Psychological footprints: What are you leaving behind?

March 20, 2014

Psychological footprints: What are you leaving behind?

by Daniela Aneis


Dinosaurs have lived millions of years ago often leaving nothing but their fossilized footprints behind. What if you could also leave a psychological footprint behind? The term psychological footprint used by Whitbourne and Whitbourne (2014) refers to the positive or negative influence you have on others and how that affects their lives and the environment around you. We’ve all had the nature vs. nurture discussion in our lives at some point: is it nurture that defines me or is it nature? But what about your influence in nature and nurture? Your influence in what’s around you? How to measure that?

Leaving something of yourself behind.

You may not see it or even realize it, but you have an impact on your environment. Just by existing at this time and place, you’re changing what’s around you. Let’s try a difficult exercise. Can you imagine what it would be like for everyone you’ve ever met if you had never existed? What would they be missing out? Though one to think through? Don’t worry, that’s just our egocentrism at work. We just can’t imagine a world where we wouldn’t exist! Let’s try an easier one: have you ever asked a close friend what have they learned from you? What has meeting you made them different? Ask and be surprised with the answers. Usually in life it’s the little things that leave great impressions.

What psychological footprints do you have on yourself?

Think about all the people that have inspired and touched your life. Parents, grandparents, your first teacher, your neighbors, your minister, your childhood friends… Ever tried writing them a thank you letter for all the precious moments you’ve had with them? This a powerful exercise that Martin Seligman (the father of Positive Psychology) often does in his classes. At the end of each semester he promotes a little get together between students and the receivers of the letters, where the letters are read out loud and it’s not unusual for tears of joy to run. It’s a very powerful tool in therapy as well specially in grief counselling.

Creating meaning in life by leaving a positive psychological footprint behind.

Of course we can also leave a negative psychological footprint, whether by our own fault or by unfortunate accidents. Imagine you’re competing for a job, you meet with other candidates in role-playing exercises and you end up getting the job someone really craves for. That person might resent you for destroying their dream, even if it’s not entirely your fault.

On the other hand, positive psychological footprints are so easy to leave behind. Don’t believe me? Studies have shown that random acts of kindness can make anyone’s day. A sincere smile, being polite to an elderly, delivering a forgotten umbrella to someone who has just left… and can you believe it is contagious? Studies have also shown that after receiving an act of kindness, you are most likely to perform one yourself that day?

So let’s look at it from the perspective of creating meaning in your life. Like Viktor Frankl, father of Logotherapy, might say what are you adding up this world? Is it your job, your family, what you stand up for, your kindness to strangers? Just don’t forget you always have an impact on others. Whenever you’re feeling down and running with low self-esteem, remember you’ve already changed lives by the psychological footprint you’ve left behind. You matter and make a difference to a lot of people!

So think to yourself: What psychological footprint are you leaving in this world? What kind of psychological footprint would you like to leave in this world?

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