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When you throw physical garbage away, it’s gone. It’s not like you’re going to chase the garbage truck down the street and shout, “No! Wait! I want my banana peel back!” When you toss garbage, it’s out of your life.

Mental trash, on the other hand, doesn’t work like that. Let’s say you hit someone’s car, your relationship ends or you miss an important deadline at work. Most of us take these situations and make up a lot of garbage around them. “I’m a lousy driver.” “I’ll never find love.” “I’m terrible at this job.” You store this trash in your brain. Then, time goes by and something triggers you: a song, a similar situation, a conversation and bam! You reach right into the pile and pull out that garbage thought again. The next thing you know, you’re right back where you were before: chipping away at your self-confidence.

Here’s the good news: There’s a way to break this cycle and it’s called forgiveness. Forgiveness is a conscious choice to stop beating yourself up about something that happened to you. It’s that moment when you finally accept that you can’t change what took place, that you did the best you could, and it’s time to stop the suffering. Forgiveness is one of the first steps to dumping those negative thoughts—for good.

So how do you do it? You start by being aware of what you’re feeling and what you’re thinking. Notice that you’re shredding yourself again; that this isn’t the first time you’ve had this thought. That will help you get a little distance from the emotion and see things more objectively.

Then, relive what happened in your mind. Run through the whole event and let it play out. Be warned, though. You’ll probably think of all the words you wish you said or the actions that you wish you had taken. However, the truth is that the situation unfolded the way it did—and you did the best you could at the time. Tell yourself that. Tell yourself that you can’t change yesterday. Sure, you may have made a mistake or said the wrong thing, but so what? You’re still here. You’re still breathing, and the world didn’t fall apart. No matter what it was, it’s time to stop beating yourself up for something that happened in your past. It’s time to forgive yourself.

For a lot of people, the last step of forgiveness is to create a little ritual. Write down what happened, crumple up the paper, and throw it away. Write a letter to the person, whether you send it or not. Close your eyes and say, “I forgive myself and I’m done with this.” The ritual itself doesn’t matter, as long as it’s something that’s meaningful to you and that gives you some closure. That is what forgiveness is all about: keeping old garbage out of your life so you’re free to experience whatever comes your way.




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