virgin islands scene

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
-- Rachel Carson
 

 

Wednesday, October 9, 1996

Guilt -- Timing is Everything

Guilt is useful only when we feel it and act on it BEFORE we do (or don’t do) the thing we feel guilty about. If we wait until afterwards to feel guilt, it becomes very non-productive and damaging.

Let’s say you’re trying to lose weight by eating only nutritious, low-fat foods. You develop an image of yourself as healthy, disciplined and slim. So far, so good. Things are going along well, and then you encounter an incredible piece of chocolate cheesecake.

Your brain fires off a twinge of guilt -- “No, eating that cheesecake is inconsistent with the person you are.” If you take heed, and forego the cheesecake, then the little twinge of guilt disappears immediately and is replaced with a very nice, positive sense of satisfaction and affirmation. “Yes, you ARE healthy, disciplined and slim."

However, if you ignore that initial twinge of guilt, and eat the cheesecake anyway, things turn nasty. The guilt doesn’t go away. It gets bigger and more insidious. You say to yourself, “Eating that cheesecake is inconsistent with the person you are. However, since you’ve done it anyway, you have no choice but to feel very bad about it.” And so in order to maintain your image as “healthy, disciplined and slim", in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary, you choose to beat yourself up with guilt. Even though guilt itself feels bad, it helps you to falsely feel good about yourself. In this way, “after-the-fact” guilt actually enables your undesired behavior.

Don’t let guilt become a substitute for doing the right thing. Accept the fact that you’re occasionally going to make errors. See those errors for what they are, and take steps to correct them. Listen to guilt when it warns you, and refuse to let it console you.

— Ralph Marston

previousNow what?       Enjoynext

Copyright ©1996 Ralph S. Marston, Jr. All Rights Reserved. The Daily Motivator is provided for your personal, non-commercial use only. Other than personal sharing, please do not re-distribute without permission.