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How To Stop Feeling Guilty And Forgive Yourself

How To Stop Feeling Guilty And Forgive Yourself

Guilt is perhaps one of the most debilitating emotions, and one that has the potential to negatively influence the human mind. Such feelings can build to the point where they become unmanageable, creating a fragmented mental outlook the prevents us from achieving goals, pursuing dreams and becoming the masters of our own destiny.

Guilt is also one of the most misunderstood emotions, as numerous scientific studies can testify to. In order to explore the nature of guilt and dispel many of the misconceptions surrounding it, psychologists Claire Adams and Mark Leary devised an experiment which focused on women who were striving to lose weight. The pair split the subjects into two groups and encouraged them to eat doughnuts and candy, with the simple goal of determining whether people would indulge less if they were relieved of their guilt.

This premise seems both cruel and ridiculous in equal measure, but while one group was made to feel better about skipping on their diets, the other was made to experience feelings of guilt. While logic would suggest that the former would eat more, they were actually found to have consumed just 28 grams as opposed to the 70 grams eaten by the group that were left to feel guilty. So what does this tell us about guilt, and what steps can we take to stop feeling guilty as individuals?

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5 Ways to Stop Feeling Guilty:

1. Remember that the brain exists as a separate entity to the mind

These findings can be explained by the fact that the brain exists as a separate entity to the mind, meaning that we cannot fully control our emotional responses to specific events. In this instance, it is important to understand that all emotional triggers are processed in an area of the brain known commonly as the limbic system, which is driven by short-term cravings and wants to indulge specific impulses. So when we feel guilty, we are empowering this part of the brain and allowing ourselves to indulge more than we otherwise would.

It is therefore crucial that we remember this, while taking steps to manage our response to emotional triggers and rather than giving in to sudden impulses and feelings. One of the best options is to engage in a process called mind-mapping, which involves the visual representation of your thought processes at any given time. This has emerged as a popular business tool, but it also has the dual benefit of mapping your personal thoughts into a structured form and helping you to plot specific responses to debilitating, emotional triggers.

2. Learn to consult yourself like your best friend

If you are struggling to accomplish a specific goal (think of weight loss, for example), it is easy to become consumed with guilt, remorse and the emotional response to failure. You can strive to avoid this by introducing objectivity to the situation, and imagining that it is as a close friend or beloved family member who is struggling to remain focused on what they are aiming to achieve.

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This instantly changes your perspective, as rather than focus on the emotion you are instead required to offer actionable advice and viable solutions. So rather than berating them and forcing them to feel guilty for their perceived failings, you would instead focus on rationalising the situation and empowering them to rebound from short-term setbacks. By visualising such a scenario and challenging your perspective, you can become your own counsellor and negate the emotional impact of guilt.

3. Learn from your mistakes and embrace the lessons of failure

When we are children, we are much more tenacious and fearless when learning new things. When learning how to walk and developing our academic skills, our burgeoning minds are incapable of guilt and therefore purely focused on the attainment of a single goal. As a result of this, we simply consider failure as an inevitable part of the learning process as children and build on our mistakes with the encouragement of others.

As we grow older and lose our inhibitions, however, we begin to fear failure and become consumed with guilt when we do not accomplish important goals. We subsequently allow the negative emotions that are associated with failure to prevent us from trying further, which in turns creates a vicious cycle of guilt, depression and anxiety. If we can instead focus on the core lessons of each specific failure and use these to inspire future efforts, we will gradually become more successful and eliminate guilt as an influential emotion.

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4. Learn to say no instead of acting out of obligation

Let’s face facts; there will also be little chores and activities in life that we do in spite of ourselves. From visiting the in-laws to food shopping, these mundane tasks are completed not out of love but because they are a fundamental part of everyday life and crucial to our interactions with others.

It is important to draw the line between necessary (but functional) tasks and voluntary activities that we have no obligation to participate in, however, as otherwise we can be made to spend the vast majority of our time either feeling guilty or acting out of obligation. If you can learn to make this distinction and simply say no to invitations that do not appeal to you, you live a more enriched life without becoming burdened by excess guilt.

Working on your delivery helps this process, as it prevents you from feeling as though you have been unnecessary rude or harsh.

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5. Learn to forgive yourself by righting specific wrongs

If you are to stop feeling guilty and manage your emotional response to failure or adversity, you must ultimately learn to forgive yourself. While this may be easier in instances where we have only let ourselves down, we must strive to forgive the mistakes that have impacted negatively on those who we hold dear. This can be an extremely difficult challenge, but you must ultimately ask yourself who benefits from your underlying feelings of sadness, guilt and helplessness?

The answer is nobody, as this simply creates a scenario where you are incapable of atoning for your mistakes and righting the wrongs that have hurt those around you. Such atonement is the only thing that can help you to move on as an individual, while this can only be achieved if you forgive your own mistakes and believe in your ability to make amends. Interestingly, the part of out brain that drives willpower becomes stronger when we have the belief and desire to accomplish something, and forgiving ourselves is the first step towards fostering this mind-set.

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

7 Powerful Questions To Find Out What You Want To Do With Your Life

7 Powerful Questions To Find Out What You Want To Do With Your Life

What do I want to do with my life? It’s a question all of us think about at one point or another.

For some, the answer comes easily. For others, it takes a lifetime to figure out.

It’s easy to just go through the motions and continue to do what’s comfortable and familiar. But for those of you who seek fulfillment, who want to do more, these questions will help you paint a clearer picture of what you want to do with your life.

1. What are the things I’m most passionate about?

The first step to living a more fulfilling life is to think about the things that you’re passionate about.

What do you love? What fulfills you? What “work” do you do that doesn’t feel like work? Maybe you enjoy writing, maybe you love working with animals or maybe you have a knack for photography.

The point is, figure out what you love doing, then do more of it.

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2. What are my greatest accomplishments in life so far?

Think about your past experiences and the things in your life you’re most proud of.

How did those accomplishments make you feel? Pretty darn good, right? So why not try and emulate those experiences and feelings?

If you ran a marathon once and loved the feeling you had afterwards, start training for another one. If your child grew up to be a star athlete or musician because of your teachings, then be a coach or mentor for other kids.

Continue to do the things that have been most fulfilling for you.

3. If my life had absolutely no limits, what would I choose to have and what would I choose to do?

Here’s a cool exercise: Think about what you would do if you had no limits.

If you had all the money and time in the world, where would you go? What would you do? Who would you spend time with?

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These answers can help you figure out what you want to do with your life. It doesn’t mean you need millions of dollars to be happy though.

What it does mean is answering these questions will help you set goals to reach certain milestones and create a path toward happiness and fulfillment. Which leads to our next question …

4. What are my goals in life?

Goals are a necessary component to set you up for a happy future. So answer these questions:

Once you figure out the answers to each of these, you’ll have a much better idea of what you should do with your life.

5. Whom do I admire most in the world?

Following the path of successful people can set you up for success.

Think about the people you respect and admire most. What are their best qualities? Why do you respect them? What can you learn from them?

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You’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.[1] So don’t waste your time with people who hold you back from achieving your dreams.

Spend more time with happy, successful, optimistic people and you’ll become one of them.

6. What do I not like to do?

An important part of figuring out what you want to do with your life is honestly assessing what you don’t want to do.

What are the things you despise? What bugs you the most about your current job?

Maybe you hate meetings even though you sit through 6 hours of them every day. If that’s the case, find a job where you can work more independently.

The point is, if you want something to change in your life, you need to take action. Which leads to our final question …

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7. How hard am I willing to work to get what I want?

Great accomplishments never come easy. If you want to do great things with your life, you’re going to have to make a great effort. That will probably mean putting in more hours the average person, getting outside your comfort zone and learning as much as you can to achieve as much as you can.

But here’s the cool part: it’s often the journey that is the most fulfilling part. It’s during these seemingly small, insignificant moments that you’ll often find that “aha” moments that helps you answer the question,

“What do I want to do with my life?”

So take the first step toward improving your life. You won’t regret it.

Featured photo credit: Andrew Ly via unsplash.com

Reference

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