The Short and Simple Guide to Minimizing Guilt

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“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.

If you found this article helpful, please share it with someone on Twitter and Stumbleupon. Thank you very much! =)

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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.