For almost half of my life, I had a bad habit that made me genuinely dislike my own behavior. No matter where I was, I was always thinking about when I could have my next cigarette. I’d started smoking when I was in high school, trying to be “cool” and rebellious. And the bad habit unfortunately progressively got worse, until I was about to turn 30 and decided enough was enough.
When I quit smoking, I was proud of myself for breaking a bad habit, but it wasn’t until I succeeded that I realized just how mad I was at myself for even starting in the first place! And so began the process of forgiving myself that seemed to happen over and over throughout my 20s and into my 30s. I knew that beating myself up wasn’t going to change anything, but it didn’t stop me from doing it.
The turning point for me was when I recognized that I’d never treat someone else so harshly, so why did I think it was okay to be so unforgiving with myself?
I started to be a little kinder to myself — and I realized: Hey, this feels WAY better than beating myself up! The nicer I was to myself, the more I naturally started to make better choices. It became easier to be forgiving of others, too. And it helped me to do better moving forward — to choose healthier habits, to honor my self-worth, and to take a pause before I react.
I want to share a few tips for how you can forgive and make peace with yourself, too. I’ve learned these lessons the hard way — and they’ve helped me stop being so hard on myself.
1. Admit when I’ve done wrong.
The first step to fixing a problem is admitting I have one. I have to identify where I’ve messed up and acknowledge when I could have done better. Sometimes, this can be the hardest part because we so often don’t want to be the one at fault, even when deep down, we know we might be.
When I smoked cigarettes, I had a list of excuses for why it was okay that I did, and why I was the one human who didn’t need to quit. It wasn’t until I admitted that I was addicted that I was able to change my behavior and begin to make peace with myself. Smoking had become a crutch for the anxiety I felt in my day-to-day life. I forgave myself for the anxiety and for the need to numb it.
2. Make amends with myself and others.
This usually applies when I overreact and get snippy with another person. Once I know I’ve slipped up in a big or little way, it’s time to make amends by saying I’m sorry. Expressing my regret for my behavior, even to myself, is a big step in moving forward towards a healthier lifestyle. I’ve apologized to myself in my journal, and I’ve said sorry to any people that I may have hurt with my actions, too. I always try to own my behavior, apologize for anything hurtful I may have said, and promise to be more mindful in the future.
3. Write out how I will handle things differently next time.
This is my most essential step in making peace with myself. It’s so important to recognize the problem, but what really makes a difference is a promise to not repeat the same behavior in the future. I like to write out how I’ll handle things differently, because it helps me to learn, almost as if I’m taking notes in class. By writing it out, I’m taking the time to really think about and integrate a new way of acting. It doesn’t mean I’ll be perfect moving forward, but it is a great way to consciously choose a new way of acting. I actually use this practice all the time, almost on a daily basis. I vent out what I’m frustrated about, both with myself and others, and once I get it out, I’m able to then write out how I can handle it and take ownership for my actions.
4. Treat myself with kindness.
I have to remind myself I’m only human. After going through the process of making amends and figuring out what I can do differently, I usually have some lingering guilt and maybe sad feelings about whatever happened. Once I’ve dealt with the issue, the final step in really forgiving myself is showing myself that I still accept who I am, a flawed person who’s trying to do better, by doing something nice for myself. Usually, this means treating myself to ice cream, a pedicure, or a new book — anything that reminds me that even though I’m not perfect, I still deserve good things in life, especially when I’m strong enough to face my problems and be accountable for them!