(Dr. Clayton Lawrence, founder and CEO, shares his thoughts in a weekly column focused on community wellness and inspiring others.)
Happy New Year, friends! We hope you safely ushered in 2019 with open arms. Each new year often brings with it ambition, motivation and a renewed sense of hope. While some have set goals for themselves like losing weight, discovering purpose, giving up bad habits and sticking to an exercise routine, others are reflecting on years gone by with a sense of regret.
It can be hard to celebrate a new year when something from the past continues to cause torment, but there can be nothing more freeing than losing the shackles of unhealthy bygones. Allow this to be your year to practice acceptance – know that there are brighter days ahead and learn to appreciate that every part of your past has the ability to make you stronger.
Allow us to share a few ways that you can turn what seems like a permanent negative into a positive future.
Accept that everyone makes mistakes
Whether it’s you or someone else, the reality is, WE ALL MAKE MISTAKES. Maybe you have a checkered past. Maybe some bad choices landed you in a not-so-great situation. Maybe you carry around a lot of guilt from something you said or did. If so, now is the time to LOSE THE GUILT! If you are making great efforts to make positive changes in your life, then you owe it to yourself to drop the shame, give yourself a firm talking to and realize that no one is perfect. And that goes for the family member or friend who wronged you five years ago. Maybe they haven’t gone the extra mile to seek forgiveness – maybe they don’t even care to – but holding a grudge isn’t punishment for them. You’re the one who suffers. Now is the time to accept that mistakes have been made and, although many more will be made again, it doesn’t do any good to pass judgement on yourself or others.
Forgive (even though forgetting is hard)
There is a big difference between forgiving and forgetting. Forgetting would require a massive blow to the head to wipe out all memories, including the one that is keeping you from moving on. But forgiveness, on the other hand, means that you have already tackled step one (accepting that everyone makes mistakes) and you have, with memories intact, decided to offer compassion, empathy and understanding. It takes a mature individual to master the skill of forgiveness, especially when the hurt runs deep, but if there is a person in your life who is seeking your acceptance, you’ll never escape the negativity that can overshadow even your happiest of days if you can’t let bygones be bygones.
Let it go
In order for forgiveness to truly take place, it is important to have a direct conversation with the man (or woman) in the mirror. Have you simply muttered a few words … “apology accepted,” “OK, you’re forgiven,” “alright, let’s move on”? Only you know the answer to this and that’s what makes this step so critical. If you can honestly say that you have forgiven someone for their wrongdoings, then you must 100 percent, completely and unequivocally LET IT GO. Allowing hurt feelings or resentment to hang around in the background, even just the teensiest, tiniest bit, is incredibly counterproductive. Doing so allows feelings to fester and negativity to build up until one day, you’re back to where you started. The simplest way to ensure you have forgiven? Invite the memory back. How do you feel? If you can honestly say that all negative emotions have been put to rest – great! If not, you’ve still got work to do.
Try a different approach
It’s been said a million different ways, but the truth is, nothing will change if we keep doing the same thing over and over again. If you have asked yourself the above question – How do you feel? – and there is still some part of you that hasn’t entirely let go, then you must try something new. This could be as simple as putting pen to paper or having a face-to-face conversation, or it could require the assistance of someone else, like a therapist or trusted friend. The important thing is that you work toward releasing yourself and others of the negative emotions that could stall your progress toward a renewed you in a promising new year. Explore new ways to get to know what makes you tick and you’ll be surprised at how changing your approach could be the breakthrough you need.