement, and wherever you are at this point is good enough for right now.
You will do better in the future, but guilt, shame and beating yourself up for months or years does you no good. It doesn’t fix the past nor create a better a future. It makes more sense to focus your energy on working to be a better person today.
Remember, the opinions of others are just thoughts and ideas in their heads, which have no power, mean nothing, and can’t hurt you, diminish your value, or change you in any way. They may influence events in your life, but if you trust the universe is a wise teacher you won’t worry about that because you know it only brings the experiences that are right for you. Don't worry about losing out or not getting the life you wanted, and see the opinions of others as irrelevant.
But what you think of yourself and your past matters a lot.
If you see life as a classroom and your value as absolute (and forgive yourself) you will show up with confidence and love, and everywhere you go people will feel that in you and respect you in spite of your past mistakes. Even if you made BIG mistakes in the past, if other people can feel that you have learned the lessons, moved on, and you now know your value isn’t affected by them, they will tend to follow your lead and let your past go too.
If you cannot do this, however, and continue to beat yourself up, carry shame and guilt around, and feel you are less than other people, other people will feel this too, and they will also have trouble forgiving you or letting your past go. Whichever stance you claim, they will follow.
We believe forgiving works best if you shift your perspective and look at your life in trust that it has always been your perfect classroom. Trust that every offense or mistake happened, because it could teach you something. See if you can name 10 positives that making the mistake (or being hurt in that way) has created in your life. This will help you see your life as your perfect classroom journey. When you no longer resist what happened, but embrace or accept it as something that served you, you will find forgiving gets much easier.
Focus on being the most forgiving person you can be this year, toward yourself and others. This powerful choice will take pain and suffering off you, and bring the light back in. If you still struggle to let mistakes go, check out another KSL article I wrote about the benefits of not forgiving. It might help you to see why you are still holding on.
If you make this a year of forgiveness, it will also be a year of more joy, more progress and more peace.
You can do this.
Previous LifeAdvice New Year's resolution articles:
2013: Improving relationships: The most important New Year's resolution
2014: The one New Year's resolution everyone should make
2015: The New Year's resolution that could change the world
2016: The best New Year's resolution you could make in 2016
2017: The best New Year’s resolution you can make in 2017