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How to stop feeling guilty

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We’re talking about the Year of Unapologetic Mastery. Yesterday I asked you to tell me what one of the skeptical people in your life — including yourself — would say to hold you back.

The comments are DISTURBING. If I had any emotions or functioning tear ducts, I would have cried.

Look at this comment:

“I’m my own worst critic. Here are my biggest goals for 2014 and what I tell myself about them:

  • Lose 16lb – ‘you’ll never manage it, you hate exercise and love cake. You have no willpower.’
  • Get my driving licence – ‘You’re a terrible driver and the driving test in this country is scary and horrible. Don’t even bother. Buses are cheap.’
  • Self-publish two ebooks – ‘When do you even think you’ll get the time to write them? And who do you think is going to buy them?’
  • Get a traditional book deal – cue hysterical laughter inside my head.
  • Freelance as a travel writer – the laughter has now devolved into gasping for breath and screams of ‘stop it, you’re killing me.’”

— Ellen

Ellen, I want to give you a big hug. Your guilty feelings are so common. So many of us swim in a sea of negativity — and the worst part is, we actually want to hit those goals! Why are we beating ourselves up? How do we stop feeling so guilty?

So many of the comments I read focused on our own negative self-talk. How many of us tear ourselves down over all the things we should be doing?

  • “I could never do that, I’m just not built for…”
  • “I never follow through, so I’m not even going to start…”
  • “Why would anyone listen to me? I don’t have enough experience”

These ways of looking at ourselves are so insidious, so twisted, that we sabotage ourselves before ever getting off the ground and then we feel guilty afterwards.

What’s the solution? Am I going to tell you to look up to the stars, raise your outstretched arms, and sing a spiritual hymn together? No, this isn’t a life-coaching blog that serves no practical purpose in life.

Yes, you ARE responsible for being stuck. No, it’s not your mom, or society, or the heteronormative patriarchal bonds that hold you down. (Do they have an influence on all of us? Of course. Can we control them? No.)

But you can control one thing: yourself. This might be uncomfortable to hear, but it’s true.

This is why I don’t talk about political inequality in America and class warfare. Of course it exists. But the practical change that you, as one person, can have is extremely limited. But if you focus on improving yourself — your career, your personal finances, your inner psychology — you can have a profoundly positive influence on the rest of your life.

How to stop feeling guilty with these two frameworks

I was surprised by all the negative self-talk and feelings of guilt in the comments on yesterday’s post, so I recorded this video to help tackle these crippling barriers. In it, I suggest some on-the-spot improvements. Check it out:

I never even realized how negative my own self-talk was.

Watch this short video to hear how I tackled it. Here’s the most interesting part of the comments: They own up to feeling guilty… but THEY DON’T DO ANYTHING ELSE!

It’s EASY to say, “I feel guilty.” So what? You feel guilty? What are you going to do about it?

It’s MUCH HARDER to say, “You know what, that guy at work was rude, but I probably played a part in that. Here’s how I’m going to tackle it next time.”

When was the last time someone told you, “You know, you kinda asked for it”? For most of us, NEVER! Instead, we almost always expect our friends to support our side of the story. And that’s good — we need that social support — but we also rarely shine a light on our own behavior.

In one of the most interesting articles on psychology I’ve ever read, the New York Times illustrates exactly this:

“I decided to push him. “Do you ever wonder why so many disappointing things happen to you?” I asked. “Is it just chance, or might you have something to do with it?”

His reply was a resentful question: “You think it’s all my fault, don’t you?” Now I got it. He was about to turn our first meeting into yet another encounter in which he was mistreated. It seemed he rarely missed an opportunity to feel wronged.”

What do you want from this site? A puppy? You want me to take you to eat croissants and listen to your problem, then tell you it’s not your fault? Not your surrogate Asian father.

Today we’re going to learn how to turn guilt into action…and by the end of today, we’ll break the mental habits that keep us stuck in a rut, making the same mistakes over and over again.

How freeing would it be to not feel guilty about the things you “should” be doing?

We all have at least one friend who is always on top of it. Think about them. How do they do it? Are they rushing from thing to thing, constantly frazzled?

I bet not. In fact, if you notice anything about them, it’s a sense of “ease” about what they’re doing (“I don’t know if it’s going to work out, but I’m going to give it a shot” — and incidentally, it almost always seems to work out).

You might also notice how they’re very selective about what they do: If they can’t make it to an event, they’re polite but firm about not being able to attend. They don’t say, “Sure, I’ll try to be there” and then not show up — either they say no, or if they say yes, you know they’ll be there.

In other words, they’re dependable to you…and to themselves.

What would it be like to live like that?

Turning feelings of self-doubt into action

What if you could turn your guilt into action? Here’s a video I put together on how to do exactly that:

How to stop beating yourself up all the time.

Feeling guilty is a choice — one that you can choose not to do through your actions.

The Framework of Personal Responsibility

Here’s the simple framework to use:

YES, IT’S MY RESPONSIBILITY!

If something goes wrong in a social situation, don’t blame the other person for being an asshole. Ask yourself: Hey, maybe they are rude, but what did I do to cause that?

See, guilt is the first sign that something’s wrong. But most people stop there. “I feel guilty” is not the end, but the beginning of taking action.

For example, I’ve told you how I was kinda socially awkward when I was a young guy. I would go into business meetings and try to make a point, and I would literally see people looking at each other, like “Oh god, not this guy again.”

The thing about socially awkward people is (1) they’re awkward (2) they don’t know they’re awkward. To my credit, I knew I was being awkward…I just didn’t know why.

I felt horribly guilty about being a weirdo in these meetings. I should have spoken up… no, I spoke too long… ugh, am I ever going to be as smooth as those guys from marketing? Is anyone ever going to listen to me?

If I had just sat around saying “I feel guilty” — and stopped there — what would have happened? Nothing. You would not see the smooth, debonair Ramit Sethi you’ve come to know, love, and lust after.


This is photoshopped, jackasses (Ramit on Instagram)

If I had just blamed other people for being mean to me and not respecting me because I was young, I would have felt good about myself. (Complaining feels great!) But nothing would have changed. And years later, frustrated with my lack of career progress, I would have blamed my stagnation on the economy, the political system, the Baby Boomers, anyone…except myself.

There’s a better way. When you take on this role — that I can’t control others but I can control myself — it’s actually empowering. Instead of the inchoate guilt you feel with no outlet for fixing it, you look at life like a series of experiments.

Responsibility Framework Example: Your family is skeptical of your choices

Let’s say you’ve decided to start freelancing on the side. If your family is skeptical of your new project (“Why are you doing that? You should just be lucky to have a job. And also, why would anyone use YOU when there are so many other health coaches out there??”), it would be easy to get frustrated.

What do we do? We tend to argue back, even though we’re not even sure if we’re doing the right thing.

Using our new approach of taking responsibility, we can change this. It’s not our parents’ fault that their skeptical. Of course they want safety and security for us — that’s what they know. So what could I do to assuage their fears?

One approach is to co-opt their fears and say, “You know what? I’m not sure if this will work, but I think it’s worth a shot. If you were in my shoes, how would you approach it?” Now they’re on your side instead of against you.

Another approach is to say, OK, instead of getting mad and storming out of dinner, I’m going to ask them what they think…what they wish they had done when they were younger…and what’s the BEST and WORST that could possibly happen. Gently guide the conversation in the right direction instead of walking in guns blazing.

See the difference?

You’re in control. Not the world. Not society. Not even your parents. You — and all because you adopted this frame.

One final note: At first, this seems daunting. Everything is my fault! I hate you Ramit! But actually, I find this liberating. Now I control it. If something doesn’t work, I can think back to what I did and change it next time so it doesn’t happen again. Just like riding a bike, each time you get better — and you learn to train and trust your intuition.

In other words, people avoid this approach since it’s scary to think everything is your fault. But when you put fault aside, and instead say “guilt –> action,” you’re in control.

How to stop feeling guilty by changing your own self-talk

I have a challenge for you today.

The path to unapologetic mastery starts with improving yourself from the inside out. This challenge doesn’t take a lot of time, but it is tough. Remember, I’ll be sharing more advanced material with people on my email list. (Sign up below.)

Action step: Think about the last time you struggled to finish something. Maybe you were procrastinating at the end of a big project, or maybe you just couldn’t force yourself to exercise for 5 minutes. What self-talk do you remember using?

Do any of these examples sound familiar?

  • “I really should put this ice cream away. I haven’t done anything all day. I’m such a lazy ass.”
  • “Come on, go talk to her. Don’t be such a wimp.”
  • “I HAVE to finish this. I am going to sit here all day and not take a single break until I do.”
  • “I am not the kind of person who can start a business.”

TODAY and TOMORROW, catch yourself whenever you use language like this. Then, instead of beating yourself up, change your negative language into something more positive.

Examples:

  • Instead of “I’m so lazy” try “I’m human. Everyone struggles with this.”
  • Instead of “I’m going to fail” try “I’ll be fine. Even if the worst case scenario happens and I do fail, I’ll still be ok.”
  • Instead of “I should do X” try “I’d like to do X.”
  • Instead of “I am not the kind of person who….” try “What if I tried to…”

That’s it. Just 48 hours.

Let’s practice in the comments below…

TO DO TODAY

We’ll work through together how to stop feeling guilty and turn your guilt into action.

Post a comment below that includes two things:

  1. A example of your own negative self-talk
  2. A new, positive perspective on the same challenge

My life changed when I started doing this. Yours can, too.

P.S. This week, people on my Insider’s List will be getting exclusive videos, strategies, and tactics to pursue mastery unapologetically. If you miss it, there won’t be replays. Trust me, if you’ve enjoyed this material, you’ll find the material on my private list potentially life-changing.

Sign up here for free:

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182 Comments

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  1. […] How to stop feeling guilty is a post from: I Will Teach You To Be Rich. […]

  2. Ramit,

    I didn’t know you were writing today’s post specifically for me. Thanks for the consideration! In all seriousness, this post strikes at the core of the issues I posted in my comment yesterday and I see every day in my life. Moreover, I can also see how the people I love, in this case my girlfriend, struggle with these very same issues AND how I respond–often poorly, as in your example about someone asking you for advance on personal finance and blitzing them at 100 mph (my girlfriend won’t even talk to me about exercising anymore).

    Now, on to the nitty gritty.

    I actually want to share a success story I had just yesterday. I got home from work and managed to get myself to exercise (message I said to myself: “what if I just get started as soon as I hit the door? Then I’ll never have a chance to get sucked into the internet!”) which was no small feat in and of itself, but I didn’t stop there. I was bushed after exercising and I still had to cook and by the time I sat down it was almost 9:00 and the last thing I wanted to do was work on learning JavaScript. I figured I’d escape my feelings of guilt by watching some mindless gaming videos on YouTube. A few minutes into a video, I had a thought: “what if I tried watching an inspirational TED talk during dinner instead of zoning out to a YouTube video?” So I wandered over to TED.com and on the front page found a video by Diana Nyad, the woman who swam from Cuba to Florida at the age of 64 last year titled “Never, ever give up”. The whole video was an inspiring tale of how this woman persisted in the face of all kinds of negativity, both external and internal, to become the first person ever to swim one of the most dangerous stretches of ocean in the world. While that was inspirational in and of it self, she hit me with a nugget at the end that launched me into the stratosphere. It was a quote from Socrates who said: “To be is to do.” Man, she nailed me. I polished off my dinner like a champ and popped open my JavaScript book and spent the next two hours studying and coding until I went to bed.

    And the thought that lead me to this success? Well it was the exact same as you described in your talk about guilt–what if? What’s even more surprising to me is that my “what if” thought didn’t even have to do with JavaScript itself: “What if I spend my dinner time learning something new or listening to something inspirational instead of resorting to pure escapism?”

    I can’t wait to apply this simple framework to other areas in my life, but those are stories I’ll save for another day–or at least another comment.

    Mike

    P.S. Here’s another one I just thought of: after seeing two awesome videos from Success Triggers on your blog I feel guilty for not buying in (“I’m still paying for other Ramit courses I haven’t finished,” I told myself). Instead I’ll tell myself this: “what if I start saving and setting money aside now so when he reopens this course I’ll be ready to pay for it in full?”

  3. 1. Why do you think you could do this? You bombed the interview last time and you’re probably going to do the same thing this year.

    2. I don’t know I bombed the interview, I just didn’t make it into the program. This time I’m doing interview rehearsal and doing more research on what the board wants to hear from me (and what certain questions mean). I have more points before the interview than I did last time so my chances are improved.

  4. This is great Ramith, while I have personally moved away from the guilt life, I hear a lot of people do this, they could greatly be helped with such insights.

  5. Good challenge!

    My goal has always been to work abroad. I have come close many times, even gotten offers in some cases, but the roles were just not a good fit. Sometimes I beat myself up for this, that I should have taken these jobs. but the reality is, the goal I had at 18 is different now that I am a professional with skills and just working abroad is not enough anymore. I do want to still work abroad, but I would like to get clear on a more focused goal. Every time I start doing this, I start to see or feel all the barriers-you don’t have your MBA (even though I have years of fast progression at top global companies and hands on global management experience). It’s hard to get a work visa. Few companies sponsor. I should be really grateful for the work I have (just made a recent move into consulting to get back to a city I love with a huge salary increase, negotiated a strong bonus and move package, and start date on my terms). So, I just am very aware of the blocks I allow myself to notice, rather than the opportunities. Now, rather than limit myself with these ideas I’d like to think differently. I AM grateful for my work. I am a strong contributor, and I can still investigate options that can help me get clarity on my dream job. I AM really good at what I do, there are lots of player haters that challenge my success because I did not spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get an MBA for a field I studied in college because I knew what I wanted to do. I adore my field and want to transition to a role that is based in Europe and has global focus. I will say my guilt comes when I spend any work time looking at this goal. So I can focus on saving some energy for myself to investigate-morning probably so I don’t feel guilty spending my time on my own personal goals during work hours. On the other hand, I have had nights till 3 AM working on proposals or presentations that i don’t feel bad about-even though it cuts into my personal time. Needless to say, its obvious the narrative has to change. I am darn good at my work, and passionate about it, and there are lots of companies that need my skills. The truth is that I want to work for an organization that I have more in common with culturally and that will narrow the field somewhat, but I have to begin to believe its out there and waiting for me. I just need to find it! Thanks for the topic!!

  6. Awesome story Mike, well done. Good luck Kim, you got it this time. Thank you Ramit for the words of wisdom. I am still thinking about everything that has been mentioned, don’t know where to start… I suppose writing down my thoughts will be a good start, then taking action on the first step. The Stuart message lead me to deep thoughts by Jack Handy, classic SNL.

  7. I’m not even done watching this but I had to comment because your supermodel body comment made me laugh and spill hot tea all over myself #I’mclassy

    This is a great video- I always use self-deprecating humor as a defense mechanism and have a hard time when people say negative things (my mom is the worst). Thanks for sharing this!

  8. There are literally about 10 projects either lying around my house or on my desktop that I chronically don’t finish.

    Normally, I tell myself that I don’t have time–even though I work for myself–and I never get things done.

    Examples: 1) house clearance, 2) house renovation, 3) fixing an old guitar (finished yesterday!), 4) filing my taxes (sitting compiled on my desktop), 5) publishing that e-book (sitting finished on my desktop), etc.

    The past few weeks I have been focusing on maximum two projects per day, and committing myself to getting some of it done. Luckily I’ve made excellent progress so far and plan to continue this attack well into the future.

    I find that a lot of it comes down to pulling the trigger on what NEEDS to be done, pleasant or not, rather than fighting fires (and those will always come up).

  9. So a mere 5 minutes ago

    Mid set in my workout “Damn you’re outta shape Steve! Quit now. Try again tomorrow. …maybe”

    So I quit. Barely broke a sweat.

    Insead I should say “I’ve done this before and I can do it again. Concentrate on form and I’ll be happy when I finish. Ill have more energy later and women will desire me like Ramit in a blue satin smoking jacket. I can’t win if I don’t even cross the finish line. You got this Steve!”

    I’m already pumped up just from writinf this!

    Thanks Ramit!

    • A day later,
      mid push up,
      when i was getting gassed….

      i thought of that sweet blue satin smoking jacket. and i pushed through.

    • What I always try to focus on is that it’s never okay for a workout to be ‘easy’. If it’s easy, you’re not working out hard enough. No matter how fit you are, no matter how out of shape you are, that workout should make your muscles burn and scream (not in an actual pain way!) and your mind want to give up.

      When I focus on that, it’s a lot easier to just push through.

  10. Negative Self Talk: I’ve been struggling for probably 8 to 10 years with how to articulate the services that I can or want to provide (not necessarily the same thing). I have stumbled from opportunity to opportunity, without ever really spending the time to figure out what I want. I always give up because it is also impossible to break down a goal into actionable steps if you don’t know exactly what the goal is. Then I think, I’m 50 years old, it’s too late anyway. If I haven’t “figured it out” by now, I never will. I signed up with a local career coach a few months ago, but now I’m kicking myself because I feel like I threw that money away, and I didn’t do enough research before choosing someone to work with – just took the recommendation of a friend.
    New, positive perspective: 2013 was a start at building something. If Diana Nyad can swim from Cuba to Miami at 64 (on her 5th try), I can start a business at 50. I may regret signing up with a coach, but at least I took action. I also signed up for Earn1K and RBT, which I have gotten more value from than the coach, but ALL of those things have helped in keeping me accountable, and moving forward. I will start with what I know, learn from my experiences, and my business will evolve from there, like so many others have. So 2013 was just the kickoff, and 2014, in addition to being the year of unapologetic mastery is the year of forward momentum, building something tangible, and not giving up.

    • Dana,
      Congratulations on choosing to focus on what worked for you.
      to paraphrase Edision each failure is a step towards your success.

      I am like you always doing what “needs” to be done but not really following through to figure out what I want to do. Diana’s story was inspiring to me too. I saw her on PBS and was blown away by her vitality and drive. I said to myself if she can do that at 64 after failing 5 times . I can set a goal to be a successful business owner and reach it at 47. Thank you for helping me to see myself on Ramit’s page.

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