8-Steps to an Empowered Future

We all have a finite amount of energy to create the lives we want. To manifest a bold, empowered future we need access to that energy. Sometimes, despite our effort, we find ourselves blocked. We know we want more—to contribute more, to love more, to be more available—but no matter how hard we try we feel stuck.

One of the reasons for this is that we are expending energy on the past. We are preoccupied with how things were “supposed to be,” or we wish things were different today. We may just feel numb, indifferent and unsure. We suffer from “if only.”

Because we have a limited amount of life-force, it is essential to break this habit of giving away energy to the past. Want to build an empire, fall madly in love, or make a difference in your community? The first step, for many, is healing the past.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to doing just that.

Ground Rules

First, a few ground rules to make the process easier. These are suggestions to keep you out of the mess of mental acrobats we humans are prone to and keep the emotional pain manageable.

 Work the process with one person at a time.

Focus on actions, not judgments. You can’t forgive someone for being a bad person because that is just your opinion. It is actions that cause injury to others, not character. Forgive her for lying, not for being a liar.

Use a designated journal for the process.

Don’t talk to the people your forgiving about the process. This is all personal, internal work. The only exception is if you’re doing self-forgiveness work and need to make amends. If you’re forgiving others, you do not need to involve them.

If you’re working on self-forgiveness the process is the same with the exception stated above: you might feel you need to apologize.

Expect other opportunities for forgiveness to come up along the way. Perhaps you remember Uncle Bob made fun of you when you were trying to make something right, or you realize you were unkind because you saw things a certain way (you felt you needed to defend yourself), only to realize you could have handled the situation more compassionately. Just write down what comes up and continue the process.

Finally, this is not something you sit down and do in a day or a week, usually. Each step after Step 2, which you will repeat before doing each subsequent step, may take a day, week, month, or even a year. Steps 5, 6 and 7 take the longest.

Forgiveness is a natural healing journey. These steps are designed to help keep us on track and accelerate the process, but we have to be patient and kind. It takes as long as it takes.

Step 1: Get clear

 Write down why you are choosing, at this point, to do this work.

Examples might include:

  • I want warmer, more intimate relationships
  • I don’t want to waste any more time thinking about what happened
  • I want to be confident and thoughtful with my associates

Whatever the case, get clear about why you are choosing to engage in the process right now. You might have one big, obvious motivation, or a handful of improvements or changes you want to see.

  1. What are your truest, deepest motivations? Do not try to be spiritual or noble as you think about this. How will the process make life better for you in practical ways?
  1. (Optional) Make an agreement with yourself or someone you trust, to help you stay accountable. Sign a written agreement declaring your commitment to forgive the person no matter what resistance you encounter.

Step 2. Acknowledge your suffering

Now that you are clear on why you are choosing to forgive, reflect on what your experience of suffering has been to the process. What are you trying to “fix?” Write about this in your journal. This is distinct from your motivations; focus on what the experience of suffering has felt like. If your motivation is that you have been agitated with your partner, has it caused you to feel deep sadness or anger?

This is the most important step because healing is about processing our pain instead of ignoring or judging it. Use whatever tools you need to get in touch with the pain you felt when the harm was done. You can download the Emotional Awareness meditation at http://forgivenessacademy.com, find a coach or therapist, or just get quiet and allow yourself to feel the sadness, humiliation, guilt, or whatever is there at the very base of it all. Anger, shame, and resentment may come up. This is good but keep exploring because there are usually other more vulnerable feelings behind them.

Do this step daily if you can. You will begin each of the following steps by doing Step 2 first. It should take 5-7 minutes each time.

Step 3: Write down what you need to forgive the other person for (or yourself)

Write down exactly what you need to forgive. What actions did they (or you) do to cause the pain?

Clump actions into groups, if it helps cover everything. For example, forgive them for not asking how your day was when you got home every day. You do not have to be specific about everything, but the more specific, the simpler it will be to move through the steps.

Do not try to be kind as you write. Write until you feel you have identified all the things you need to forgive. Take a few days to process what you have written and add to the list as needed. This step may take five minutes or two weeks. You want to feel like you have written down everything you needed to say.

 Step 4: Share the story with a neutral, non-judging, respectful witness

Find a trusted confidante, counselor, or coach with whom to share your story. Having a witness to our story opens up space for the healing process, because what the story looks like changes when we talk about it. It begins to lose its grip on us. One of the reasons for this is that we start to use our other senses to experience the story. We hear our words. Suddenly, the story becomes something more tangible and knowable, less scary, when we bring it out of the shadows.

Neutral means someone who is not connected to the story. You do not want someone to question you or your interpretation. This person’s job is to listen with a kind heart.

Write about your experience of sharing in your journal. Did you experience any emotional changes? Do you feel better? Worse? If you are sharing the story for the first time, you may feel sadness you had not been present to before. Allow as much time as you need before moving on to the next step.

Step 5: Write and say, “I forgive you, [name of person], for [offense].”

Write and say out loud each day, “I forgive you, [name], for [what they/you did]. Use what you wrote in Step 3 as a starting point. You may have five or fifty statements. Start writing and speak them aloud, even if you do not believe it. Rewrite and re-speak the statements for as long as it takes to experience a shift. Twenty to forty days is a good guideline.

A shift may show up as feeling less hurt or less stress. What generally happens when you experience a shift is this: You will be rewriting a statement, and a subtle question will come to mind, “Really? What is this all about? Why did I say it like that?” Or, “I am actually grateful it happened that way and not some other way.” Another common transformation is finding new empathy for the person. “I can sort of see why they might have done that…”

If, after forty days, you feel the same, take a break. You are probably experiencing significant resistance. For more on points of resistance, you can refer to the 5-Competencies in Chapter 3 of The Power of Forgiveness.

Step 6: Wish the other person well.

Every day, for the next thirty days, write down and read your highest intentions for the person you are forgiving. As you consider what these positive visions for their life might be, do your best to take yourself out of the picture. This is not a list of what you know is best for them. It is what you believe they would want, that is life-affirming. It can be fairly general, such as, “I wish my mother perfect health and all of the material things her heart desires.” Or, it can be very specific.

If you are a person of faith, these wishes can be prayers.

As you go through this step, in addition to rewriting and reading (or speaking) your wishes for the person’s well-being, write how you are feeling about them in your journal. Take special note of any increases in empathy or connection. Note any softening of your own emotions.

This step can take a long time. Do it every day for a month, and if you feel you are not ready to go on to Step 7, take a week off then, pick up where you left off. Make it a habit of visualizing what happiness would look like in their life. The best time to do this is when you have a negative thought or feeling about them.

Note: This step can feel like you’re somehow letting them off the hook. This is a cognitive error. They are not part of the process. You’re just changing your mind and heart. It is not about them at all. It’s about you.

Step 7: Forgive the person and release the offense.

Write and speak out loud each day, “I love you, [name of person]. I appreciate you. Thank you for being my teacher.” If you are not in relationship with them, add, “You can go now.” While speaking these mantras each day, visualize the person in front of you. When you speak the last part, you can imagine them leaving the space in front of you, representing their willingness to release the bond held by non-forgiveness. Do this for as long as it takes; I recommend twenty to forty days. This step can take a long time to realize the final shift fully.

If you have significant resistance to any part of this step, such as “I love you,” begin by writing the parts that work for you. As you move through the process over time, add the rest when you can imagine the possibility of it being true. This step is complete when you feel what you’re saying is true.

 Step 8: Ritualize and celebrate your success.

Make memories by conducting rituals and celebrating your success. Some examples might include:

  • Burning your journal and having a gratitude ceremony
  • Throwing a forgiveness party
  • Taking a forgiveness vacation

This is a time to cultivate joy by honoring yourself and the work you have done. The reality is, we live in an unforgiving world because this work is hard to do. Don’t cheat yourself. Learning to forgive is akin to becoming a marathon runner. But, the benefits are almost incomprehensible. Creating that empowered future will not only begin to crystallize in your mind, but you’ll also be able to enjoy life right here and now with more ease and gratitude.

Good luck on your journey!