A bit of guilt is good. Shame is bad.
This post is about how to use guilt productively to kickstart awareness and action.
But first, I want to share a story of gratitude.
Steve, our Director Of Greetings, started barking a couple of minutes ago. He’s not much of a barker, so I went to check. Looking out the front window, I noticed the GFL yard waste collection truck. The collector was hauling my many, many, many bags of leaves and twigs from the top of my driveway (and behind a tree) to the truck.
I threw on my shoes and ran out to thank him, moving quickly since I didn’t want to hold him up in the cold.
I felt bad for forgetting to put out my yard waste (and a little dumb, too). That lasted for about a second. The feeling that remained after guilt woke me up to my error, was a strong sense of gratitude to Steve and to the yard-waste collector guy.
I was glad to have had my dog and the GFL yard waste collector watching my back.
Gratitude far outweighed the guilt. And I don’t even know if the two have anything to do with one another. I probably would have felt grateful even if I hadn’t felt guilty. Over the years I have made it a policy that when I feel guilty (or even worse, shameful) about something, I do try to swap guilt out with action (if necessary) and a lot of gratitude.
Being ready to make amends and to always express gratitude takes practice, but it is by far the best way to minimize feeling bad about myself. This matters, because I do not like feeling bad, guilty, or sad. Dark emotions exist to help us make good decisions and to help us tune into the world around us.
Transform Guilt into and Alarm Clock (with off button)
- Guilt comes in. (Brrrrring!!!!!)
- Notice it and it’s cause. (Aaarg, stupid alarm! Is it 6:30 already????)
- Swap it out with action and gratitude. (Better get up. Thanks God/Sunshine/Mother Earth for this beautiful day!)
In this way, guilt becomes like an alarm clock, something that helps wake you up. Once you’re awake, you can turn it off by fixing the situation, apologizing, and expressing gratitude. (If you just hit Snooze, it will probably turn into shame, and then things get bad.)
Let pain or guilt be that alarm clock, a ringing to alertness, and nothing more.
Or even better, you can choose to let guilt be that beautiful, barking friend telling you, “Hey, buddy, you’ve missed something! Get out there and say ‘Thanks'”