Acting on Your Guilt, Or Not

written by Andrew on

Everyone, with the possible exception of sociopaths, has to wrestle with guilt from time to time. The question is: how do we deal with it effectively?

We feel guilty about all kinds of things, but since we are an education company, I am going to focus on the guilt we sometimes feel for not working hard enough on our studies, not getting good enough grades, or simply for putting off learning that thing we think we should. However, a lot of this will also be more generally applicable.

The Source

Before we can decide how to deal with our guilt, we have to figure out where it is truly coming from. This can often be harder than it sounds and require deep introspection.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself:

  • Am I putting this guilt on myself or is it coming from someone else or society in general?
  • Is it coming from a place of fear?
  • Is it coming from inaction?
  • Is it caused by a conflict in my self-identity? In other words: Do I feel guilty because I am not living up to the person I think I am?
  • Is it caused by a conflict in who I wish I was? In other words: Do I feel guilty because I want to be able to tell myself and others that I am a certain kind of person?
  • Is it coming from my Evil Stepmother? Ok maybe not, but I just wanted to lighten the mood after making you question what it means to be you!

Of course guilt is often a mixture of multiple things. Simply recognizing the underlying cause can go a long way towards fixing it. However, let's discuss a couple strategies for addressing guilt.

The Solution

Act Quickly

The worst thing you can do in response to guilt is to wallow in it. Even if it is trying to push you into doing something positive, it is actively harmful to dwell on it. So what should we do?

I know it may seem absolutely revolutionary, but perhaps your best option is to decide you don't have to feel guilty after all! This is especially true when the guilt is coming from an external source. Guilt should not be used as a tool from the people who love us to manipulate, even if it comes from a good place. This is especially true when it comes to learning. Learning is an incredibly rewarding experience, but it is squandered when a person does it out of a sense of guilt instead of self-fulfillment and self-empowerment.

The only thing we have to be careful not to do is to ignore the message because of the messenger. Make sure you are careful to consider what they are making you feel guilty about and see if you think it is justified. If so, try to internalize it and make it your own. Don't do it for them, do it for yourself.

Even when the guilt is our own, too often, we let it paralyze instead of motivate us. The key is to act quickly. It is far more likely that you will regret NOT doing something than you will regret actually doing something. If you are unable to act quickly on it, move on and perhaps return to it at another time. Don't let the guilt linger because it will just paralyze you further as it will associate a very negative emotion with what you are hoping to do.

Change Your Mindset

Another great strategy to assuage your guilt is to change the way you think about it. Studying is rarely our end goal. Normally we are looking to pass a class, get a certification, change careers, get a promotion, or even to gain new knowledge. Studying is simply the work necessary to achieve those things. Don't let your guilt be based off of the intermediate step. Focus on your end goal. Don't feel guilty that you blew off studying last night, feel compelled to make up for it tonight because you know what learning this material will really mean to you. In other words: focus on the why, not the how.

If you can't find a good why, perhaps you don't need to feel guilty about it in the first place. However, I just want to stress for our readers that are still in school, "When will I ever use this subject in real life?" is not an excuse not to try. There is huge value to learning something simply because it is hard, or even because it is uninteresting. Becoming an adult does not mean you are done learning. You will always need to learn new things, especially as technology continues to move faster and faster. On top of that, you will most likely not have a teacher helping you along the way. You will have to teach yourself. School is when we develop those skills.

In fact, this also applies to things we learn or do as an adult. If we get lazy and decide not do something, it is that much more difficult to do the next thing we don't want to do. So sometimes, even if we can't find a clear why, we should make the why simply to keep our self-empowerment muscle working.

Ok, I'm done preaching for now. I hope this inspires you to live a more carefree AND successful life!