living with regret
When we find ourselves in the “flow” of our professional lives, we experience exceptional balance, timing and synchronicity. As a result, making the right deci- sions and taking the right actions feels natural and effortless. When we are in such a state, it is quite easy to practice accepting ‘what is’. Inevitably, the flow will be disrupted and you will encounter the one absolute in life that each and every person experiences, change. The effects of change can be seen in every- thing from the cyclic nature of life to economics. The cycles the entrepreneur and executive face are greatly affected by tremendous financial pressures and responsibilities. Even in the best of times, your responsibility to make the ‘right’ decisions is crucial.
So what happens when you lose a key client, revenues are down for the 3rd quar- ter in a row or you make a bad decision? Your feelings of responsibility and accountability become greatly magnified. There is a natural inclination to feel bad and a propensity to take full responsibility for the outcomes - even in a situation completely out of your control. This is the experience of guilt. Due to emotions running high with all that is at stake, you will likely react first with anger and fear, followed closely by self-doubt. Our focus naturally becomes what is happening around us, rather than within us. Being unconscious or ignorant of our emotions only makes matters worse and feeling guilty does exactly the same.
The line between ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ guilt can be illusive. It is therefore imperative to have a clear understanding of each. Healthy guilt begins with the recognition that you have made a bad decision. Then, with a conscious presence, you accept the fact that you cannot go back and change it, and ultimately choose to accept it. You can regret causing harm without becoming weighed down by guilt. Simply acknowledging the hurt you caused, can motivate you to move on; to examine your current choices and take action by ‘doing the next right thing’. Reflections upon the lessons you learned from the situation, allows you to truly grow from your mistakes.
Negative guilt begins with resisting what happened...“How could I have made such a poor decision?”... “I should have seen this coming.”... “How could this hap- pen to us?”... “If only I had......”. We get stuck in revolving conversations in our mind, as well as in external drama. The guilt can become such an energy drain that our mind turns to blaming, being a victim, denying responsibility or ‘stuffing it’–which may temporarily give us relief. However, in the long-term, there is a significant internal corrosive effect that will stay with us as long as we continue to deny our feelings. What is most interesting, is that anything we suppress or deny, will appear in another, similar manner or situation in the future. Guilt will continue to manifest and weigh us down, until we are ready to address it.
“When I began the exercise on guilt, I understood it as a feeling utilized by indi- viduals, groups or societies to control others and that at most, it played a minor role in my life. This definition, although pretty accurate, was lacking in a significan’t area–self-imposed guilt. This was an inner tormentor I carried around in my mind: fear that I was lacking or not good enough, fear that I was not as brilliant as my peers thought, fear that I could lose it all. This often became a spiral for me, which ultimately led to guilt for not living up to my own expectations.
I discovered that guilt strengthened the law of scarcity in my life. I found it dif- ficult to live up to my potential, and began to fear that if I relaxed, I would fail. In response, I justified my obsession with work as simply having a great work ethic. I even began to experience a subtle, yet toxic guilt for enjoying life or even feel- ing happy at times. In retrospect, I was completely unaware I was experiencing this.
As I explored the feeling of guilt, I learned to practice acceptance whenever I ex- perienced it. It then became possible to stay steady, connect with the underlying energy, and discover the insubstantial nature of the feeling. This lead to a powerful awareness. As I practiced identifying and accepting even the smallest fragments of guilt, I experienced a crucial breakthrough with a longtime demon of mine, a significant, yet cunning form of fear–self-doubt. Although not completely free of guilt or self-doubt, my life is no longer weighed down by the burden of these challenging forces. They no longer hold power over me.”
Pat B. Medical Device Entrepreneur
Questions for Self-Exploration
The content, structure and flow of this exercise are designed to guide you in:
exploring your earliest experiences with guilt
learning how to identify guilt and where it comes from in your life
examining the outcomes of being ‘stuck’ in guilt
applying this knowledge to learn how to handle adverse outcomes and prepare for future challenges