The Short and Simple Guide to Minimizing Guilt

by Henrik Edberg

Image: / CC BY 2.0

“Guilt is anger directed at ourselves.”
Peter McWilliams

Guilt. Although it can sometimes be a healthy signal that you have done something that goes against what you think is right and that you should change it can also become a huge and terrible thing makes life unnecessarily hard and heavy.

So in this article I’ll share some tips that can help you to minimize guilt right now and prevent much of it in the future. I hope you’ll find something useful here that will make your life lighter and more enjoyable.

Accept and let go of the feeling.

If you are feeling guilty about not getting enough exercise, people you may not have had time for lately, missed opportunities, not sticking to your goals this year or something else then don’t reject that feeling. Instead, accept it.

Tell yourself: “This is how I feel right now and I accept it”.

This sounds counterintuitive and perhaps like you’re giving up. However by accepting how you feel instead of resisting it you reduce the emotional energy that you are feeding into this problem. It then tends to just kinda lose speed like a car that runs out of fuel. And oftentimes it becomes so weak after while that it just moves out of your inner focus and disappears.

Find the actions you can take. Then take them.

After you have accepted how you feel it becomes much easier to think clearly. Now, find the actions you can take to change what you are feeling guilty about. Shape up your diet starting tonight with a healthy dinner. Make a specific schedule where you exercise three times each week and your first workout is today. Catch up with people and reconnect with them.

Find a system that keeps you consistent.

So the first two tips can help you today. But it’s easy to fall back into your old behaviors after a while. To avoid that you can set up a system. This will take time and you will stumble. But the more you use it the easier and better it will stick.

A few suggestions for that system would be:

  • Write everything down. Ideas, meetings, you biggest goal(s). Keep those notes on paper, cell phones, white boards and your computer as reminders and inspiration so you stay on track with things like your career, social life and health.
  • Use a limited to-do list. Do you have a to-do list? Think about what the absolutely most important items on the list are. Just two or three. Then put them on a new to-do list. This list will seem less daunting and I have found that it makes it easier to actually take action and get those most important things done.
  • Set limits in your daily life. If your life is overfilled with stuff you may need to set some limits. You may need to stop doing some of the least important things, the things that if you are honest really don’t matter that much. And set a limit for how many times you will check inboxes etc. per day. Checking on stuff all the time creates a lot of stress. And say no if you really don’t have the time. By going about things this way you will have more time and energy for the things that you may feel guilty about missing too often right now.

Be OK with being good but also being human.

On one hand it’s great to challenge yourself and doing what you think is right or fun or exciting as much as you can. But on the other hand you have to balance that with being human.

Take it easy on yourself. If you slip don’t beat yourself up. It’s not a big deal. Everyone slips from time to time. Just get back on the horse the next day again. But learn what you can so you don’t fall into the same hole or do the same mistake again.

Striving for or expecting perfection can be pretty dangerous. Because you will never feel like you or what you do is good enough.

Even though what you do, for example, is just fine 90 percent of the time you still feel deep inside like you are not OK. No matter what you do. You have set the bar at an inhuman level.

If you expect perfection then your self esteem will stay low, your stress levels will shoot up and you will feel disappointed or guilty even though things may have indeed been very good overall.

So stretch yourself. But remember that you are human. Finding that balance will make it easier to both to achieve things and to find enjoyment in your accomplishment.

Live by your own standards rather than someone else´s.

Who set your standards and values? Society, your parents or friends, media or advertising? Where did they come from?

One big problem people run into with guilt is that that try to live up to standards that just don’t fit them or that are simply unrealistic.

So question things, figure out where they came from. Then see if those standards and values serve you well. If not, then consciously choose your own human standards for all kinds of things rather than just accepting someone else’s standards.

As an adult you have responsibility for yourself. But you also have the option to live your own life according to your own rules. Choosing and using that option can make life both a lot lighter and at the same time more productive and exciting.

Forgive yourself.

Perhaps you feel guilty about things in your past.

Well, if you look at it from a very practical perspective then forgiveness is the smart thing to do. It saves you from a lot of pain. It makes you clearheaded again.

Forgiveness centres you in the now and in yourself once again. You stop regretting what is already in the past. You stop feeding your thought loops of negativity with more energy. And now you can use that energy and focus that was previously spent strengthening those loops to start moving forward again.

It might not always be easy to forgive. But it has many big benefits. And personally I would be a bit wary of playing up forgiveness and what happened more than necessary. Many of our challenges – not all, of course – become so large and complicated in our heads that we build huge, monumental problems. Making mountains out of molehills is a good way to strengthen a victim mentality. It’s an effective way to paralyse yourself.

Instead, focus on forgiving yourself for what happened in the past. You are only human and you cannot change the past anyway.

By forgiving yourself you can over time release that pent up guilt and let it go.

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Parker Lee May 12, 2010 at 8:28 pm

Hey Henri,

This is a good post, I believe 90% of the population could use these tips. People too often try to “fight” the universe when things don’t go their way, when in reality.. sometimes the best thing to do is just give into the universe and let things take it’s toll.

Good stuff!


Guru Talks May 12, 2010 at 8:52 pm

Forgiveness, Unconditional Love & Harmlessness are the superpowers, if cultivated and used for oneself and others — they make any type of emotional issues light and Ok.

Henrik you raised ‘guilt’ and I feel this is the worst accumulated emotions and that must be released. Nice Article !

Talia May 12, 2010 at 9:29 pm

This is a wonderfully written post. I struggle with guilt in regards to my stepchildren. They to me – ever. They say hello in the a.m. and good night in the p.m. and nothing in between. I feel a lot of guilt because I now say nothing too. I know I am not being true to myself, but honestly I don’t like them and find that after years of encouraging a relationship, I finally realize that they really don’t want one with me.

Guilt – ugh!

Joshua Noerr May 12, 2010 at 10:38 pm

Great post. You mentioned accepting the feeling and taking action on it afterwards. One of my favorite quotes is, “Action Cures Fear.” The same is true for guilt, action is quite an effective cure all!

ZenyLife May 13, 2010 at 9:35 am

Another good piece Henrik.

Joe May 13, 2010 at 10:18 am

I simply refuse to ever feel guilty about anything. Life is far to short and precious to waste my time with it.

Abel Cheng May 13, 2010 at 11:15 am

This is an important topic for us to move forward in life.

Who doesn’t make mistakes and feel guilty about them? Always remind yourself we are only human. When I feel guilty, I always tell myself to let go and don’t be too hard on myself. I will start searching for famous persons who had done wrong and tell myself I am nothing like them.

Roman Soluk May 13, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Live by your own standards rather than someone else´s – very nice words, Henrik! You are right we shouldn’t listen to what others say. We build our own life and only we should make decisions and be responsible for them.

Petey Silveira May 14, 2010 at 1:19 am

Great article Henrik! Guilt is a feeling that reminds us to take time out to figure out what we need to do with it! It can turn into a wonderful time of reflection and give us the insight to make different choices.
Guilt can move us forward in our soul growth. Once we have decided that we don’t need to feel guilty and change our thoughts which changes our behavior, then soul growth becomes ours in this lifetime! Isn’t this why we’re all here…to evolve our souls?

Tim DeRoche May 15, 2010 at 1:13 am

I started keeping small To Do lists on 3×5 cards. I still keep the big list, but the cards seem very manageable, and my productivity has definitely increased. I love ripping them up when I’m done!

Tim D
free mobile gratitude journal – use promo code “laugh”

Quotes About Life May 16, 2010 at 10:37 pm

This is incredibly moving. I see too many people around me literally eating themselves alive for such seemingly small things. Guilt can be such a horrible thing and consume ones life. I appreciate you mentioning the idea of forgiving yourself. I am learning to do that when I have felt guilt over something. Thank you.

Richard May 17, 2010 at 11:59 am

Great Post, I really enjoyed the concepts and will try and use them to be guilt free! :)

Mars Dorian May 18, 2010 at 1:03 am

Hey Henrik,

I agree, live only by your standards. And honestly, I don’t even believe in guilt, it’s really just rotting in the past. Focus on your future the way you want to see it and ignore everything else.

Jade Li May 18, 2010 at 5:57 pm

Living life the way you want to, the way you really want to, is a matter of choice.

JB May 18, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Simply seeing the lesson within any mistake gives that mistake value. Just saying to yourself, “I shouldn’t have done that” take note “next time that situation arises I wont do it again”, turn a mistake into a valuble learning experience. Any negative situation that could make you feel guilty has with in it a positive lesson. Seeing the value of the lesson, and being grateful to have learned it can make many negative situations feel positive.

Terry Drake May 18, 2010 at 7:17 pm

Henrik, excellent tips! I especially like how you discuss living life by your own terms and forgiving yourself. People can be way to hard on themselves and get “stuck.” Also, the idea of just letting a feeling go! We tend to forget that feelings are even ours and we can let them go, if we choose to.

Brian May 19, 2010 at 3:06 am

Not overfilling one’s life and limiting the checking of email, text messages etc. are two excellent tips I need to better incorporate into my life. Great post!

Giulia May 19, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Good work Henrik!
I agree with you regarding the point to write down emotions, feeling, happenings and more over! It’s a really important and easy self treatment!

Leisa Watkins May 20, 2010 at 11:39 pm

Great article. The most important tip for me was to accept and then let go of the feeling. I often times tend to be such a perfectionist that I have a hard time accepting any negative feelings. But not accepting them doesn’t help.

I think if it much like a toddler that keeps saying, “Look at me mommy. Look at me!” That can go on and on until the mom acknowledges that the see what the toddler is doing. Once that acknowledgment takes place the child (or this case the negative feeling) can move on.

Petteri, Happiness Hunters May 24, 2010 at 9:35 pm

Nice post, Henrik. My personal favorite is the part about setting one’s own standards. Too often people let other people guide their lives and forget the things that are the most important for them in the end. Like you wrote, just set your own standards, forget about other people’s opinions, and let go of guilt right away.

Just Sharin' May 26, 2010 at 12:45 am

I think everyone struggles with their own personal “guilt demons.” I’m a pleaser. I feel guilty if I say “no” to someone that’s asked me to do something for them. Guilt used to literally cause me to be sick. I’ve slowly learned how to handle it. Forgiving myself was a key component. I think your post will help anyone searching for ways to ease whatever guilt demons they have. Thank you for the wisdom!

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