Outsmart Guilt or Pay with Brainpower

Ever notice, the phone rings with new demands when you’re most vulnerable, just days after you let a family member down, and avoided a neighbor who’d been looking for friendship. The caller’s neither friend nor family but lets you know that everybody else in your club signed up to volunteer for Pancake Saturday and they need one more cook. It’s the first Saturday you’ve had off in months and you’d planned a fishing trip just beyond the city for the weekend. Been there? 

Guilt often strikes harder when we  dodge molehill issues repeatedly, until they pile into mountain peaks. Mental bankruptcy follows for a ripple effect.  Stressed brain rely on habit, and you’ve likely noticed, the brain needs new stimuli to climb back onto freedom’s side of the guilt ledger.

Freedom from guilt’s more a matter of mental chemistry, and acting out changed beliefs, and less from mistakes you’ve made. Move a new belief about guilt into action to win, and your brain will literally rewire its plasticity do the rest.

Just as mental anguish lingers from a lifetime of guilt, so also does wellness take root for a lifetime of freedom, with a few preventative steps. How so?

  • Follow the freedom around you daily. Surround yourself with compassionate professionals who know how to laugh and who live freely. Winners who model healthy serotonin experiences that put problems on back burners until solutions simmer. Most would agree that guilt, exposed to healthy settings, tends to take flight far faster. Have you seen it happen?
  • Name and claim the events or people that expect far more than you can give. Offer alternatives for what you’d like to do or give or be, and then hold fast to perimeters you suggest. When family members or friends demand more time, set out one or two occasions each month where you’ll join them for their favorite pastime, and let them know ahead that is all that’s possible at the time. No reason to make excuses or explain why, simply state clearly and in good tone, how you’d look forward to a time or two with them.
  • Set new examples of a guilt free approach for those at work. Most people suffer from jobs left undone, people who feel ignored, talents left with raw edges, and memories of past failures. Laugh in a new way and take on one tactic here to curb guilt and then share a small success when you meet with peers or friends, who struggle with their own guilt.
  • Break genetic codes so that the guilt which created neuron pathways in your brain,  transforms itself into reconfigured freedom through a few deliberate choices you make. While talent shrinkage goes with guilt, expect new brainpower when you cultivate the purpose and passion Helen Keller did when she concluded: Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing at all.
  • Stay connected, and take heart that guilt may have set up road blocks over time, but focus will return your own mental wellness into freer situations. You’ll also gain insights to build better communication with those you know. It’s related to using interpersonal intelligence in a few basic ways that raise several intelligences up a notch. Isolation merely leads to another heaping dose of guilt.
  • Pay it forward in ways that give others a guilt free ride because you are there. Catch yourself blaming people around you? Laugh off things that cannot be changed and help to improve what can change. One short approach to helping others past guilt is to model how freedom looks in your own day, and encourage it in theirs. How so? Share one tactic here that worked for you and show how so.
  • Jump-start change by diverting your focus to something you like to do, and then why not include the person who made you feel guilty in the first place. Make time for an adventure with that person, write a thank you note to express genuine appreciation for one thing that person did well. Explain clearly what you can do, and add what you will not be able to do in any situation. Avoid meta-messages that act as another way to run from reality, and speak in honest, clear terms with the other person’s well being in mind, yet not willing to sell your soul to guilt.
  • Run from blame because people whose lives slips off healthy mental tracks tend to look around and often blame others for their lot in life. Cynicism causes stress – refuse it. Laugh it off, offer suggestions, or avoid people who blame – just don’t allow blame to seep in and destroy both of you.
  • Gather the facts so that every key detail is out on the table to consider or adjust. Make sure you see the positives, even before you begin digging for the parts that broke. Then go after problems with solutions in mind.
  • Embrace life, with all its strengths and weaknesses. When your situation sucks you into stressful currents, pull out a a brain buster or two from this list to find your way back to freedom’s delight.

Toxins that accompany guilt pose a big risk for those without mental awareness when they strike. Stress, for instance literally shrinks the human brain, according to recent research. Many people worry more about what they didn’t or cannot do, when the truth is that guilt robs focus from freer behaviors toward security and satisfaction. Consider a day without guilt, then act as if regret is  your enemy. There – you’ve already launched a gift of freedom that keeps on giving.

4 Comments

  1. Wow, what a wonderful, positive message, Ellen! Thanks for sharing it! Guilt so often assaults us on every side, and keeping it in perspective can be really difficult. We need to learn to do that, though, if we’re to prevent its toxic brain drain. This post is a great reminder to say “No” to guilt, and it presents some time-tested methods for doing just that.

    Thanks again for sharing these insights!
    Jeanne

  2. eweber says:

    Thanks for stopping by Jeanne, and I sure do agree with you that guilt slips into far too many otherwise productive places. You know it when you resent time spent or offerings made if you otherwise love to give:-) It seems to be the enemy of generosity and a sister to resentment:-)

    What do you think?

  3. Ellen,

    I agree. Guilt over tasks undone so often sneaks into the middle of current activities, preventing us from entering fully into them. In fact, it can sometimes make us avoid entering into other activities altogether, because we feel so overwhelmed by the things we feel we should be doing instead or that we should have already done. When we’re in such a state, we feel as if we have so much less to give–which can certainly make us feel less generous or even downright resentful about giving.

    Guilt feelings are definitely the enemy of both productivity and generosity.

    Jeanne

  4. [...] around your next corner that could hurt, or disappoint, or leave you feeling sad or guilty for days? Any person who reaches out to others vulnerably, like my friend does, also opens pathways [...]

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