How to stop feeling guilty
January 07th, 2014 - 179 Comments
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, I want to give you a big hug. This is 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?
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.
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.
Two frameworks to overcome self-negativity
I was surprised by all the negative self-talk 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?
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.
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.
- What could I have done better?
- What will I do next time?
- Let me test it and measure the results.
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 change 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.
- 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 turn your guilt into action.
Post a comment below that includes two things:
- A example of your own negative self-talk
- 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.
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