Why Forgiveness Can Be A Powerful Personal Productivity Tool

Holding grudges can be mentally and physically taxing, which can chip away at your free time and damage your personal productivity.
July 08, 2016

“Time," said management consultant Peter Drucker, "is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed.” There's a lot of good advice on managing our time to increase our personal productivity. But there is an often overlooked way to rescue time: practicing forgiveness. Forgiveness could well be one of our most powerful personal productivity apps.

Think about the time you may have spent ruminating over real or imaginary slights, perceived unfairness and other irritating situations involving other people. It's understandable that we may become incensed by any of these situations. We may feel a need to talk about it with others, recounting what happened and brooding over the situation sometimes for days, weeks and even longer. The trigger could be a colleague or family member criticizing us, someone who undermined us in a meeting or a person who hampered our efforts to get something done. The after-effect of these situations can fill us with bitterness and resentment. It can also put a dent in our personal productivity.

Benefits Of Interpersonal Forgiveness

Here's the thing: the time you might be wasting holding on to grudges might be time you're diverting from more productive pursuits. Lost time is irrevocable. Forgiveness may be worth the effort. There are many scientific studies attesting to the potential health benefits of practicing forgiveness:

  • A 2016 study by Luther College in Canada provides longitudinal evidence showing that greater forgiveness leads to less stress and, in turn, better mental health.

Over our lifetime, we could be spending an incalculable amount of energy holding on to grudges. Doing this means that we may fail to place the right value on our time.

So What Is Interpersonal Forgiveness?

Philosophers, psychologists, medical professionals and spiritual and religious leaders have given us various definitions of forgiveness. The best way to understand what forgiveness is may be to understand what it's not. Dr. Robert Enright, one of the scholars in the scientific study of forgiveness at The University of Wisconsin-Madison, states that forgiveness is not about excusing others' hurtful behavior. It's also not about forgetting the hurt or becoming indifferent. Instead, it's about acknowledging that no one is perfect and viewing the situation through a more benevolent and compassionate lens.

In a nutshell, forgiveness is about waiving our right to resentment. It's about making a conscious decision to let go of thoughts of "getting back" at the person who caused our upset. It's about letting go of the tug of war that may result from holding on to grudges.

How Can We Practice Interpersonal Forgiveness?

  1. Keep reminding yourself of the potential benefits of forgiveness. You may want to think about not only the health benefits of forgiveness, but also about the time you can reclaim to focus on what matters—on what you want to do—when you forgive. Think of the peace of mind you might feel when you let go of kerfuffles.

  2. Ask yourself when you might have done something that offended or hurt someone else. Reflecting on how others may have forgiven us in such situations can help lessen the grip of resentment about others' behavior.

  3. Give it time. Stephen G. Post, professor of family, population and preventive medicine at Stony Brook University School of Medicine has this to say about forgiveness: "Let time work its magic because the longer you get away from that...epicenter of deep hurt...you have a better chance of reinterpreting it..."

    Ask yourself if maybe you could have handled the troubling incident a little differently. Maybe, as Post puts it, you shouldn't be "demonizing that individual." In other words, review your role in the situation. Maybe it was something that you could have phrased better. Maybe you could have handled the situation with executive presence or greater emotional maturity. Maybe you could have interpreted it from a different perspective. In essence, the passage of time may allow you to see the situation with new eyes.

Over our lifetime, we could be spending an incalculable amount of energy holding on to grudges. Doing this means that we may fail to place the right value on our time. Consider your time as a gilt-edged resource to be protected. "Each minute is a little thing," said businessman and religious leader Joseph B. Wirthlin, "and yet, with respect to our personal productivity, to manage the minute is the secret of success." And practicing forgiveness could be one of the ways to do this.

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