I have a refrigerator magnet that everyday reminds me to “Not let the past take up too much of today.” I find it is sound advice, for with awareness, I begin to realize just how much time I spend in the past – reviewing, second-guessing, analyzing, agonizing and yes – at times nursing old grudges.
Simplifying is not only about getting rid of things, tasks and to-dos. While we do spend considerable amounts of time and effort on “things”, we seldom realize how much psychological energy we spend on “thoughts”. In this step we work from the inside out. On the things that are less visible and often more invasive. On spending energy on things that drain us rather than replenish us. #1 useless energy drain? Grudges!
This post is #8 in a series of posts in a 10 Step Process to simplify your work life and to get more focus on the things that really matter. Each step, in and of itself, will enable you to simplify to focus, but I do encourage you to do Step 2: Setting Unambiguous and Unwavering Priorities prior to taking steps 3 to 10.
And a quick reminder: it’s not too late to join the 10-step work simplification challenge! You can revisit all the steps, get additional hints and resources and share your progress and by joining our LinkedIn Group: 10 Steps to Simplify Work
Let Go of Workplace Hurts & Grudges
I’ve had plenty of times at work where someone carried a grudge against me. The person that didn’t get a promotion and blamed me. The student that thought I had favorites. The employee who brought forward a complaint and was dissatisfied at the outcome.
And truth be known, I’ve done my fair share of grudge holding. Against the person who took credit for the work I’d done. For the project that I really wanted and didn’t get selected for. For the multiple times I shared an idea in a meeting, was ignored and then a few minutes later having that same idea presented by a male co-worked where it was suddenly deemed worthy of consideration.
The old adage tells us that the best way to learn something is to teach it. This is clearly the case for me on this topic. Fortunately for me, as part of a leadership curriculum I was facilitating, I taught (and therefore learned) how often I was operating out of a “victim” mindset. I learned how to identify when I was in this “poor me”, powerless mindset – and how to step up and into accountability. I am not exaggerating to share that this concept alone has made a significantly positive impact on the overall quality of life in all dimensions.
The language we use to describe grudges tells us just how much drag they create in our lives. We carry grudges, we hold grudges, we nurse grudges, we bear grudges. For indeed, we do carry them for far too long. We hold them close and don’t release them. We nurse them over time, enabling them to grow, often to a size disproportionate the to the original injury. And we bear them, allowing the burden of them to weigh us down.
The definition of a grudge points us to the reasons that ridding ourselves of grudges is a healthy thing to do. A grudge is “a persistent feeling of ill will or resentment resulting from a past insult or injury”. For grudges are indeed persistent ways of feeling bad – all over something that occurred in the past.
Let me be clear. We all have bad things happen to us. There are plenty of people who have harmed us by their words or actions. Some are done with blissful unawareness; others more intentional and malicious.
The yet hard reality for me is that holding grudges only weighs me down. I find that very seldom does it make the point with the other person; in fact most of the time the person that I’m holding a grudge about may not even know. And I do know that 100% of the time holding on to grudges fails to resolve the situation. It punishes me, not the other.
Psychologists tell us that there is a reason we, as humans, exhibit this behavior. Holding a grudge provides us an identity – we are the wronged one, the injured one. In this dualistic thinking, the target of our grudge is mean, hurtful, wrong. By default that make us the righteous one, the “better” one.
Unfortunately, most situations are not that black or white. It may be that the other person acted out of information that we didn’t know about. Perhaps they weren’t malicious, just maladroit at navigating this situation. It may be that they made a mistake, as we all do.
And truth be told, it is just as likely that we played a role in this situation. That we too made mistakes. Or we failed to speak up. And perhaps we never quite got the courage to confront the situation.
Hurts, slights and perceived wrongs turn into grudges when we don’t challenge the story we begin to create for ourselves. We make ourselves the victim and the other as a villain. We add color and assume motivation and our story gets solidified. We treat it as fact; the reality is that it often is pure fantasy – a string of unconfirmed and unchallenged assumptions.
Grudges don’t make us better, they make us bitter. They don’t make us right, they make us rigid. They don’t resolve things, they are ways to resist moving forward.
Dr. Steve Maraboli sums it up quite well in this passage from Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience:
“Let today be the day you finally release yourself from the imprisonment of past grudges and anger. Simplify your life. Let go of the poisonous past and live the abundantly beautiful present… today.”
Challenge One: Make Up 3 Different Stories (30 minutes)
Most grudges are no more than stories we have made up about a past event in our lives where we were hurt or wronged. We tell that story, to ourselves and to others that will listen, over and over and over again. And with each retelling it gets more cemented into our heads, hearts and psyche as “the truth”, even though with each retelling we might embellish a bit. We amplify the dastardly other’s motives and actions. We minimize our own contribution and culpability. Even though we never fact check our story, we cling to it as if was truly the holy grail.
In this challenge, start by working with a grudge you carry around, the older the better. Write down the story you tell about this grudge. Then go back and highlight everything that would be considered absolute truth by all parties involved in the incident. That means you cannot count as “truth” your assumptions about intent, motives and feelings of the other – in spite of the many years you’ve convinced yourself that they are true.
Now the creative fun begins. Make up two different stories about this event. For example:
- Rewrite the story in which the person that wronged you did so without malice and perhaps without even knowing the impact their actions would have on you.
- Rewrite the story and your protagonist a hero rather than a villain.
Review your work.
- What is the absolute truth?
- What do you see now that you could not before?
- What might happen if you let go of this grudge?
Challenge Two: Make a Healthy Choice (10 minutes to several hours)
In this step you are going to make a different choice about a grudge you carry – a healthy one. There are only two choices to select from – to either let it go or talk it out. As William Blake shares in Songs of Innocence and Experience:
I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
Select a grudge you are currently carrying around. Make one of these two choices:
- Release It Acknowledge that your life will be simpler without the burden of this grudge. If you need some help, here is a great article on 12 Steps to Let Go of a Grudge
- Resolve It Talk it out with the other person. This step takes courage – but especially if the other person is an important one in your life, can be a valuable step forward into resolving this issue and building trust for the future. Need some help? The book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High is a great guide!