6 ways to banish guilt from your life


Stuck moment: I feel like I don’t deserve to be here because I let everyone down. I just want to slink into a corner and keep my eyes on the floor…Or maybe just quit and go home? I even feel guilty about feeling guilty!

For many of us, guilt is like a certain kind of old friend — someone whom we willingly let in the door, and then can’t kick out.

Guilt shows up when we act in a way that doesn’t sync with our goals and values — whether procrastinating, or breaking a promise, or taking credit for someone else’s work. At its best, guilt acts like a moral compass, prompting us to reflect on what we’re doing (or not doing), and then make constructive change.

But when guilt settles in for the long haul, serving up daily helpings of blame and shame without adding anything constructive to the mix, we find ourselves living with a parasite. Guilt shadows the good things in our lives. It whittles down our energy and self-worth. That’s when we begin cheating ourselves of our personal dreams and needs. We make a habit of putting ourselves second, feeding our guilt, and starving our self-esteem — making it harder and harder to be our fullest, brightest, most creative selves. 

Here are five telltale signs that guilt may be eating up the quality of your life:

• You avoid certain people or situations because they trigger shame memories.
• You say no to opportunities because you believe you don’t deserve them.
• You clam up or get defensive.
• You rationalize or make excuses, even when no one’s challenging you.
• When you play (and replay) the guilty act in your head, it kills your mood and energy levels — and takes you a good long while to reset.

There are three common forms of guilt that can rob us from living fully — if we let it. Instead, let’s kick out the guilt, rather than repeatedly kick ourselves. Here are some ways to start.

“Guilt-free” is a phrase that gets tossed around a lot: guilt-free TV, guilt-free desserts, guilt-free shopping… It seems that wherever there’s pleasure involved, there’s guilt to be had. We often don’t allow ourselves to do what we want because we believe we haven’t earned it. And, even when we do say yes, that guilty little voice in our heads spoils the fun of a nightcap at the close of a hard day, or that beach getaway with friends. 

Ironically, research shows that guilt is a pretty ineffective way to control behavior. In a 2013 study published in Appetite, psychologists found that that people who linked chocolate cake with guilt rather than with celebration had more trouble losing and maintaining weight. Instead of acting as a positive motivating force, guilt actually leads to feelings of helplessness and lack of control.

While it’s healthy to have rules for responsible behavior — a glass of wine with dinner is one thing; a bottle of wine is another — unrealistic expectations of never ever indulging set you up for failure. And a dull life.

Try these tips:

• Let go of borrowed beliefs. If you feel that something you want to do is undeserved, ask yourself who said so. Does society say that it’s wrong? Your mom? Your childhood baseball coach? Then ask yourself what you believe — and respect your own judgment.

Calculate the consequences. What’s the fallout if you indulge? And what can you do to mitigate it? For example, if the consequence of ordering dessert is falling off your diet wagon, how can you counterbalance it? A morning trip to the gym, perhaps? (Although you probably don’t want to make this a habit.)

A guilty conscience can be your personal Alcatraz — rocky, labyrinthine, and impossible to escape. But punishing yourself with thoughts of what a terrible person you are doesn’t help you make amends for that terrible (or perhaps not-so-terrible) thing you did. Instead, it makes you self-absorbed and self-protective. You stop putting your best foot forward — cheating not only yourself, but other people in your life.

The thing is, guilt without behavior change is a cop-out. If you did something wrong — even if the victim is no one but yourself — acknowledge it, try to repair the damage, and commit to not doing it again. Once you emancipate yourself from your guilty slammer, your world will get brighter and fuller with possibility.

Try these tips:

Forgive yourself. Okay, so you did something you’re not proud of. That’s part of being human, but it doesn’t define who you are. Forgiving yourself requires new perspectives. Talking through your guilt with someone else often lightens the burden. When you speak your thoughts out loud it usually removes much of the sting — though it may not happen in a single conversation. You might also try talking to yourself as if you were another person. What would you say to someone else who is in your position?

Break up with your guilt. Once you’ve made honest efforts to make amends, box up your guilt up and get rid of it. Try creating some kind of ritual that helps you divorce your guilt — such as writing a positive affirmation or letter to yourself, or burning or throwing away a physical artifact that represents your feelings of shame.

The bogeyman of perfection plagues us throughout our lives, and guilt (perfection’s enfant terrible) rears its ugly head when we fall short of what we think we ought to be — whether it’s the woman who “has it all” or the straight-A student obsessed with the highest score.

Often, this guilt is shaped by fear of disappointing others: You’re a rotten parent because you missed a school play; you’re a bad friend because you forgot a birthday; you don’t deserve to be happy because your traditional-minded family says you make poor choices…Every time you fall short of the impossible, you beat yourself up a little more.

To lessen the loathing, try to shift your thinking to what’s truly achievable — the tips in last week’s Unstuck post "The secret to work-life balance" can help — and create tactical ways to juggle and prioritize life’s many demands. Because when guilt leads, you try to please everyone, ironically, you please no one — particularly yourself. 

Try these tips:

Mute the peanut gallery. When you feel lessened by guilt because you couldn’t do everything perfectly, replace the negative voice with a positive one; for example, instead of “I served dinner 15 minutes late,” shift to “I spent extra time getting the sauce perfect, and I know my friends will really appreciate that.”

Own your failures. Mistakes only diminish us when we don’t learn from them. Use our Failure Analysis Checklist to reflect on what went wrong, and to surface important lessons that will help you prevent the situation from happening again. The mistakes we make can make us wiser, smarter, and more compassionate — but only when we stop palling around with guilt and embrace constructive change.

DOWNLOAD THIS PRINTABLE TIP CARD: 6 ways to say good-bye to guilt

Next week: How to say sorry and make amends
Last week: The secret to work-life balance

You can use the free Unstuck web app here or download the iPad app from iTunes.

#negative thinking #by the Unstuck Team


Creative release: 5 things to try when you when can’t step away from your problem

Illustrator Marc Johns likes to go for a walk or do dishes to relax his mind, but when that’s not possible and he needs to push through a creative block, he tries one of five things:

1. Instead of coming up with one solution, come up with 20.

2. Shorten your deadline to 10 minutes from now.

3. Put away all digital devices.

4. Use different materials, like chalk, crayon, paper and pen.

5. Pretend you are a pastry chef or a pilot or a hot dog vendor (you get the idea). How do these people look at the world?

Source: Breakthrough! 90 proven strategies to overcome creative block & spark your imagination, Alex Cornell, editor.

#creativity #by the Unstuck Team


The secret to work-life balance


My husband, Jesse, has been 263 miles away since Monday. (Again.) I threw together an improvised childcare plan — involving two paid babysitters, some kind-hearted neighbors, and an indispensible Granny — so I could pull extra hours at the office while my boss was out of town. When I got home, I put the kids to bed with a stern message to win the going-to-bed-game so I could teach a few online writing courses. Later, I packed (okay, made a packing list) for vacation — which officially begins as soon as I finish writing this.

Did I mention that I may have called my husband in tears on my way to work because a political situation in the office was spinning out of control?

Balance? Not exactly. More like falling. And that’s the good news.

The fine art of falling down a hill
I learned how to ski last winter. My husband is a passionately committed skier, but I’ve never been athletic. In my twenties, I broke my wrist trying to learn to snowboard. I’m terrified of being out of control. I have terrible balance. 

A dozen private lessons and two years later, I’m a sort-of-semi-decent intermediate amateur skier. I wear that badge with pride. But to get there, I had to fall. And fall again. And again.

(And again.) 

I’m telling you this because I learned an important secret on the bunny slopes: Balance isn’t something you “find” and “keep.” It’s something you lose, and regain, and lose again. Balance isn’t stasis; it’s a series of adjustments, large and small, that you make on the fly, as you’re speeding down a mountain. On skis.

Who needs balance when you have someone to catch you when you fall? 
In our life as a couple, Jesse and I embrace the “falling down a hill” model of balance. During our first six years together, I mostly stayed home with the kids, taking on sporadic freelance writing assignments and pushing a double stroller up and down the grocery aisles. Meanwhile, Jesse evolved from an underpaid social services worker into the best wheelchair-accessible taxi salesman in the world. (Hands down.)

Those years were a huge sacrifice, marked by failures large and small. I’m now coming up on my first anniversary of almost-full-time employment as a content strategist at a branding and marketing agency. My office is wallpapered with crayon masterpieces. Other than that, I mostly forget my kids exist between 8:30 AM and 4:00 PM.

Jesse works 11-hour days, five days a week. Some months he’s out of town two or three days — others, it’s closer to practically always. Here and there, we find the time to read bedtime stories, go to the park, stay in shape, write (me), and make music (him).

As we go, we negotiate (or sometimes shout) about who gets the right-of-way. Whose turn is it to go full speed? Who has to pick up the kids? Who gets the extra hour of sleep? 

Mantras, babysitters, and other necessities
Jesse and I are both ambitious and career-minded. When we get home, we face full dishwashers and overdue library books. Somehow, neither of us has ended up in the ER yet. Here are a few of our secrets:

1. Fail often and well. When I ski, I whisper a mantra before each run: No falls, no balls. In real life, Jesse and I face the possibility of a wipeout every day. But both of us are able to take on steeper hills, and bigger challenges, knowing we have someone to ride the lift with at the end of each run.

2. Invest in professional help. Every once in a while, a new mother asks me how I managed to balance a freelance career with being a stay-at-home mom. My answer? I didn’t. If you want a career that involves more than diapers, laundry, and the itsy bitsy spider, get a babysitter — whether you need to go to an office or not. While you’re at it, get three babysitters, in case the first two have car trouble or the flu.

3. Kill the Sunday blues. Every Sunday afternoon, Jesse and I pick up half a dozen oysters and drink martinis while the kids eat lollipops. Rituals like this are pre-set opportunities to regain our balance when things get out of control. Our world can fall completely to pieces, and you will find us slurping oysters and gin at 5:30 PM on Sunday.

4. Learn something new. Jesse pushed me to learn to ski. I got him into running. This summer, we’re both taking surfing lessons. Learning new things keeps us both nimble and humble, and inoculates us against the disease of perfectionism. Plus, it’s fun — and as far as I can tell, fun is the single most powerful weapon against the claustrophobia and anxiety of contemporary domestic life.

5. No excuses, no complaints. I fold the laundry; Jesse unloads the dishwasher. I don’t iron; he never vacuums. These are unpleasant chores, and no one wants to do them, so we have a rule in our house: If it’s your job, you decide how often and how well to do it. If it’s on the other person’s docket, you don’t criticize their execution. 

Give the judges a day off 
I skied my first black diamond this winter, and pulled my first 13-hour workday this spring. Every time I’m tempted to think, I’m getting pretty good at this, I hit some kind of crazy mogul and wind up with a face full of snow. If Jesse and I both manage to make it to retirement with no broken bones, we’ll be very lucky indeed.

We’re not alone. No one’s kids are ever signed up for the right kind of summer camp; no one’s gardens are ever weed-free. I’d like to say that no one’s judging you, but that would be a lie. Your daughter’s preschool teacher thinks you ought to comb her hair more often. Your neighbors notice that you haven’t trimmed your hedges in three years.

Fortunately, this isn’t the Olympics. We all have the luxury of not giving a damn. Better, we have the privilege of giving a very big damn about the things we truly care about. Maybe you didn’t have time to take out the recycling this week, but you worked some insane custom animations into that PowerPoint. Or perhaps you spit-balled your end-of-month reports, but you got to take your son to soccer practice and go out dancing with your husband last Friday.

I get to be a professional writer, and Jesse gets to be the best wheelchair-accessible taxi salesman in the world. Our kids get to be carefree and maniacal and breathtakingly brilliant. We’re amateurs, but the judges are amateurs, too. So are you. So are we all.

Balance is overrated.

DOWNLOAD THIS PRINTABLE TIP CARD: 4 ways to achieve work-life balance

Melissa Lore is a writer and content strategist at MicroArts Creative Agency. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University, and lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two children. Learn more at www.melissalore.com or follow her on Twitter @melissalorecopy.

Next week: How to stop feeling guilty
Last week: 5 make-or-break relationship stuck moments

You can use the free Unstuck web app here or download the iPad app from iTunes.

#fresh perspective #by Melissa Lore #relationships


5 make-or-break relationship stuck moments


Oh, relationships! When they’re great, they’re really, really great. And even when they’re not, they still give us good things — someone to share our day with, to nod sympathetically, to have our back in a tough situation — so we find reasons to stick with them, warts and all. We’re grateful for what we have and we hope that, with work and time, things will get better.

But, sometimes, warts are signs of something more problematic, and taking a step back is the best way to move forward — both for your own happiness and your partner’s. To find what separates an ordinary obstacle from a relationship red flag, we sought out two different types of relationship experts to offer advice on five frequent stuck moments. 

Coming from a clinical perspective, Dr. Jennifer Harman is an associate professor of social psychology and director of the Harman Close Relationships Lab at Colorado State University. Her research focuses on the science of interpersonal relationships, and she is an editor and contributor to The Science of Relationships, an online relationship science resource. 

Amy Spencer, on the other hand, is a “dating optimist” whose upbeat approach to dating and relationships focuses on positive affirmation, hopefulness, and self-fulfillment. She’s the author of Meeting Your Half-Orange: An Utterly Upbeat Guide to Using Dating Optimism to Find Your Perfect Match.

Though Dr. Harman’s advice leads from the objectively reasoning head and Amy Spencer’s from the hopeful human heart, often their insights overlapped. Apply their ideas as a litmus test to decide what to do about your own relationship stuck moments.

If you do decide that calling it off is the best option for both your sakes, our printable tip card offers four break up rules to help you do it in the best possible way.

Stuck moment #1. We’re stuck in a constant state of conflict. Without realizing it, I’ll do something that sets him off. We’re always picking at each other.

The social psychologist says:
“When people are in a state of conflict and using negative communication strategies — contempt, coercion, interrogating each other, or one person isn’t acknowledging the other’s experience — it can offset positive communication. The less negativity, the more positive people feel.”

The dating optimist says:
“The underlying issue can be a power struggle. You’re both trying to stand your ground in different ways. You’re both picking to try to change the other person, to make them the way you want them to be.”

What to do:

The social psychologist says:
“Listen and be responsive to your partner, even if you don’t agree. Laughter, physical affection, warmth and support are really important — because then the other person feels supported.”

The dating optimist says:
“Do the opposite of what you’ve been doing. Instead of picking, compliment each other. Start treating each other like you’re on the first date. Your heart has been hardening toward your partner. You have to figure out how to soften it up.” 

Is breaking up the better option? If so, download this printable tip card: How to call it off and not be the bad guy

* * *

Stuck moment #2. My partner can’t get his life figured out, and it’s bringing me down. I want to leave him but I’m afraid he’ll go into a negative spiral if I do.

The social psychologist says:
“Is there a mismatch in goals in terms of what each partner wants? The Michelangelo phenomenon is a process by which partners shape each other’s goals. If there’s a mismatch in terms of what of what each partner wants, there can be conflict and a lack of satisfaction.”

The dating optimist says:
“As much as we wish we could, we can never make someone else change their life.”

What to do:

The social psychologist says:
“You have to figure out your own long-term goal for the relationship. Weigh the costs and benefits of the situation. If it’s a codependent relationship, find ways to decrease dependence so that it’s easier to exit. Get some kind of couple’s counseling so that at least the other person has some kind of support there.”

The dating optimist says:
“Step back and focus on your own life. And if that does lead to ending the relationship, we can’t be responsible for someone else’s reaction to a situation. Tell that person’s support network that you’re passing it off.” 

Is breaking up the better option? If so, download this printable tip card: How to call it off and not be the bad guy

* * *

Stuck moment #3. We barely speak to each other any more. The day-in, day-out lack of communication feels like disrespect and disinterest.

The social psychologist says:
“The way we feel close to each other is self-disclosure. So when people aren’t doing that — sharing physical and emotional affection — they’re going to feel a lack of intimacy.”

The dating optimist says:
“The underlying issue is the utter dullness of their life routine. You’re officially bored with your 9-to-5 relationship, with doing what you have to but not what you want to. Clearly, both sides have fallen back a bit.”

What to do:

The social psychologist says:
“Do new things as a couple. Going on a double date can increase attraction; self-disclosing to another couple can make your current partner understand you better.”

The dating optimist says:
“Get out of your element. If you can find the time and money for a vacation, go for it. Or do a weekend away. Put yourself in a situation where you have to communicate about things that you don’t usually talk about.”

Is breaking up the better option? If so, download this printable tip card: How to call it off and not be the bad guy

* * *

Stuck moment #4. I’m lonely and tired and unfulfilled in this relationship. I want passion and intimate connection.

The social psychologist says:
“A destiny belief is that, if the person isn’t meeting your ideals, it’s just not meant to be. But if you have a growth belief, a problem is an opportunity to grow and learn about each other.” 

The dating optimist says:
“The underlying issue is ultimately a disconnection. Your couple glue is becoming unsticky. To get it back, you have to do something that fills intimacy.”

What to do:

The social psychologist says:
“Try to reignite the connection with the other person. But, if you’re young, you may not know that other types of relationships are possible. Personal growth will teach you over time what you want, and what will make you happy.”

The dating optimist says:
“Introduce new things into the relationship. Dive into the softest, gooiest part of your partner’s heart. Take a dance class where you have to learn together. Or have an intimate picnic in bed where you share your most embarrassing and painful experiences. The sharing between you is what can lead to a connection.” 

Is breaking up the better option? If so, download this printable tip card: How to call it off and not be the bad guy

* * *

Stuck moment #5. I feel like I do everything, and I can’t get my partner to help around the house. I have no time for myself.

The social psychologist says:
“The feeling of being overwhelmed can make it really difficult to see how much the other person is contributing. And people’s perceptions of fairness in housework varies.”

The dating optimist says:
“It’s like the see-saw of the relationship is lopsided and all the pressure is weighing on one of you.”

What to do:

The social psychologist says:
“Make it a chore inventory: “Here’s an outline of what needs to be done around the house, and the time and hours it takes to do that.” Express that you’re feeling overwhelmed vs. pointing fingers. But it’s hard to change power dynamics if one partner has more traditional beliefs about gender roles.”

The dating optimist says:
“Make a pronouncement. Announce what it is that you need. You don’t want to open up space for negotiation when you’re not willing to negotiate. You need to take care of your own emotional needs. If you don’t take care of yourself, you’re not of use to your family.”

Is breaking up the better option? If so, download this printable tip card: How to call it off and not be the bad guy

Next week: The secret to work-life balance
Last week: 15 ways to zap your annoyance before it ruins your day

You can use the free Unstuck web app here or download the iPad app from iTunes.


#relationships #by the Unstuck Team


Question: What’s your safety zone?

Comfort zones are critical. They let us replenish energy levels, shore up confidence, and relax. Without them, we’d probably operate in a state of manic stress or utter exhaustion. And that’s not good for anyone. But neither is shrink-wrapping yourself in safety.

Try something different every now and then to expand your world. It helps to start small (take a new route to work; attend a half-day conference) and feel your enthusiasm for the unfamiliar build.

One of our favorite stories about pushing limits is the extreme case of James Bradley, who was told after his surgery that sport activities were no longer in his future. That was not a safety zone he would stay in.

You can use the free Unstuck web app here or download the iPad app from iTunes.

#by the Unstuck Team #change #Questions