“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.”
I’m very good at forgiving. Use my credit card to buy pizza without my permission – I’ll forgive you*. Poke me in the eye – I’ll forgive you. Steal my prized possession and sell it so you can buy drugs – I’ll forgive you. And not just that I wouldn’t punch you in the face, but I wouldn’t hold a grudge. I’d move completely past it and be your best friend afterwards. I don’t think it’s going too far to say that I am the Gandhi, or perhaps the Jesus, of forgiveness. If someone made a movie of my life, people would say “Why is this movie about Jesus called ‘JD’ instead of ‘JC’?” My point is, I’ve never had any trouble forgiving people, and I certainly wouldn’t have thought I needed any help with it.
A few weeks ago, though, I read a post on Reddit by ryan01 where he gave some advice for life, and the main thing that I took away from it was You Are Three People. You might think you’re only one, but you’re wrong. You’re past you, present you, and future you. Studies show that people think of their selves in the future as being like a stranger. That’s why it’s hard to do something now for a future benefit, because it literally feels like you’re doing that for a stranger. You’re avoiding spending all your money on cake and pies now so you can afford a down payment on a house in 5 years, but a stranger will be living in that house, a stranger that doesn’t even exist now and won’t even appreciate all your hard work not eating cake.
Ryan’s steps for dealing with the fact that you are three people are easy:
1. Do favors for your future self. You are your best friend, you know yourself the best, you’re in the best position to help (future) you out. If you’re laying on the couch drinking melted ice cream and watching Golden Girls when you actually have a report for work due, imagine that future you is another person who is your best friend, and he really needs your help with this report or he’s going to lose his job. Are you going to lay there instead of helping him out now?
2. After you’ve done a favor for your future self, and you’ve reached the future, you (now present you) should thank past you for what you’ve done, just as if past you was a different person and did a favor for you. Because that’s just what he (you) did.
Following these simple steps is a good way to motivate yourself to do things. You do things and you feel good for doing them, then once you’re benefiting from them you thank yourself for them. It creates a cycle of doing things, enjoying them, and thanking yourself so you want to do more things to enjoy them and get your own thanks. There was a third important thing as well, which was:
3. Forgive past you for mistakes.
As I read it, I realized that I never forgave myself for anything. I beat myself up about everything, I was ashamed of myself, I never let past mistakes go. I treated myself more badly than I would treat my worst enemy, and I certainly forgave myself less. And of course, because why would you forgive yourself, anyway? You don’t need to forgive yourself, its absurd! You already know all the circumstances inside your head, why you did things, what went wrong, how you couldn’t have done it differently, etc. etc.
I kept turning the idea over in my head as I read, and I felt a powerful yearning for my own forgiveness. I left the computer, went into the bathroom and stood at the sink. I looked into the mirror, looked myself right in the eye, and said JD, I forgive you. Immediately, I began crying. It was an amazing experience. It was exactly as if someone else was forgiving me. It was like my best friend had forgiven me – which it should be, because I’m my best friend! Deep down, I must have known how much withholding my own forgiveness was hurting me, and I desperately wanted it without even knowing. I stood there for twenty minutes, forgiving myself for everything I could think of. And afterwards, I felt great. It was just as if I had done terrible things and been forgiven for them, truly forgiven without any grudges held.
If someone had told me the day before that I needed my own forgiveness, I probably would have laughed, or just ignored what they said. I probably would have thought they were a little weird. But it turns out that it was one of the things I needed most. That was weeks ago, and I’ve been a lot easier on myself since then. Failure is easier to handle, as well as there being less things that feel like failure because I’m not there to tell myself I’m a failure. Success is also easier to achieve, because I’m not watching myself constantly waiting for me to slip up so I can shout at me that I’m doing it wrong. I was so moved by this advice that I put it as the first entry in my book of advice to myself, JD’s Book of Advice for JD.
If you don’t forgive yourself, if you constantly beat yourself up, or if you’re just harder on yourself than you would be on other people, this is something I can absolutely recommend. Just get to a mirror, look into your own eyes, and forgive yourself like you would a good friend that you know very intimately.
*Don’t actually do this, I’ll have you arrested.