8-Steps to an Empowered Future

We all have a finite amount of energy to use to contribute to the lives we want. To create a bold, empowered future, we need to be able to access that energy. Sometimes, despite a sincere effort, we find ourselves blocked. 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 what went wrong along the way. We suffer from if only. If we strive and fail to achieve something today, we must break the habit of giving away vital energy to the past. As annoying as it may be, sometimes we need to take a little time and transform our relationship to past experiences to accomplish what we set out to do today.

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 chaos 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. Actions cause injury, not character. Forgive her for lying, not for being a liar.

Use a designated journal or notebook.

Don’t involve the people you are forgiving. Releasing resentment and shame related to events that have happened is personal, internal work. If you’re forgiving others, you do not need to involve them during the process. Reconciling or repairing a relationship should be done separately and later. The only exception is if you’re doing self-forgiveness work and need to make amends.

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 needed to defend yourself, in retrospect, to realize you could have better handled the situation. Just write down what comes up and continue the process. Come back to these later.

Finally, this is not usually something you do in a day or a week. 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 most time.

Forgiveness is a natural healing journey. These steps help keep you on track and accelerate the process, but you have to be patient and kind. It takes as long as it takes and can’t be forced, only encouraged.

Step 1: Get clear (three parts)

1. 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/family

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

2. 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?

3. (Optional) Make an agreement with yourself or someone you trust to help you stay accountable. Sign a written agreement declaring your commitment to forgive no matter what resistance you encounter.

Step 2. Acknowledge the impact (emotional pain, loss)

Now that you are clear on why you choose to forgive, reflect on the effects, particularly your emotional, psychological, and spiritual pain. What are you trying to fix? Write about this in your journal.

This is distinct from your motivations; focus on what the experience feels like. For example, if your motivation is that you have been impatient and unfocused with your partner or kids, what might be causing you to behave this way? Are you angry, disappointed, sad, tired?

This is the most important step because healing is fundamentally 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 and since. You can download the Emotional Awareness meditation at https://emilyjhooks.com/forgiveness-academy-exercises-meditations-2/, find a coach or therapist, or just get quiet and allow yourself to feel what is there. Anger, shame, and resentment may come up. Write it all down.

You will begin each of the following steps by briefly getting back in touch with what comes up in this step, so be clear on the impact and how it feels.

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

Write down precisely what you need to forgive. What actions did they (or you) take to cause the pain? This can be one thing or many (especially if you’re working on a parent or long-term relationship).

Cluster actions into groups if it helps cover everything. For example, forgive them for not asking how your day was when you got home most days. You do not have to be specific about everything, but the more detailed, the simpler it will be to move through the steps. You need to be able to connect the action with the pain viscerally.

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 things come up. This step may take five minutes or two weeks. You want to feel like you have written down everything you need 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. This is partly because as we use our other senses to experience the story, we can process it more fully. We hear our words. We sense another’s understanding and empathy. The story becomes something more tangible and knowable. It becomes less scary when we bring it out of the shadows.

A neutral witness is 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 only listen with a kind heart.

Write about your experience of sharing. Did anything shift? 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].”

Every day, write and say out loud, “I forgive you, [name], for [what they/you did]. Use what you wrote in Step 3 as a starting point. You may have one or fifty statements. Start writing and speak them aloud, even if you do not believe it. Rewrite and re-speak the statements daily for as long as it takes. Notice transformations in how you think about and relate to the statements. Twenty to forty days is a good guideline but take as long as you need.

A shift may show up as feeling less hurt or less stress. Generally, when a transition occurs, you will begin to rewrite 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 information about where resistance may come from, you can refer to 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.

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 feel about them in your journal. Take special note of any increases in empathy or connection. Note any softening of your emotions.\

This step can take an extended amount of 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, habitual thought or feeling about them.

Note: This step can feel like you’re 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 something like, “I love you, [name of person]. I appreciate you. Thank you for being my teacher.” If you are not in a relationship with them, add, “You can go now.” While speaking these refrains daily, visualize the person in front of you. When you say 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 whatever time it takes; I recommend twenty to forty days. It can take a while to realize the final release fully.

If you have significant resistance to any part of this step, such as “I love you,” begin by writing the pieces that work for you. As you move through it, 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.

It is important to denote success when we feel compassion or freedom from the former bondage of resentment or shame by ritualizing or celebrating our success. Memorializing our progress reminds us when we forget (which is common during difficult or stressful times) that we did the work. We don’t need to blame past events for current challenges.

Some examples of ways to make memories with ritual or celebration might include:

  • Burning your journal and having a gratitude ceremony with a close friend
  • Throwing a forgiveness party
  • Taking a forgiveness vacation. Be sure to take pictures!

This is a time to cultivate joy by honoring yourself and your work. We live in an unforgiving world precisely because this work is hard. Don’t cheat yourself. Learning to forgive is akin to becoming a marathon runner. But the benefits are boundless. 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!