The article was first published in The Huffington Post on Feb 9, 2017
We often struggle to heal the wounds in our lives. These are hurts and bitterness from the past that continue to haunt us. There could be myriads of reasons for these hurts—you felt left out in the last promotion, someone you held dear deserted you, you were not treated well while quitting the organisation you tried to build, a person you hired and nurtured plotted to oust you from your role. Someone plagiarised your book and turned it into a movie and did not even give credit. You felt your boss did not give you your due. You underwent a bad divorce. Though all the events may not be the same, what they do is leave a residual bitterness (in varying degrees of intensity and duration).
Would you like to squander your beautiful life brooding about something that’s over? Or learn from it and move forward?
Interestingly, a friend of mine was once advised to never forget the wounds of the past since it would come handy in exacting revenge! How myopic. Would you like to squander your beautiful life brooding about something that’s over? Or learn from it and move forward?
Here’s why I think we should shun the bitterness of the past.
You have one life
You have one life. Every moment on this earth is precious. Every interaction, every experience is unique and always has a teachable lesson. It’s a kaleidoscope of experiences comprising the good, the bad, the extraordinary, the average, the wonderful, the inconsequential, the noxious and so on.
To put things in perspective, overall it’s a great journey, even if there are bitter moments. How boring it would be if we only had things happen one way. It’s the downs that sometimes make the ups more scintillating and satisfying.
I think we need to be more like ducks… they gulp down a bunch of stuff, but swallow only what they want to eat, expelling the rest. We experience good things and bitter things, but it’s important to keep only the things that make us better.
Time heals everything if you use it well
Time heals everything. However big a wound, it does heal over a period of time. However, to make it happen you need to use time effectively. As a University of Arizona study found, humans are not born resilient. They take varying amount of time to recover after a difficult experience. So one has to work on building this mental strength. After a bitter incident you have to take actions to overcome it. You have to engage your mind in activities that distract you from brooding and encourage you to move ahead. This could require going to a therapist, taking up new hobbies, changing behaviours etc.
Clearly, time will help you to heal if you use it well. Otherwise, there’s no guarantee.
We can forget past events if we play with our context
We can forget the bitter memories of the past if we really have a desire to do so. One very effective way to do this is to do is to manage or change the context, according to recent research. We tend to remember things amidst locations and context. The context includes things such as sights, sounds, times of day etc.
Do something so meaningful and satisfying that when you think back on the bitterness, you will feel thankful to it for setting you on a better path.
So if you change the context, and not think about these cues or the scaffolding that went into the creation of a memory, you tend to not remember the event. For example, if a song reminds you of an ex, listen to the song in a different context/environment such as during a morning walk or while returning from work.
Forgiving is divine
People talk about physical strength, mental strength, cerebral strength etc. But one thing which people don’t talk about is “forgiveness as a strength.” If people develop forgiveness as a life skill they would have a much better existence. Forgiveness is the art of letting go of the resentment and anger of the past which someone may have caused to you. It’s a deliberate effort to get rid of negative feelings about an individual or group of people and not holding any grudge against them. Whether it’s Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Jainism—all religions urge people to forgive those who have hurt them. Forgiveness has many benefits. It reduces stress, helps to improve relationships, enhances self-esteem, lowers blood pressure and improves overall psychological wellbeing.
Workplace relationships aren’t worth brooding over
Many of the relationships we have with people in our workplace are transactional in nature. They are based on power equations, what you bring to the table. Many of the relationships that you make are based on give and take.
People will be with you as long as it serves their interest; the day they feel that you are of no use to them they will quietly discard you. Have you not seen how people behave with us when we are in a position of power and when we are out of it? As a matter of fact, your entire connect with your enterprise is based on what you bring to the table. While nice things will be said about your past achievements, your existence in the company is based on your future relevance, and not what you have contributed in the past. This may sound crude but it’s the reality. So the point is, why brood over workplace events when they are inherently transactional?
Disappointment is an opportunity to reinvent yourself
The best way to get over the after-taste of a past bitterness is to make an effort to do something meaningful and reinvent yourself. Do something so meaningful and satisfying that when you think back on the bitterness, you will feel thankful to it for setting you on a better path. Don’t we remember what happened to Steve Jobs? He was thrown from the company he had created. He then went ahead to found NeXT and later bought Pixar. He returned to Apple after NeXT was bought by Apple. As he mentioned in the now famous Stanford commencement speech: “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.”
Fortune favours the brave. And I have always believed when all doors close a new one opens.