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Published on November 28, 2019

How to Stop Feeling Guilty and Free Your Mind

How to Stop Feeling Guilty and Free Your Mind

Is there anything that you feel guilty about?

I think we can all agree that guilt is a heavy burden. Metaphorically, it can make you feel like you are carrying a huge weight on your shoulders. If you allow it to, guilt can hold you hostage and consume your life.

This is the ultimate form of self-betrayal.

I’ve got great news for you… you don’t have to carry around this negative emotion for one day longer.

If you’ve ever stopped to take stock of all the emotions you feel, you’ve surely come across basic emotions like “happy” or “sad.” These are emotions that are easy to understand, and we usually know where they’re coming from. According to Psychology Today, these are hardwired, innate emotions, meaning that we’ve all got them and can recognize them in ourselves and others.[1]

As we all know, life can get messy sometimes. This is when not-so-fun emotions tend to creep up and try to ruin our day, or worse, our life. One of these emotions is guilt.

So, how to stop feeling guilty? You’ll learn about it in this article.

Guilt Defined

There are different definitions of guilt, depending on which modality you view it from. I resonate most with a cognitive approach which states that guilt is an emotion that people experience because they’re convinced they’ve caused harm to someone.[2]

This is a trap that a lot of people fall into, including me. Oftentimes, it’s the illusion of possible harm that you’ve inflicted upon someone that causes guilty feelings. It’s really easy to misinterpret the events or behaviors of others.

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No matter how you deconstruct it, guilt sucks. The question is…. why do we feel guilty? Once you know where your guilty feelings come from, you can learn how to stop feeling guilty and free your mind to focus on more empowering things.

Why We Feel Guilty

Guilt is a personal experience, meaning that what may make you feel guilty may not bother someone else in the slightest. It all boils down to the moral code that you live by. If you think that something is wrong, and I don’t, you’ll feel guilty for doing it even if I don’t care.

At its core, guilt is a way of recognizing that we have not lived up to our own values and standards.[3] In the words of Brené Brown,

“It’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.”

The most common cause of guilt comes from the things you do or don’t do. Letting yourself down is one thing, but letting someone else down is a perfect recipe for experiencing guilt, which can sometimes lead to shame.

What Does Guilt Do to You?

Guilt, like most negative emotions, isn’t a good feeling to have. Having to rethink your bad choices can drive you crazy and force you to overthink how you could have done things differently.

But, as we’ve already learned, there’s no going back when you’ve followed through with something.

When you feel guilty, you may automatically jump to your own defense. Some people will try to talk themselves into thinking that their actions weren’t as hurtful as they were.

Sometimes, we try to find ways to believe that the people we’ve harmed deserved it somehow. This is just the ego talking.

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When we’re forced to re-evaluate these beliefs, we may become irritable or defensive, which is a self-defense mechanism. On the flip side, when we’ve accepted our guilt, we often try to compensate for it.

So, if you’ve made someone upset, you may do everything in your power to try to make him or her happy again. While making someone feel better can be a great thing, it can also take a toll on your emotional state.

It’s important to remember that trying to hold onto or fix a relationship through the emotion of guilt isn’t necessarily healthy. Choose your battles wisely, knowing that you cannot change the past, only re-write the future. If the people in your life aren’t on board with that concept, it’s time to rethink the friendships.

The Side Effects of Guilt

When you’re feeling guilty, oftentimes, that means that you’re also stressed. If you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done, it only makes sense that it will take a toll on your body. This is why it’s important to assess how your guilt is impacting you physically.

Guilt also takes a toll on an already fragile mental state. It contributes significantly to depression and anxiety, as it very often involves a negative view of self.[4]

The more that you think about things, the more you start to dwell on them. If you ruminate about your actions on repeat, you’re taking up space in your mind that could go to more productive thought patterns.

Don’t let guilt get the best of you. Give yourself a break. Life is way too short to feel guilty all of the time, and it’s bad for your health.

How to Stop Feeling Guilty And Set Yourself Free

It is possible to retrain your brain to stop feeling guilty. Feeling guilty about things that you’ve done wrong is perfectly normal, but when you hold onto guilt for too long, it has the potential to take over your entire life.

This is why it’s important that you retrain your brain to stop feeling guilty. It starts with learning how to effectively cope with feelings of guilt in a proactive way

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1. Own Your Decisions

Once you make a conscious decision and carefully weigh your options, it’s over. Agonizing about what you should have done differently will only drive you crazy. The moment that you take responsibility for your choice, you stop overthinking and move on.

Where people get stuck is that they make decisions without thinking about the consequences. As a result, they end up creating situations that lead to stress and guilt. Don’t let life happen to you. Rather, let it happen for you.

The best way to do this is by making decisions and owning them. By choosing any decision (even if it’s not the best one), you are claiming personal ownership. This is how you diminish feelings of guilt and shame and reclaim your power.

2. Practice Self-Compassion

You’re not perfect and nobody is expecting you to be. We all make mistakes. Don’t self-sabotage yourself more than you have to because life is hard enough as it is.

It’s important to realize that feeling compassion for yourself does not mean that you instantly give up responsibility for your actions. Rather, it means that you are finally able to let go of self-hatred and free your mind.

The next time you start to experience feelings of guilt, try practicing self-compassion instead. Make it a daily ritual. Tell yourself that you’re good enough and forgive your wrongs. You’re worthy of that.

3. Reflect Upon Your Actions

You can’t change anything until you intimately reflect upon what it is that you did to make you feel guilty. Self-awareness is the foundation of personal growth.

When we accept the invitation to reflect upon our actions, we force ourselves to go inwards and do the work to better understand who we are.

Guilt leads to unproductive behaviors like rumination, which compromises your self-awareness by not letting you remain in the present.[5]

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There is no point trying to run away from whatever it is that’s causing you to feel guilty. So, why do you feel guilty? Don’t place blame elsewhere. Instead, accept the role that you played in a situation. Once you’ve done this, you can start to think about why you made the mistake in the first place.

4. Learn from Your Mistakes

You’re human, remember? That means that you’re allowed to screw up. It’s a part of the process of becoming the best version of yourself.

Whenever you feel like you’ve made a mistake, it’s important to take the time to think about what you wish you had done differently.

The best way to prevent yourself from spiraling into guilt is to ask yourself, “What can I learn from this experience?” If you’re not failing forward and learning from your mistakes, then you are most likely punishing yourself.

When we learn to experience guilty feelings as a way of receiving information, we are already healing from our mistakes.[6]

Don’t ask for permission from someone to set yourself free from guilt. Give that gift to yourself.

Final Thoughts

Don’t allow guilt to control your life. Living your life feeling bad about yourself is a waste of precious time. Life is short. Forgive yourself, move on and be happy.

Are you ready to stop feeling guilty and free your mind? Take a deep breath and let go. Life is waiting for you.

More About Freeing Yourself

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Ashley Elizabeth

Psychologist and Motivational Speaker

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Last Updated on March 25, 2020

How to Crush Your Lack of Motivation and Always Stay Motivated

How to Crush Your Lack of Motivation and Always Stay Motivated

How many times have you not achieved your goals and let yourself down due to your lack of motivation? When you’re not wallowing in sadness and self-pity, you are too busy procrastinating till you can’t anymore and before you know it, you are part of vicious cycle of anxiety and stress.

Whether it’s losing weight or bringing your business to fruition – motivation is essential for growth and success in every sphere of our lives.

That said, it is not easy staying motivated. In order to constantly stay motivated, you need to take ownership of your life and consciously make efforts in that direction.

Well, it’s never too late to take matters in your hands and change the course of your life. Here are 11 effective ways to crush your lack of motivation and always stay motivated:

1. Write Your Goals

The power of writing goals down has always been underestimated. Why write when you can remember, right? Wrong.

Our thoughts are all over the place and the first step to achieve your goals is to organize your thoughts. So, write your goals down, however big or small they might be. Make them as specific as possible and assign deadlines to each of them.

As you write them down and revisit them regularly, they get further drilled in your head, taking you closer to your goals. Doing this small exercise helps you to remain focused, motivated and lets you track your progress with ease.

Start today – take to your laptop or a diary and get down to writing what you wish to achieve in life.

2. Beat Procrastination

Your lack of motivation and procrastination go hand in hand. Every time you procrastinate, your motivation levels take a greater hit. The only way to bring an end to this loop is to stop procrastinating.

Next time you find yourself putting off something for ‘later’, stop and assess the reasons behind it. Get to the root of the cause and eliminate it in order to overcome this poor habit of procrastinating which is sabotaging your life and mental health.

Take a look at this guide and learn how to beat procrastination:

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What Is Procrastination (And the Complete Guide to Stop Procrastinating)

When you finally overcome procrastination, you will realize the positive impact it has on your mood and motivation levels.

3. Celebrate Small Wins

In the quest to achieve the bigger goals in life, we often forget to celebrate the smaller wins along the way. An achievement is an achievement – be it big or small, it deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated.

Finished a project on time? Reward yourself. Managed to run on the treadmill for a good one hour? Pat yourself on the back. Found time to meditate? Celebrate it.

It is these small achievements that reinstate that we are on the right path and take us one step closer to the bigger goals.

So, get into the habit of recognizing and appreciating small wins. You will be surprised to see how this practice helps you stay motivated.

4. Practice Gratitude

It’s easier to whine about what we don’t have rather than counting our blessings. Isn’t it?

Making gratefulness a part of your life is a very important step to retain high motivational levels. It revitalizes our spirits and renews our enthusiasm for life.

So, how do you practice gratitude? For starters, keep a gratitude journal to jot down what you are grateful for, express your gratitude to people you love and spread positivity wherever you go. If you need some inspiration to be thankful for, here it is:

60 Things To Be Thankful For In Life

By doing so, you begin to focus more on what you have rather than what you don’t and that is a great start to stay motivated.

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5. Be Optimistic

Life is not always hunky dory. There will be bad days when things aren’t going in your favor, when you feel lost and all you want to do is give up.

At such times, instead of letting negativity take over your life, adopt an optimistic approach to life. Quit overthinking, ask the right questions and focus on finding solutions.

Yes, there will be hurdles along the way but if you hang on to positive affirmations and hopes, the journey will be a lot smoother. So, with every passing day, sow the seeds of positivity and you are sure to build a positive environment around you.

6. Don’t Dwell on the Past

A lot of times, our lack of motivation stems from the habit of dwelling on the past. This gives rise to fear and regrets, preventing us from making progress in the present day.

Dwelling on the past is nothing but a waste of time. Understand that the past is long gone, and you cannot do anything to change that.

What you can do is make your present day worthwhile. Instead of looking back and having regrets, learn from your mistakes, forgive yourself and move on.

So, the next time you find your mind wandering off to the past, be determined to change the way you think and consciously concentrate on living in the present. This guide can help you:

10 Simple Steps To Let Go Of The Past

7. Face your Fears

You can never find motivation where there is fear. Identify the fear that is pulling you back and tackle it.

If you don’t face your fear head on, you cannot expect to conquer it and renew your motivation.

Ask yourself: What is stopping you? What are you scared of?

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Once you accept your fear, you can work on an action plan and think of solutions to overcome it. This article will give you some effective tips on conquering your fears:

How to Overcome Your Irrational Fears (That Stop You from Succeeding)

Seek external help if required but don’t choose to turn a blind eye over your fears – it will only aggravate matters.

8. Visualize your Success

You must have heard the famous quote, ‘see it to believe it’. That is exactly what visualization is about.

One of the most effective self-motivation techniques, visualizing the process to your desired outcome helps you move in a positive direction and achieve your goal.

Close your eyes and focus all your energies on the minutest of details that will take you where you want to reach. Doing this exercise everyday inspires you to keep going and not lose hope. The vision of attaining success will drive you to do better while instilling belief and confidence.

9. Find Inspiration

Can’t seem to find inspiration inwards? Don’t panic. There are plenty of external sources to gain inspiration from.

From motivational books and quotes to speeches, films and apps – it is a good idea to take help from motivational material to rekindle your spirits and regain your motivation.

Everyone is wired differently. For instance, a self-help book might work for your friend, but it might do nothing to move you. So, find what inspires you and turn to it when you are in desperate need for motivation.

Finding inspiration externally fills you with hope and sometimes that is all you need.

10. Enjoy Downtime

You are clearly exhausted with all the running you’re doing in life. So much, that you don’t even have time to stop and think what’s causing you so much unhappiness. All you know is that you are lacking motivation and everyday seems to have become a struggle.

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Now, that’s certainly not how you should live the rest of your life.

You need to schedule downtime for yourself, relax and give your mind and body some rest. Take a vacation, indulge in hobbies, meet some friends, put your hair down and stop with all the overthinking. It is important to do things that make you happy in order to think clearly and stay motivated.

11. Meditate Regularly

Meditation lets you take control of your mind. It improves focus and concentration while helping you relax.

Whenever you have had a tough day or find your thoughts going places, the best way to calm yourself down is by closing your eyes and meditating. It helps you to remove all the unnecessary frills in life and keeps you on the right track.

Include meditation in your daily schedule and you are sure to see an improvement in your productivity and motivation.

The Bottom Line

Practicing these simple exercises isn’t the tough part, what’s tough is religiously doing them every day.

However, don’t expect to get rid of your lack of motivation overnight. There will still be days when you will be low on energy but by making these conscious efforts to stay motivated, you are sure to see a vast change in your perspective and your response to bad days.

So, start today and be committed to making a positive change in your life.

More Tips About Staying Motivated

Featured photo credit: Sonnie Hiles via unsplash.com

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