6 steps to use guilt positively

I’ve always found guilt quite a difficult emotion to be present with. It’s a really visceral feeling that plants itself in the forefront of my thinking and gnaws away, urging me to solve the problem. Finding ways to make good on the wrong doing or re-contextualising the situation to make it less problematic. It’s not surprising that guilt is such a ‘persistant’ emotion, because it’s there to act as our conscience. To help us remain part of a positively functioning social group. We feel guilt when we believe we have acted in ways that may impact on our position with that social group or within a specific relationship. Strong, uncomfortable feelings are nature’s way of telling us to change course or make amends.

 

When I forgot to buy my husband rugby tickets the other week, I had that sudden, cold realisation about an hour after they went on sale. Obviously, they had all gone within minutes, so by the time I looked, they were on the re-sale sites for massively inflated prices and I couldn’t make good on my mistake. There was nothing I could do to re-frame what had happened as I simply forgot. I had no choice but to admit my mistake and feel the guilt.

 

As I spent some time just sitting with my emotions I could feel how physically it affected me. The tightening across my shoulders and neck, the feeling of wanting to squirm, the unsettled feeling in my stomach. I did my best to just extend some curious attention to these feelings and I realised that I felt some discomfort with the balance of ‘give and take’ in my relationship with my husband. I spend so much of my time ‘giving’ to my children that I often don’t have much left to give my husband. He’s a good egg and doesn’t ask for much, so to have let him down on one of my opportunities to actually do something for him was really disappointing.

 

It was important for me to feel that so I could think about our relationship in a broader sense and decide to make some changes. To think about how I could give a little more to him and create a better sense of balance. Rather than sitting ruminating and feeling uncomfortable for days, I had the opportunity to make positive changes for both of us.

 

Guilt quote Brene Brown

 

Luckily, mindfulness offers us tools for using guilt in a positive way to make improvements in our lives and strengthen our bonds with others. If you notice that you’re experiencing guilt and you’d like to try relating to it in a different way, here are my 6 steps to use guilt positively. I’d recommend doing this when you have 5-10  minutes to just sit and be. It doesn’t have to be silent, but you do need to be able to turn your attention inwards. Closing your eyes while travelling on a train for instance would be fine.

 

6 steps to use guilt positively P

 

Step one: welcome the emotion of guilt

Once you’ve noticed that you’re experiencing guilt, let go of any attempt to resist the emotion or blame others. Just allow it to be there for now. If verbal mantras work for you, you may want to try repeating something like “Thank you for being here guilt. I am open to learning.” You can do this silently if people are around you.

 

Step two: explore the physical experience of guilt in the body

As you welcome the feeling of guilt, pay curious attention to how it feels within the body. Are there areas of your body that feel tense or uncomfortable? How does your breathing feel? There’s no need to change or resist any of this, just allow it to be there for now.

 

Step three: observe your thoughts

Allow yourself to observe your thoughts without getting caught up in them. You may experience some critical thoughts like “I’m a terrible wife” or some questioning thoughts like “how did I forget?”. None of these thoughts are ‘true’ per se, they’re just thoughts. It may help to imagine each thought as a different person offering their perspective on a particular situation. You have a choice about who you listen to.

 

Step four: extend yourself some self-compassion

Imagine that you are talking to a friend or loved one. What would you say to them in the same situation? How would you help them be kind to themselves? Self-compassion allows us to let go of any over catastrophising (such as “I’m a terrible wife”) and make peace with our actions as normal, human imperfections or mistakes.

 

Step five: set intentions for future behaviour

By this point, you should have a more compassionate and clearer view on your situation and can start to set some positive intentions for what to do next. Going back to my example above, my intention was to write down one kind thing I wanted to do for my husband every day. These weren’t massive things. Perhaps preparing some lunch for him, tucking a note into his work bag or simply giving him a big hug. Small daily acts of kindness reminded me to prioritise him more and create more balance in our relationship.

 

Step six: give a heartfelt apology if it’s appropriate

Guilt can actually cause us to avoid the people we’ve wronged or even become angry with them (as we try to deflect the feeling). Giving a heartfelt apology in which we acknowledge our wrongs helps us to let go of the guilty feelings and repair our relationships. Apologies can feel really awkward (and we often put them off), so a good way to get over this initially is to set ourselves a reward for when we’ve done it. This could be a solo trip to the coffee shop, reading a book or perhaps visiting a friend. Whatever works for you. Having something to look forward to afterwards makes us much more likely to do it.

 

So there are my 6 steps to using guilt positively. I hope you found them useful. If you’d like to keep up to date with all my news and articles then please do follow me on Facebook.

 

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My top 10 mindfulness quotes

It seems that quotes are everywhere these days from coffee cups to T-shirts to Instagram. They are omnipresent in everyday life and maybe a little over ‘done’. YOLO tattoo anyone? I must profess though, that I still love to read a good quote and treasure the feeling it gives me. In an age where religion is not necessarily the default choice, many of us still wrestle with the time old struggles that our consciousness brings us. Who are we really? What is our purpose? How do we make sense of the challenges and difficulties that we face in life? Quotes offer meaning in a relatable soundbite. You don’t need a philosophy degree to understand them and spirituality is optional. Instead, you can find solace in the sense that you are not alone in your struggles. That others have trodden a similar path and won. Quotes offer direction and meaning when we’re feeling undecided, providing confidence in our convictions and even sometimes giving us the strength to face our own critical inner voice and march forth anyway. I wrote about a particular quote by Anais Nin (in ‘You have a right to experiment with your life’) that had inspired me to change my career.

 

I therefore wanted to share with you my top 10 mindfulness quotes that have inspired my mindfulness practice. I’ve found them particularly useful when I’ve veered off track to some extent or needed help to focus my intentions and behaviour. Often, I’ll write them down in my journal. Taking my time to write and draw around them meditatively so my gaze will be drawn to them for the next week or so. Other times I’ll write them on cards and put them on the mirror or kitchen surfaces so I see them as I go about my day. Hopefully this list can inspire you too.

 

Top 10 mindfulness quotes

 

1.

1. Maya Angelou quote

 

This is such a beautiful reminder to keep a beginner’s mind. When I start to get that Groundhog Day feeling, I think of this quote and it reminds me to look for the fresh beauty and joy in every day. That there’s always something new to discover, even if it’s just a lopsided grin from a loved one, a new podcast or a plant in your garden. Being grateful for the small discoveries can make every day special.

 

2.

2. S.C. Laurie quote

 

I remember writing this in my journal (in fact I have it open right now to copy) during the middle of the night. I was in a particularly dark phase of post-natal depression and unsure what I was doing or where I was going. I’ve never been a particularly depressive person, so the feeling of my irrational thoughts and emotions taking over was especially scary. I just wanted to be my normal self, in control and level headed as normal. But I couldn’t; so I read this quote and I surrendered to the fear and the sadness. I hit the bottom and realised I was still here. Still breathing. Still loving. Still coping. And there was hope. New ideas and possibilities started to emerge. The good moments and the good days started to increase in number until the fear and the sadness were diminished. Fleeting, transient and less forceful.

 

This quote will now forever remind me to accept and welcome in all of my emotions. That mindfulness is not an endless state of positivity, but by welcoming the more difficult emotions, you can journey through them more peacefully.

 

3.

3. Thich Nhat Hanh quote

 

I can be distracted at times. My to-do list is long and sometimes I just want to zone out watching something on television or scrolling through social media. This quote creates a beautiful, visual reminder that when we are generously attentive towards our loved ones, it helps them blossom. It motivates me to focus my attention on them because I want them to know that they matter. That they are seen and heard and beautiful in their own unique way.  Deborah MacNamara has written a great piece about this and how it develops children’s self-worth. I think the same could be true of all people, young and old however.

 

4.

4. Thich Nhat Hanh quote 2

 

I’ve talked previously (in ‘Taming my doing brain’) about the fact that I’m a ‘doer’ by nature, constantly striving to achieve and get things done. This quote reminds me of one of the central pillars of mindfulness, which is ‘non-striving’. It gives me the confidence to embrace where I am now and stop chasing the end goal. When your sights are constantly set on the final prize, you never really end up happy, because how many of us actually reach that perfect place? Often, even if we do reach that end goal, we just set another and so we’re in perpetual state of dissatisfaction and yearning. As the Dalai Lama said “There are only two days in the year when nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.”

 

5.

5. William Shakespeare quote

 

This quote reminds me of the grounding power of nature. That listening to the rain, watching the stars and feeling the grass all have the power to connect me with the present moment and the wider Universe. Making me feel part of a larger, organic whole, rather than a disconnected pin ball bouncing around an overly stimulated machine. It reminds me warmly of being in the garden with my youngest the other day. I’d carefully prepared her feet with wellies and we came out into the garden. As we got out there, she simply kicked off the wellies and stood there smiling, feeling the grass between her toes. So I followed suit. We gardened bare foot, feeling the grass, the soil, the rocks and the pavement beneath our feet. Beautiful.

 

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6.

6. Osho quote

 

Realising that my thoughts aren’t facts was such a lightbulb moment. I hadn’t really considered until that point that what I was thinking was the combined total of all my experiences and early conditioning to date. That the critical voice inside of me didn’t always have it right. Understanding that I could observe my thoughts without buying into them allowed me to respond to my emotions and triggers in a much more considered way. I didn’t have to tread the same path I always had. This quote is a good reminder that thoughts aren’t facts and they aren’t permanent. You have the ability to change your thoughts if you want to.

 

7.

7. Rachel Macy Stafford quote

 

Rachel’s writing is full of self-compassion so there are a number of quotes I could have chosen to remind me of the importance of giving ourselves grace and forgiveness. Allowing us to reflect and learn from our less than perfect moments in a positive way. I like this particular quote however for its focus on today. Today is the only day in which we can make a difference. Who we are becoming and what we do right now is what matters.

 

8.

8. Jackson Kiddard quote

 

I don’t think I realised how much control I liked to have until I was faced with two tiny humans with minds of their own. Learning to let go of my attachment to a specific outcome has been a blessing though and has opened my eyes to a much more relaxed way of life. Maintaining limits on the important stuff and letting the rest go has brought much more happiness than insisting on my way of doing things for the most part. I still need a reminder once in a while though.

 

9.

9. Mandy Hale quote

 

Letting go of perfectionism has taken some time for me, but I’m starting to get there. I was always driven by the desire to show a ‘perfect’ front, assuming that is what other people expected from me. That I wouldn’t be valued without being perfect. I’ve since realised that letting down my guard and not always being perfect allows people to get closer. What they really want is my time, generosity and kindness, not a spotless house, perfect clothes or amazing lifestyle. Ultimately, kindness is what matters most.

 

10.

10. Rumi quote

 

I guess there are many interpretations of this quote, but for me, it’s a reminder to place my attention mindfully. We are the sum of the people we spend time with, of the messages we listen to and the culture we embrace. Being mindful of how we place our attention means that we can be intentional about how we develop as a person.

 

So there are my top 10 mindfulness quotes. I hope you enjoyed them. If you have any other favourite mindfulness quotes, please do comment with them below. I’d love to hear them and I’m sure others would too.

 

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