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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How I find space in the most stressful of days

There are always those days where it feels like we don’t stop. Like the demands are continuous and we don’t have time to catch our breath. It might be a pressurised day at work, or a day at home with children on your own. The nature of the stressor doesn’t matter. It’s the relentless nature of it that affects our wellbeing. Shamash Alidina uses a good analogy of the water cup. If you had to hold it for one minute that would be no problem. Hold it for an hour and your arm would ache. Hold it for 24 hours and your arm would be in significant pain. It’s the duration of the pressure that causes the problem.

 

“If the pressure is too high for you and lasts for long periods of time, it can cause chronic stress, and that’s where the danger lies.” Shamash Alidina in ‘The mindful way through stress’

 

It’s not always possible to change our lifestyle, at least in the short term, but we can draw upon some small changes to alter our perception of the demands placed upon us. To create more space for us to breathe, to think and to rest. What I’m going to describe now is how you can feel the pauses in your day to break-up what seems like a continuous barrage of stimulus and demands.

 

Let’s explore this together with a short exercise using our breath as an example. We often think of our breath as being continuous. It’s the one activity that links our lifetime from birth to death. We are wholly dependent on our breath continuing in order to survive, and yet the breath is also punctuated with short pauses all the time.

 

Feel the pause exercise

 

  1. Close your eyes
  2. Draw your attention down into the body and become aware of your breath
  3. Allow yourself to observe the natural rhythm of the breath
  4. When you’re ready, see if you can observe the subtle pause between the out breath and the in breath of the next breath
  5. Keep this going for a few breaths until you can consistently feel the pause
  6. See if you can notice the stillness and lack of tension in the body in this pause
  7. Now see if you can observe the even more subtle pause between the in breath and the out breath
  8. Again, see if you can notice the stillness present in this pause
  9. When you’re ready, bring this meditation to a close and allow yourself to notice how you feel as a result

 

In the same way as the breath, there are often small pauses within the day that we don’t notice. Bringing mindful attention to these pauses can help us to metaphorically put down the water cup for a while so we can rest, before starting again. Drawing attention to these pauses can be difficult at first until we get the hang of it so it can help to start with a specific intention. Perhaps if you have a lot of driving to do you can use every red light to take a deep breath in and out. Imagine coming away from every red light feeling more positive and rested, rather than more stressed and aggravated! If you’re spending the day at home with children, perhaps use a task like boiling the kettle to remind you to take a deep breath in and out. Just feeling a moment of stillness. Anticipating the positive experience of a warming cup of tea. Or if you’re in the office, you could decide to breathe deeply and mindfully while drying your hands at the hand drier. Think you don’t have time to dry your hands at the hand drier? Try counting. It’s normally less than 20 seconds. Imagine using those 20 seconds to rest, clear your mind and appreciate the warm air on your hands rather than rushing out of the toilet with half dried, damp hands.

 

Once you start to notice the pauses you’ll find yourself noticing more and more pauses and embracing the chance to rest, albeit briefly, before continuing with your day. Take the opportunity to nourish and shine affectionate attention on your body and mind, and everyday demands will start to feel less overwhelming.

 

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PIN how I find space in the most stressful days

Giving the gift of presence

Thich Nhat Hanh said

 

“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”

 

In today’s busy, multi-channel, multi-attention world, it’s rare that we give our full and undivided attention to others. We talk whilst preparing dinner or we watch movies whilst surfing on our phone. Slowly and silently the distance between us can increase until  all of a sudden we can turn to the person next to us and feel adrift or disconnected. We all crave connection with our fellow humans; especially those we love. Gifting our mindful presence can help to reduce that divide and bring us closer as well as allowing our loved ones to bloom in our unconditional love.
If you fancy bestowing your presence rather than presents upon your loved ones this Valentines Day here are 3 suggestions.

 

1. A shared experience in the present moment
Have you ever smelled a scent or listened to a song and been transported to a vivid memory? Strong, sensual (by that I mean activating one of your 5 senses) experiences have the ability to ground us in the present moment. Enjoying these together can really allow us to be present in each other’s company and let go of distractions. The sky is your limit here but examples would be:

  • Watching the stars
  • Trying new foods together
  • Listening to live music
  • Massage with aromatherapy oils
  • A nature walk

 

 

2. Deep listening
Listening deeply to others allows them to feel heard and understood; and ultimately loved. With deep listening we use our self awareness to let go of our own agenda and embrace all that the speaker has to communicate in the present moment. We’re not evaluating or categorising the content of what they say, we’re not thinking about what to say next and we’re not trying to make them feel better. We’re simply listening to and absorbing what is said. Perhaps with some reflective statements to ensure we understand what they’re saying.
You don’t have to sit down and ‘do’ deep listening (unless you want to). Just try to be mindful of the next time your loved one seems to have something to say or work through and remind yourself that this would be a good time to listen deeply to what they have to say.

 

“The listener’s job is simply to be present and by their presence to hold a space for the other person to explore their felt senses and chosen issues. It is not the listener’s job to “be helpful,” to problem-solve or commiserate or evaluate, but simply to be mindfully present, including being mindful of their own felt senses as they arise.” (mindful.org)

 

If you want to learn more about deep listening there is a great article on mindful.org here.

 

3. The heart’s bulletin board
In her book ‘Only Love Today’, Rachel Macy Stafford talks about the heart’s bulletin board.

 

“Every human being, young or old, has a heart’s bulletin board. Every person needs safety, love and affirmation offered in terms he or she can understand.”

 

We are in charge of the messages we leave pinned on our loved one’s bulletin board. We can leave messages of love and affirmation that demonstrate our understanding of their unique qualities or we can leave messages charged with criticism, shame or anger. When we bring our mindful attention and presence to our loved ones, we can decide to offer soul building words that affirm our love for them.

 
I am grateful when you…
I notice that you…
Your eyes sparkle when you…
I enjoy when you…
You make my day better.

 
So there are my 3 suggestions for giving the gift of presence to your loved ones. If you have any more suggestions I’d love to hear about them! Just comment below.

 

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Mindful tips to improve relationships

Book Review: Only Love Today by Rachel Macy Stafford

I’ve been following Rachel’s blog The Hands Free Mama for a few years now and I’ve always adored her writing. It’s like the written equivalent of a hug from a friend. Her work is full of hope and inspiration for turning a bad day around without feeling sanctimonious or judgemental. I haven’t read any of her previous books so I was delighted to be given the chance to get a sneak preview of this one.

 

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I was somewhat surprised (and happy) to find that this isn’t a cover to cover read or a manual for mindful living. In the words of Rachel this is a “flip open, read-in-any-order book of daily encouragement designed to shift perspective and anchor us in love”. Each short passage of c. 2-3 pages tackles a specific theme and includes a short quote (great to write in a journal as a reminder), an encouraging passage based in experience and a suggested exercise for the day to help reinforce this shift in perspective. You could simply work your way through the book taking a passage each day, or you could just use the index to refer to relevant passages as and when needed.

 
On opening the book initially, the first passage I came to was exactly what I needed that day. After a 5am start with two small, tired people, I was feeling pretty grumpy and snappy. I hadn’t exactly been the model Mum thus far and I was feeling bad about it. The “Only Love Today Affirmation” really helped me let go of the regret and resentment and open up to all the possibilities yet to come that day.

 

 

 

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“Today I will choose love. If I mistakenly choose distraction, perfection or negativity over love, I will not wallow in regret. I will choose love next. I will choose love until it becomes my first response… my gut instinct… my natural reaction. I will choose love until it becomes who I am.
Let love start this day.
Let love end this day.
Let love transform the minutes in between.”

 
This book allows us to accept our human, imperfect selves, whilst still allowing us to grow and nurture those around us with increasing love and softness. I’d thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who loves someone. Loving ourselves and those we cherish with gentleness, empathy and compassion is probably something we all hope to do and yet still manage to stray away from some days. This is the perfect companion to help you get back on track.

 

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You have a right to experiment with your life

Do you ever read a quote and have it change your life? I’m a little bit in love with Anaïs Nin anyway but I read this quote of hers and it finally gave me the courage to do what I’d been afraid of.

 
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“You have a right to experiment with your life. You will make mistakes. And they are right too.” – Anaïs Nin

 
At the time I had a great job with great people but I knew that I wanted to be able to look after my family on more of a full-time basis. I also had a passion for mindfulness that I wanted to explore. I spent many months ruminating on the decision about whether to leave (I’ll tackle rumination in a different post) and there were two key thoughts that were holding me back.

 

  • It’s highly unlikely I’d be able to return to research in such a fantastic position. What if I regret it and want to return?
  • What if I fail? Everyone would see me fail and that would be embarrassing.

As I read that quote however, I realised that making mistakes IS inevitable. I could take all the precautions I wanted but at some point I would make a mistake anyway. We often see our lives (particularly our professional lives) as being a linear upward trajectory. We don’t expect to pause, to reset, to circle back around and come up again on a different path. But would it be so bad if we did? It suddenly felt quite liberating to acknowledge that I’d had an amazing time in research for 12 years but that right now, I could allow myself to take on a new challenge. And if I decided to return to research in the future, maybe I would find another amazing role to fill. There are no definites, only possibilities.

 
The other thought I acknowledged was that failing and making mistakes ARE OK. This is one I struggle with a lot and learning self compassion through my own meditation practice has been very healing.  Yes it feels bad to fail, but it can also be a great teacher if we let go of the accompanying self-criticism and negative thinking that we often heap upon ourselves when we do so. We can be kind to ourselves instead. Acknowledge the hurt, explore what the experience has to teach us and then let it go. We can even be grateful to our failures for teaching us.

 
So as I prepare to launch my new classes this week, I feel that familiar knot of trepidation in my stomach. My anxious mind telling me that failure is a possibility. That it would be safer not to try. To remain unseen and untested.

 
And then I remember those words “You will make mistakes. And they are right too”. I remember that I have love to give. That I am passionate about what I do. That I want to share that feeling of loving life again that I had when I learned mindfulness for the first time after my first baby. That I can do this.

 
The best mentors often allow us to step outside our thoughts and see them from a different perspective. Thank you Anaïs.