You know that feeling when you procrastinate on something for so long that it becomes an overwhelming obstacle that keeps you awake at night? Yeah… so that’s kind of what blogging became for us. We missed one because whoops… and then we missed another and then it started to haunt us. We hadn’t written a blog for weeks and we stopped even talking to each other about the blog because the thought of recognising this issue gave us anxiety.

So, today we want to talk about forgiveness… namely forgiving yourself when things don’t go the way you plan or you make a mistake and how important this is to looking after yourself and those around you.

 We’re going to suggest some steps to help you forgive yourself and get back on the right path. We’ve borrowed these from psychologist Fred Luskin, PhD, director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project. Dr Luskin’s techniques are aimed towards major wrongs such as cheating on a spouse or engaging in destructive behaviour. We’ve pared down his steps because we’re more focused on those every day occurrences that derail our positive momentum… whether that’s not getting the bathroom clean like we wanted to, or not replying to that email we know is long overdue.

 Step 1: Articulate reality

It’s easy to catastrophise inside our head. Neglecting to get the laundry done today does not make you a terrible parent and partner. We both have chore schedules for our respective homes and when we skip a day it’s so easy to feel shame, guilt and failure. The voice in our heads tells us that we’re useless.

Tell someone what you’ve done or haven’t done. Articulating our actions and feelings out loud immediately helps put things into perspective. In addition, it means we can seek support and advice from someone we trust.

 Step 2: Recognise unrealistic expectations

Have you set yourself up to fail? You know that feeling when you wake up inspired that today’s the day you’re going to diet, exercise and become a gourmet chef of clean eating? Trying to do everything at once is the easiest way to fail and then find yourself in a downward spiral where you end up on the couch eating a whole pack of Tim Tams and mentally beating yourself up.

You’re allowed to do things slowly. Work out what your goal is and take small steps towards achieving it. One of my personal goals reads “I feel healthy and proud of the way I look”. This week’s micro goal towards this is to have a healthy breakfast. As much as I want to immediately start spending hours each day at the gym and counting calories and eating raw, I know that small habit changes are the way to embed this.

Step 3: Identify your feelings

That guilt and anxiety you feel when you think about the fact you didn’t get to the gym today or you didn’t do the laundry is what is making you feel bad. Not doing the laundry isn’t causing you or your family any physical harm.

Ruminating on your mistakes or “failures” isn’t moving you towards success.

Take a moment to identify what you’re feeling and ask yourself “is it helpful? Is it true?”

Dr Luskin developed a 45 second strategy called PERT to use whenever you start beating yourself up. PERT stands for Positive Emotion Refocusing Technique.

Simply close your eyes, draw in a long breath that gently pushes out your belly, then slowly exhale as you relax your belly. Draw a second breath, and exhale.

On the third deep breath create a mental image of someone you love or of a beautiful place in nature that fills you with awe: a beautiful beach, a path through a majestic forest, a mountain stream tumbling over rocks. Breathe deeply as your mind explores the natural beauty around you. Notice how you feel and allow those feelings to centre on the area around your heart.

 Step 4: Make it right

One key to forgiving yourself is to do good instead of feeling bad. When Olivia missed a day on her chore chart last week, she did two days’ worth the following day. But making it right doesn’t have to mean forcing yourself to do the thing that’s kickstarted this downward spiral.

Instead of dragging yourself to the gym for an extra long session to make up for the ones you’ve missed, try doing something that brightens someone else’s day. Take the kids to the pool, offer to walk your elderly neighbour’s dog, or call a friend and ask them to go for a walk with you. Not only does this help you forgive yourself, these changes in your patterns of behaviour can move your life in entirely new and positive directions.

So, we’re not experts in self-care and forgiveness. We’re still learning how to do it. But we do know how important it is to break yourself out of that spiral of negative thinking and negative self-talk. Hopefully we’ve provided some tools that can help you when you start to feel the guilt and shame of not achieving everything you set for yourself.