We won’t see growth in ourselves until we practice forgiveness that centers on ourselves. Learn how to forgive yourself all the things you don’t start or finish, right here, right now!
Putting together a personal development plan can seem daunting. It can feel overwhelming to put together a list of personal priorities for the future when the present feels uncertain. How do I know who I want to be six months or a year from now when I am trying to keep myself afloat right now?
I know this from personal experience.
In the two years, I have had to adjust how I thought about my own personal and professional development. No longer relying on an employer paying for my professional development, or asking me to complete a self-assessment once a year, or even having anyone give me feedback on the work I am doing, I have had to figure out what to do next all on my own.
Coupled with trying to kick-start a new business, manage a never-ending job search, and learning to pivot my skills in the middle of a pandemic – well, it’s a wonder I can look past the next hour much less the next month or more.
But I believe we all have the capacity to at least think about the here and now. We can do one thing, something, that will propel us forward to meet our goals. This post will be part of a series: in this post, I will explore ways you can practice forgiveness for projects you don’t start or finish that keep you from meeting your goals, right here, right now.
Lesson Learned: My Self Worth isn’t Determined By What I Start or Finish
My life over the last couple of years is full of half-finished projects and projects I haven’t even started just yet. Were I still working for a college or other organization, undoubtedly, I would have had more than one conversation about starting and finishing projects. And recently, I recently realized I carry those messages, internalized from years of micromanaging and unrealistic expectations.
Because that is exactly what they are: unrealistic expectations in the face of unending changes and a changing world.
I have spent the majority of the past two months focusing on identifying coaching tips that people can put into practice, right here, right now. But life happens. And all of that motivation to start or finish a project just disappears.
I look through these half-finished projects and just feel overwhelmed. Where do I start? What has a priority? How can I complete all of these projects without the motivation?
Stop, Breathe and Re-Focus
I think we respond differently to these incomplete projects, but they mostly center around feelings of shame. These feelings can stop us in our tracks and impact our self-image. When we place our self-worth in the work we produce, we risk impacting our self-esteem and our ability to bounce back.
I believe the first step is to stop. Breathe. And re-focus our energy externally.
Stop the negative self-talk
We are not the work we do. Nor are we a failure for not meeting deadlines. We are stupid, dumb, incompetent, or any of the other negative words we use to describe ourselves. Sara Lindberg, in How to Forgive Yourself, suggests that we learn to quiet the inner critic. “Sometimes it can be difficult to recognize the thoughts that are getting in the way of forgiveness. If you’re struggling to sort out your inner critic, registered clinical counselor Jordan Pickell suggests this exercise:”
- On one side of a piece of paper, write down what your inner critic says (which tends to be critical and irrational).
- On the other side of the paper, write a self-compassionate and rational response for each thing you wrote on the other side of the paper.
Lindberg also suggests that we stop the messages from starting in the first place. “When you catch yourself playing the “I’m a horrible person” tape, stop yourself and focus on one positive action step. For example, instead of replaying the tape, take three deep breaths or go for a walk.”
Practice mindfulness and just breathe
Feelings of shame can creep into our heads when we feel the most vulnerable, like when we are overwhelmed and lack focus for any number of reasons. One way to combat these feelings is to practice mindfulness. There are different mindfulness activities you can engage in, but the ones that include focusing on your breath really center on the hear and now. Parneet Pal and others, in 5 Simple Mindfulness Practices for Daily Life, suggest that starting your day with mindfulness can help you start your day with focus and intentionality.
They suggest engaging in the following practice first thing in the morning, before checking phones or email.
1. On waking, sit in your bed or a chair in a relaxed posture. Close your eyes and connect with the sensations of your seated body. Make sure your spine is straight, but not rigid.
2. Take three long, deep, nourishing breaths—breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Then let your breath settle into its own rhythm, as you simply follow it in and out, noticing the rise and fall of your chest and belly as you breathe.
3. Ask yourself: “What is my intention for today?” Use these prompts to help answer that question, as you think about the people and activities you will face. Ask yourself:
- How might I show up today to have the best impact?
- What quality of mind do I want to strengthen and develop?
- What do I need to take better care of myself?
- During difficult moments, how might I be more compassionate to others and myself?
- How might I feel more connected and fulfilled?
4. Set your intention for the day. For example, “Today, I will be kind to myself; be patient with others; give generously; stay grounded; persevere; have fun; eat well,” or anything else you feel is important.
5. Throughout the day, check-in with yourself. Pause, take a breath, and revisit your intention. Notice, as you become more and more conscious of your intentions for each day, how the quality of your communications, relationships, and mood shifts.
Learning to re-focus on your tasks
If you have tasks or projects that you believe must be completed, you might need some new ways to focus your time, effort and energy into completing them. This is easier said that done, so you might need to try more than one trick before finding one that works for you.
Stacey Lastoe, in This Is Nuts: It Takes Nearly 30 Minutes to Refocus After You Get Distracted, suggests that you limit your distractions. She suggests that you “turn off your notifications, and you can also give the Pomodoro method a shot.”
“Or, you might consider trying the Instagram CEO’s five-minute trick: When you struggle to get into something, tell yourself you’re going to do it for five minutes, and, chances are, you’ll continue straight through until it’s done!”
Lastoe, in The Guilt-Free Guide to Getting Back on Track After a Completely Unproductive Day, reminds us that guilt isn’t a good thing to fixate on when trying to make up for lost time:
“If you’re running into this issue on a weekly basis, then that’s a different problem, but if you occasionally finish a day with nothing to show from it, well, tomorrow is a new one. Pick up the pieces after a good night’s sleep—the same way you would following a sick or personal day. Try not to obsess over what you didn’t do; instead, channel your energy into what you now need to do.”
Create More Realistic Expectations
As I shared earlier, one of the challenges we are facing is that we have found ourselves trying to meet unrealistic expectations. And in the midst of a global pandemic, where many people are dealing with changing work expectations, looking after children and other family members, or managing grief, any previous work productivity expectation should be out the window.
But won’t change the expectations from those we work for, if we are working with others. Matthew Heusser, in 7 ways to deal with unreasonable executive expectations during coronavirus, believes that instead of focusing on how the workload is untenable with the actual number of hours in the work week you focus on what will be accomplished by priority.
He says, “What you can say is what you will do, in writing “What I am going to do right now is make projects foo, bar, and baz my number one, two, and three priorities.” In three months, when foo, bar, and baz are done and everything else is a mess on the floor, you can point back to that email. You gave the opportunity for people to adjust your priorities and they chose not to. The key is to do this non-confrontationally on both sides. In six months, it will be “I told you so” or career advance–pick one.”
For Those Working On Their Own
But what about those of us who are working for ourselves? How do we set more realistic expectations? Or at the very least recognize that expectations we set may be unattainable and setting us back in the long run?
John Amodeo, a marriage and family therapist, suggests that we ask ourselves to review our expectations we have set for us to achieve. He asks “Do you seek perfection? Does everything you do need to be flawless—without possible failure? If so, your pursuit of perfection might be holding you back.”
What we may need to do is look at our goals, the timelines we have set for them, and realistically assess our ability to achieve them with the time, effort, and energy we can actually muster, rather than work towards perfectionism. “Perfectionism means setting our goals too high and having unrealistic expectations. Being allergic to failure is often driven by an underlying sense of shame. If we can achieve some lofty goal and be perfectly successful, then no one can shame us. Failure is often a prerequisite for success. We become more resilient as we replace the aspiration for perfection with a humble desire to learn and grow from our experience.”
I know that for me, right here, right now, I need to reassess my priorities for the year. Make a list of what I can and will finish. And forgive myself for not finishing projects as I had planned.
But I will also applaud myself for making it this far without any real resources or plan. And congratulate myself for focusing on lessons learned in the moment. And above all, I will continue to educate others to move past temporary set-backs and continue on their paths to realizing their own goals.
Career Coaching for the Mid-Level Career Professional
I have worked with entry-level and mid-level career professionals for nearly ten years, helping them learn how to lean into their fears, reconsider their strengths, and ways to learn new skills. Let me know if there is anything I can do to support you as you develop this new skill.