‘… I’ve found it really useful to look back on last year and draft a plan for this year. The issue is that I keep finding myself drawn back to the difficult stuff that happened last year and re-hashing it. I’ve imagined wittier replies I could have given and better ways to have dealt with situations – I know it’s pointless because I can’t go back in time and change it but I’d like to be able to let it go. I feel like I need some kind of process to do that.’
This immediately reminded me of some work I’d read about rituals some years ago. Scientific research shows that following a specific pattern of behaviour helps us to deal with disappointment and difficult events. Since reading that, I have discussed rituals with various clients – usually with regards to marking a transition: leaving a job, moving house etc.
One client in particular came to mind: let’s call him John. John and I did some work together a couple of years ago, reaching the end of his coaching programme just before Christmas 2016. His final homework assignment was to reflect on the previous six months, what he’d learnt, what had gone well, what had been challenging and what he’d like to do in future. He contacted me in early 2017 to update me and he mentioned that assignment:
‘I treated it as though it were my company accounts: I listed all the positives on one side of the page – the ‘credits’ – and the negatives on the other – ‘the debits’. I learnt all I can from last year’s accounts which has helped me to set targets for this year. Last year’s figures are all reconciled and I can close my books. There’s no need for me to re-visit last year now.’
That was John’s ritual to mark the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Other client rituals have included writing down a list of situations they wanted to let go of and burning it; another wrote on a stone and threw it into the sea; another repaints the ‘ideas wall’ in her office when she ends a project so that the next project begins with a clean slate. None of these rituals mean that we never remember what’s gone before but they do allow us to say to ourselves ‘you know what? I’ve dealt with that and I’ve let it go’ and to keep on letting it go.
What the science shows us that rituals can help because they give us an increased sense of being in control of a situation.
I replied to my subscriber, outlining the idea of rituals to mark transitions and suggesting that he found his own ritual. I heard from him yesterday and he’s created a ritual which works for him.
Today’s pebble for you to contemplate: is there something that you need to let go of? Will you try creating a ritual to help you do so?
Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.
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