– Is your imagination making you sick? Part Four

Like most workplaces, I come across some interesting personalities from time-to-time. In fact, I’ll be the first one to put my hand up and say I’m probably one of them!

Recently, I’ve had some interesting, challenging and confronting moments with a couple of them. The first happened just as I had begun reading Code of the Extraordinary Mind by Vishen Lakhiani. My relationship with this first person was prickly but after going through the visualisation on forgiveness a few times over a few days, that relationship improved. It did take a bit of effort, however.

With the second one, I was able to let the crap of the moment go and do a shortened version of the visualisation in my head, while still serving customers. That day, I was able to move past the confrontation, be more understanding of the customer and go on to enjoy the other customers and have a fabulous rest of the day.

In this four-part series, we give you some easy, practical tips on how to feel more focused and energised to maximise your productivity.

Granting forgiveness is more rewarding to us than the person we forgive. It’s not excusing someone’s past behaviour or actions. It’s a process which empowers us and allows us to free ourselves of any burden or grudge weighing us down. Forgiveness is a skill we can improve.

A chemical process

Forgiveness literally alters the brain’s wiring. According to Dr Frederic Luskin at Stanford University: “When you don’t forgive you release all the chemicals of the stress response. Each time you react, adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine enter the body. Those chemicals limit creativity, they limit problem-solving. Cortisol and norepinephrine cause your brain to enter what we call ‘the no- thinking zone’, and over time, they leave you feeling helpless and like a victim. When you forgive, you wipe all of that clean.”

Conversely, in a 2000 MRI study, Dr Pietro Pietrini, of the University of Pisa in Italy, found that the process of forgiveness actually activates specific parts of our brain which are concerned with problem solving, morality, understanding the mental states of others and cognitive control of emotions.

You can think, problem solve, be creative, live life, or you can get caught up in the rage, anger and vengeance. But you can’t do both.

Fight or flight

With cortisol being involved, it’s no surprise that researchers have discovered mentally nursing a grudge has the same effects on the body as real physical danger. Our minds can’t tell if the threat is real or imagined, so it reacts the same way. Our attention gets highly focused on survival, our digestive system stops, our pupils dilate, our saliva glands slow, our blood pressure and heart rate increases, and our muscles are readied for action.

Our body prepares itself to fight, flee, or freeze. In the longer term, chronic anger and these changes in our body then affect our immune response, increase the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes, and other conditions.

Rumination, when we go over and over the hurt in our mind, reinforces our negative emotions and burns the event and pain even deeper into our neuropathways.

The health benefits of forgiveness

Forgiveness, however, calms stress levels, leading to improved health. Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards for your health by lowering the risk of heart attack, improving cholesterol levels and sleep, and reducing pain, blood pressure and levels of anxiety, depression and stress.

Deliberately seeing the situation differently, like visualising forgiveness of the other person, changes how we see the whole picture. As Dr Caroline Leaf describes, neurons that don’t get enough signals start firing apart, wiring apart and destroying the emotions attached to the trauma.

In addition, chemicals like oxytocin (bonds and remolds), dopamine (increases focus and attention) and serotonin (increases feelings of peace and happiness) all start flowing around the traumatic thoughts, weakening and ‘unwiring’ them even more.

Visualisation exercise: letting go (excerpt from 6 Phase Meditation audio on Forgiveness by Vishen Lakhiani)

Forgiveness is where you let go of regrets, resentment, or any form of negative emotion towards an individual or situation. You may have deep regrets or anger that is hard to forgive, so you can start with something small. For example, it could be a taxi driver who rubbed you the wrong way, or someone who was rude to you or cut you off in traffic. Start by seeing the individual in front of you. It doesn’t matter if you cannot get a full visual of their face, as long as you sense that they are there.

I want you to now visualise them and remember that we are all connected. And I want you to mentally repeat the following phrase: “I forgive you, and I ask that you forgive me”. Take a deep breath and as you exhale, feel your forgiveness flow to them, feel whatever resentment or anger or rage you are holding onto release from your body. Now, see them tell you that same thing: “I forgive you, and I ask you to forgive me”. As they say that, take a deep breath and as you exhale, feel all regrets, resentment and anger release from your body.

Sometimes, if it’s a deep, more painful memory, it may take longer for you to truly feel like you’ve forgiven the person. Forgiveness is a trainable skill and that day will come. It’s important to keep in mind that when you forgive, you improve your own health and you improve your own happiness in your life. As Gandhi said: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is only for the strong.”

Have you tried to incorporate more forgiveness in your life? Let us know in the comments below.