How Looking Back Can Keep You Moving Forward

measuring our steps on the loss journeyEvery single client of mine says some version of the following:

“It’s six months after the loss…why am I still crying??!”

“I’m trying everything I can but grief is still kicking my ass.”

“I know I have a lot of healing work to do.”

We’re so hard on ourselves. We don’t give ourselves a break.

Healing From Loss becomes a life project with constant assessments, evaluations, criticisms, deadlines, and the urgency to get somewhere.

Our inner critic is operating full-on and our inner cheerleader is hiding.

Why do we not look over our shoulder and see how far we’ve traveled instead of how much further we have to go?

We’ve been well trained since we were little.

“Finish your cereal.”

“Get your homework done.”

“You missed a spot here. Clean well.”

Our focus has always been trained on what is unfinished. Our parents. teachers, bosses, and society in general are constantly reminding us to get it done. Think about it.

The child who does all her homework gets a hug from Mama.

The student who knows all the answers is praised.

The person who finishes the race first wins the prize.

And when we finish one thing we’re urged to get on with the next thing because “you don’t rest on your laurels.”

Neuroscience tells us that our brain has a negativity bias. That simply means we remember an insult we received much longer than we do a compliment. We constantly obsess over how much we have to get done; not on what we got done. We’re hyper-focused on how much more work we have to do to heal our broken heart; not how much stronger we are today than we were on the day the loss happened.

Most of us identify as Doers. We define our lives, our successes, and our worth by how much we do.

How do we DO grief? One moment at a time.

When are we DONE grieving? We can’t know in this moment.

How can we be compassionate and give ourselves credit for how far we’ve traveled on this journey?

Ask yourself two very important questions:

  1. What did I get done today?
  2. Who did I show up for?

Now make a list. Take stock. Every. Single. Day.

I walked the dog.

I washed my hair.

I didn’t obsess over my mean ex for five whole minutes.

I ate breakfast.

I noticed a flower in the garden.

I made the bed.

I sorted through the mail.

I managed not to cry at work.

I read two whole paragraphs of a book.

When you look back to a month ago when you struggled to get out of bed, go 30 minutes without crying, or cook a meal you begin to see how you’re getting better.

Nothing is too small to go on this list. Every small win counts. As you keep adding to this list, you’re training your brain. And guess what! The human brain loves evidence. The more evidence you show it of the progress you’re making, the more it begins to shift gears toward what is positive.

Begin today. Buy a journal.

As a warm-up, share at least one thing you did this week that lets you know you’re getting stronger on the path of healing.

6 Comments

  1. Donna Cook on October 26, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    Reading your book on your mom’s death. Brings back, memories of feelings from 1993 when I lost my mom, then my dad, then my in-laws than my husband 1 yr ago this week. I am moving along just fine. My faith and life experience have all helped me be who I am today. Confidence comes and goes but I can do this!!! I help others and reach out to others. You are a very thoughtful caring person, good day to you!! I refer others to follow you. djc

    • Uma Girish on October 26, 2017 at 2:41 pm

      Hi Donna, You’ve had so many losses and yet your inner strength and self-belief keep you moving forward. I admire you. Your words touch me very deeply. Thank you.

  2. Seema Khaneja on October 26, 2017 at 10:32 pm

    Hi Uma,
    This is a very timely post. I was thinking about the very same thing you shared. How we will obsess over one thing that went ‘wrong’ in our day and ignore multiple wonderful things as if they never happened. It is so true that we need to be reminded- with posts like you shared- that we can spend our day in kindness to ourselves and not in self-criticism.
    Thank you for the wonderful work you are doing!
    Love and blessings,
    Seema Khaneja

    • Uma Girish on October 27, 2017 at 2:42 am

      Hi Seema, Thanks for writing. I’m happy the post resonates with you. This is a HUGE problem for my grieving clients so I felt inspired to create this post. But it’s also true of other endeavors in life where we’re so focused on the forward movement that we forget to take stock of what we’ve accomplished.

  3. Carmen on October 29, 2017 at 8:21 pm

    This week I actually walked into an apartment and felt at “home.” I have been without a home since my husband passed two years ago. We were living our biggest dream in a foreign country and I have chosen not to continue living there full time. I have been greatly blessed to stay with friends and family in many wonderful locations. For the past year whenever I have looked online for rentals in my area, I would go into panic mode after a few minutes. Whenever I would physically look at a potential rental, I would feel depressed. The idea of moving into a place of my own, make the reality of his death all the more real and frightening. This week, for the very first time in over two years, I actually got excited about an apartment I looked at. From the moment I walked in, I felt like I was walking into my own place. It felt like “home.” And it had such good vibes. I could “feel” Michael smiling and happy for me. I even imagined all the furnishings and decorations I would select for it. I told a friend about it and she even got excited for me. It is well over my budget, although I know that if it is “my” new home, things will work out somehow. In the meantime, just being excited rather than panicked about a place of my own is a major stride forward.

    • Uma Girish on October 29, 2017 at 10:31 pm

      Hi Carmen, How nice to hear from you! I’m SO happy for you. It certainly sounds like you’ve found “home.” Things will definitely work out if you’re meant to live there. Remember what happened at the car dealer a year ago??!! I love how you’re moving forward, taking the twists and turns as they appear. Thank you for sharing this story.

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