Forgive Yourself

I’m going to invoke a song that will not leave your head for the remainder of the day. Or week. In the words of Queen Elsa of Arendelle, “Let it go! Let it go! Can’t hold it back anymore!” You’re welcome. Consider it my gift to you.

Any time we begin something new or even contemplate a different path, we tend to get in our own way. We are often plagued with a gamut of feelings, including guilt for prior attempts. Did you lose five pounds instead of your desired 15 and then gain them back? Did you try selling Partylite and couldn’t get people to attend the parties? Did you host another Open House with no participants?

Friend, Let it Go!!! There I go again. In all seriousness, we can’t even begin to address the normal 87,000 doubts, fears, and insecurities that go along with the road less traveled if we allow ourselves to remain rooted in the guilt of previous tries. I know when some of you read this, you hear “failures” when I say attempts, but that is a testament to the weight we give to our guilt.

In order to move on, we must reflect on what happened so that we can learn from it, build relationship bridges, and try again.

Acknowledge the feelings – One of the easiest things to do is stuff our feelings down and act like they don’t exist. This isn’t a sustainable approach. If we are sad, ashamed, or embarrassed and we don’t acknowledge it, those feelings will find a way to surface. The mind and body are very connected, and if our mind doesn’t have an outlet for these somber feelings, then the body will release them. Our feelings can manifest in headaches, stomachaches, anxiety, mood changes, being short tempered, lashing out at others, and more.

I get it – the last thing you want to do after an attempt at something is confront the feelings. You already feel badly enough; I understand. Give yourself a day to wallow in the blahs and feel sorry for yourself, but within a week, you must start to process what happened. If you don’t, again, those feelings will still manifest in some way and usually in a way you wouldn’t prefer.

Perhaps you started a bakery that folded, sold Mary Kay, essential oils, or Origami Owl and it wasn’t what you expected, or tried tirelessly to launch a healthy-meal delivery program, and it never gained traction. Maybe you were striving for a personal goal like a new diet, exercise program, or giving up sugar. How are you feeling about the attempt? Your feelings likely cover a spectrum – sadness, embarrassment, disappointment, frustration, shame, grief, and more.

Last year I chose to eliminate added sugar from my diet because I was legit addicted to the white substance. I binged on donuts, two-scoop hot fudge sundaes, and cookies in isolation. I would plot routes to take based on what fast-food places I could hit along the way. If I had to stop at the drugstore for something, I would immediately plan what I could grab quickly (Swedish Fish and a Snickers). For my health and mental well-being, I had to give it up completely.

But the attempt didn’t go as planned. I had three relapses before successfully eliminating it for good. As I type this, I am 282 days “clean.” I can’t believe I can even say that! Friend, I wouldn’t even share ice cream with my beloved Grandma as a child, so for me to give up sugar is momentous.

My first relapse occurred during a three-day trip to visit seven Wisconsin colleges last summer. I should preface this story by saying that I would overeat with sugar out of boredom, celebration, stress, and more. In celebratory mode, I succumbed to temptation on the second day. The trip planners thoughtfully provided a box of salty treats (chips, Fritos, Doritos) and a box of sweets – candy bars, Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies, and gummy snacks for the attendees. Before colleagues returned to the bus the second day, I scarfed down two bags of cookies and six mini candy bars. When we took off for our next destination and the boxes were passed around, you guessed it, I took a second helping with them none-the-wiser.

The shame was crippling. Even though they didn’t know what happened, I was embarrassed and disappointed with myself. If I hadn’t processed those feelings and learned from the situation, I would have remained stuck in that moment. I could have easily become rooted in shame and never progressed. I had to forgive myself for the relapse, give myself time to heal from it, and try again. No added sugar is now a lifestyle, and I wrote a book about the process of giving up sugar. Imagine where I would be if I never forgave myself and allowed myself to stay stuck!

I understand that the easiest thing to do is put our feelings in a tiny little box and stuff it down to a place so deep inside that it can never be retrieved. But in those moments, the isolation builds and builds, and we feel so achingly lonely. We feel on edge, alone, and out of sorts. It’s as if we don’t know ourselves anymore, like we’ve lost sight of our positive qualities. But it doesn’t have to be that way. When we feel the most alone is when we must reach out – to our partner, friends, co-workers, therapist, anyone who can listen with love and empathy.

Turn the page – You have identified that you feel profound sadness and are perhaps going through the stages of grief. Great, now you know how you feel, but then what? Next you must reflect on the mechanics of the attempt.

Bust out a clean notebook and begin taking notes.

  1. On one sheet of paper, list everything that you did well with the attempt. Did you successfully get up at 5:00 am to exercise 75% of the time? Did you notice new eating patterns when you went to parties? Did your business have a successful period?
  2. On another sheet of paper, list everything that you could have improved. Could you have learned about accounting and payroll more? Could you have visualized triggers and prepared better? Could you have reached out for help? What would you do differently?
  3. On a new sheet, list everything you learned about yourself and the business/diet/writing process.
  4. List all the ways you are proud of yourself for this attempt.

Notice my wording. I’m instructing you to indicate what YOU did well or what YOU could improve. It’s important to take ownership of the positives and the shortcomings. If I told you to list everything that went well, you don’t have the opportunity to take ownership. Hey, you accomplished much. You tried. You went all in, and for that you should be proud. It takes guts to try anything new, and you did that. Give yourself praise.

This exercise is an act of self-forgiveness. It brings you out of your feelings so that you can analyze the situation in a more factual way. It’s ok that you didn’t achieve success in the way you had hoped. It’s ok that you are embarrassed. It’s ok that it didn’t go as planned. Forgive yourself and let it go, friend.

Go big – Time to share your thoughts. Part of why we don’t try again is our guilt about how our previous attempts at growth affected others. Perhaps you feel guilty that your spouse had to do extra around the house, that you spent time away from the kids, or you used a chunk of money from the savings to fund your efforts. You must face these feelings head-on, too. Talk to your significant other about how you feel. Just like everything else we’ve reflected on, you can’t move forward without this step. Show your partner the lists you made and how you feel about impacting the family. This gives your partner an opportunity to support you all over again and helps bring things full circle for you.

Next chapter – There needs to be another chapter. After you sift through your feelings and lick your wounds for a bit, you will know when you are ready to try again. Maybe you will seek a new field, maybe you will build on what you learned, but regardless, you must try again. You know why I say that? Because you demonstrated the curiosity, entrepreneurship, and tenacity to try in the first place, and those aren’t just feelings; they are character traits. You got this. It’s always been inside you.

You can’t predict when you will be ready but listen to your gut. Afterall, life is about following our spark. After navigating the grief process and healing, you will eventually begin to yearn for more again. You will know when you are ready. Listen to what excites you, remember what you learned, and go all in. That’s the only way.

Did today’s topic resonate? Do you have previous attempts at goals that you must forgive yourself for? Do feel ready to try again? Comment below!

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As always, thank you for reading!