People who can quickly forgive others aren’t just less angry, stressed and prone to high blood pressure; they’re also a lot more motivated and engaged at work.
In a new Leadership IQ study called The Links Between Self Forgiveness, Forgiving Others, and Employee Engagement, we discovered that if you’re good at forgiving others, you’re 64% more likely to recommend your company as a great organization to work for. And you’re 42% more likely to be motivated to give 100% effort at work.
Unfortunately, this study also found that only 12% of people score high on forgiving others, so this is clearly a skill that most of us could use some help developing. What follows is a science-backed technique for quickly, and with little effort, developing your capacity for forgiveness.
Temporal distancing is the technical name for looking at a situation from a future perspective. And research shows that when we think about a situation from a temporally distant perspective (i.e., further in the future), we actually feel less stressed and negative (and thus more forgiving).
Researchers at UC Berkeley conducted a series of experiments to prove this point. They asked the study subjects to identify the source of stress in their lives that was causing them the most distress at the present moment. Some of them were then asked to reflect on how they might feel about their stressor in the near future (i.e., in one week), while others were asked to imagine their feelings in the distant future (e.g., six months or a year down the road). Following the reflection, all subjects were asked to rate their feelings, stress, coping, etc.
The study participants who reflected on the event from the perspective of the distant future were significantly less stressed and negative than those who imagined themselves only one week in the future. The distant future thinkers felt that the current consequences of the problem would fade over time. In response, they felt less worried, fearful, anxious, angry, disappointed, guilty, etc.
To get started with temporal distancing, try this simple trick. The next time someone disappoints you, ask yourself this question; “Six months from now, what do I want our relationship to be like?”
Six months from now, do you still want to be angry with that person? Do you want to be giving them the silent treatment every day? Or avoiding them entirely? Or would you rather that you’ve both moved past that transgression and gotten to a place where you’re at least cordial and perhaps even friendly?
When we think about how things will be in the future, it reminds us that even though we may be irritated or angry right this minute, our feelings aren’t permanent. By forcing ourselves to think about the future state of affairs, we’re in effect telling our brain, ‘Hey, look at how much better things are here in the future; all those bad feelings went away.’
Second, the future perspective detaches us emotionally from the stress of the current situation. If we ruminate about how irritated we are in this present moment, we’re not going to quickly forgive this person. So when we take a step out of our current irritation and imagine a world far removed from this one, it offers us greater objectivity and thus greater capacity for forgiveness.
Third, a wealth of research shows that people tend to view the future with rose-colored glasses. We believe things will be better; we’ll have more time, more good days and less stress. So putting ourselves into the future puts us in a more positive frame of mind and, again, reduces our current negativity and increases our capacity for forgiveness.
Once we can see that better future in our mind’s eye, many current negative feelings diminish. When we can reduce those negative feelings, we’re far less likely to ruminate about our anger, and that will greatly increase our capacity for forgiveness.