Career & Jobs

Learning To Forgive Yourself Is One Of The Fastest Ways To Be Happier At Work

Some people (myself included) grew up with the idea that when we make a mistake, we need to beat ourselves up mentally so we’re properly motivated to improve the next time. New research, however, finds that an inability to forgive ourselves is greatly depressing our happiness at work.

In Leadership IQ’s new study called The Links Between Self Forgiveness, Forgiving Others, and Employee Engagement, we discovered that if you’re good at forgiving yourself, you’re 65% more motivated to give 100% effort at work. And you’re 40% more likely to recommend their company as a great organization to work for.

While that sounds great, the study also discovered that only 8% of people have high levels of self-forgiveness. So clearly, this is a skill that most of us need to develop.  If you want to quickly get better at forgiving yourself, here’s a simple exercise.

One of the mental blockages that prevent us from exhibiting more self-forgiveness is black-and-white thinking. Black-and-white thinking is when we think about the world in terms of black or white, always or never, fantastic or horrible. Basically, we think of the world in terms of extremes, and what ends up happening is that we miss the shades of gray.

Maybe I made a mistake at work, but does that mean that my career is over? Or that I can never show my face in that meeting again? Or that everyone now thinks I’m an idiot? If we’re engaged in black-and-white thinking, it’s easy to view every mistake we make as calamitous. But that’s not generally how the world works. Maybe I’ll get a few weird glances at the next meeting, but it will pass within a few minutes. Maybe I’ll have to mutter a quick “sorry,” but that’s not the same as being permanently relegated to the bench.

Forgiving ourselves requires breaking the black-and-white thinking habit. And here’s a quick way to accomplish that. First, make a list of words that are extreme opposites. Some of my favorites include black and white, up and down, fast and slow, young and old, good and bad, pass and fail, clean and dirty, loud and quiet, and near and far.

Second, you now need to go through those extremes and find a word that represents something in the middle. If we take the first two words, black and white, what’s in between black and white? Gray seems like an easy choice, but platinum, silver, battleship and slate would all work pretty well.

What’s a middle ground between near and far? Perhaps intermediate, halfway, middle, distant or middling? 

The point here isn’t to give you every possible answer but rather to have you start to think about some of the possibilities that exist between the two extremes. While this might seem like a weird exercise, it’s critical for developing our ability to see the world in shades other than black or white.

If we get comfortable eliminating extremes or absolutes from our lexicon, we’re much less likely to engage in black-and-white thinking, and that will quickly lead us to see our mistakes as something other than calamitous failures. That, in turn, sets the stage for us to engage in more self-forgiveness.

We don’t want to be delusional and never admit that we messed up. Instead, self-forgiveness is all about avoiding a cycle of negativity that paralyzes us and stops us from moving forward. We’re all going to make mistakes, but spending the next day, week, or month ruminating on those mistakes means that we’re missing the chance to improve, move forward and find happiness. And that’s why forgiving ourselves is so important.

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