Finally let go of that guilt about wasting time
I know you feel it, just like I do! When I’m not doing “all the things” or crossing tons of shit off my never ending list, I feel riddled with guilt and sometimes, even shame. That’s when I ask myself, what can I do to ease the guilt I feel?
Guilt is a normal human emotion, but it keeps us focused on the past. It’s more important for our mental health and well-being to focus on the present. In midlife, one thing that we feel guilty about is wasting time. There are lots of simple things that we can can put into practice to ease these feelings of guilt. Let’s take a look at our guilt and how to LET IT GO!
MY GUILT, CAN YOU RELATE?
All my life, I’ve felt guilt in some form or another. It is normal and can actually be a motivating emotion.
I’ve talked about my struggle with perfectionism, which can be a significant factor in producing feelings of guilt. And, probably the ONE thing that most contributes to my guilt.
Something that makes me sad, when I think back to my youth, is the guilt I felt for not measuring up. Not being the person I thought I should be – the person who was pretty, popular, and perfect. I have, through group and individual therapy, addressed the reasons behind this; but at times, I still need to remind myself to comfort this part of me.
I’d say that the most guilt I’ve experienced – and I think it’s the same for a lot of moms – was (is) the guilt around my parenting. That’s a whole other topic – and I talked about it more in depth in this post: Celebrate Your Uniqueness and Stop Comparing Yourself to Other Moms.
Guilt is to the spirit, what pain is to the body.”
~Elder David A. Bednar
I also feel guilt about:
- Not calling my parents often enough
- Not spending enough time with my kids
- Not being more thoughtful
- Eating unhealthy crap/eating too much
- Not exercising
- Wasting money
- Wasting TIME…which leads to…
GUILT IN MIDLIFE
Things that I feel guilty about these days are less about comparing myself to others and more about taking advantage of the TIME I have left. When you get to midlife, there can be a sense of urgency about life, and wanting to make the most of the time we have left. That’s why I feel guilty about “wasting time.”
I’m trying to pay attention to how I spend the hours I have. You know, there are only 168 hours in a week! And, although I know I can (and do) accomplish things, organization hasn’t been one of my greatest strengths. I am easily distracted and the whole “shiny object syndrome” adds to my lack of focus.
When I feel “unproductive,” it usually means that other things have happened that took time. Things like:
- Going out to lunch.
- Going shopping.
- Taking a nap or sleeping in late.
- Recovering from a day of physical labor.
- Dealing with a migraine.
- Some other out of the ordinary activity.
I can hear these thoughts going through my mind:
- How will I reach my goals with this blog if I’m not working on it in ALL of my spare time?
- How will my house ever sell if I’m not getting it ready to sell? (I’m not able to pay someone to do all that needs done; super grateful for YouTube and other bloggers who teach this stuff!)
- Why can I never get organized and accomplish more things?
- I’ve spent money on systems to help with organizing and productivity and I’m not even using them!
It’s a lot of negative self talk, combined with downplaying any success or actual achievement.
WHAT IS GUILT – CAN IT BE GOOD?
F. Diane Barth, LCSW, says, “Guilt is a way we have of recognizing that we have not lived up to our own values and standards. At its best, it is an opportunity to acknowledge and rectify mistakes. But often guilt bleeds into shame, and then it becomes another story (Psychology Today).
So, guilt can be both good and bad. If we did something for which we should feel remorseful, then it is appropriate to have guilt. Maybe you snapped at your partner instead of calmly explaining your feelings about something that he/she did. It’s good to have some guilt here, and then admit what happened, take accountability, apologize and move on.
The guilt we feel about ourselves personally, like not measuring up to society’s “standards” of what we “should be” doing at certain points in our lives, which leads to negative self talk, putting ourselves down, and shaming ourselves – not so good. Actually, this can be really unhealthy and counterproductive.
This is the stuff that we need to LET GO!
WHAT MAKES US FEEL GUILTY
There is so much in our lives, the baggage we carry around from years of living life, that can lead to our feelings of guilt and shame. I’ve come to a point in my life where I am able to accept things. It’s not easy and feelings do bubble up about regrets, choices I’ve made, and difficult things that have happened in my life.
And, when I experience these feelings, I am equipped with knowledge and skills that I can rely on to bring me back to a better place – to feel better – to put on the brakes so that I’m not dwelling, ruminating, worrying, or wallowing.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE FEEL GUILTY
Feeling guilty can be a time waster itself. It can be really draining if we are constantly struggling feelings of guilt and shame and focusing on negativity. (I talked about preventing emotional exhaustion in this post.)
And, when we are emotionally exhausted, what happens? We want to sleep or do something mind numbing like binge on Netflix or scroll through social media. We might even self medicate with alcohol or other drugs.
These things then can add to our feelings of guilt. Obviously, creating a vicious cycle – more guilt about being less productive leads to feeling exhausted which leads to being less productive, etc. etc.
HOW TO LET GO OF GUILT
In order to let go of guilt, we need to remember where those feelings come from…
They come from our thoughts.
Change your thoughts – change your feelings. I know – easier said than done.
That’s why it’s so important to establish our practices that help us in our daily lives.
Establish practices to help you FEEL YOUR FEELINGS
Acknowledging that you feel guilt and possibly shame by sitting with the feelings really is helpful. Remember, feelings last for only about 90 seconds.
American Tibetan Buddhist Pema Chödrön explains that if you just allow a feeling to be for 90 seconds, and don’t judge or get caught up in a story about the feeling, it will go away.
When I first tried this, I realized that after about a minute and a half, I could experience a real clarity about the situation and yes, the feeling really does dissipate.
When you are at a place of clarity, and not caught up in the heat of the emotion, you are better able to change your thoughts.
It will become easier to notice the reason for the guilt and start thinking more positively about the situation.
For example, you might feel guilty about taking a long nap, instead of working on that bathroom project that has been on your list for months. So, you find yourself thinking, “oh my god, I will never get this project done; I literally have no time to be taking a nap when the only free time I have is on Saturdays. I’m always wasting my days.”
After you sit with your feelings of guilt, and when your mind is clear, you can change your thoughts to something like, “ok, I wanted to get started on the bathroom project, but I accept that I needed more rest today.”
Establish practices to help you ACCEPT THE SITUATION
Accepting the situation as it is, rather than resisting can also give you clarity and a sense of peace. And, again, you can change your thoughts more easily when you are feeling calm.
The situation is that you took a long nap and didn’t have time to work on the bathroom project. Resisting what is, by beating yourself up for wasting time, leads to feelings of guilt and an overall sense of unease or overwhelm. But, acceptance, on the other hand, allows you to move forward, rather than being stuck.
I always think of acceptance as a way to move with the flow, instead of trying to swim upstream.
When you accept what is, you can learn and take action based on the present circumstances.
Establish practices to help you BE MORE MINDFUL
Mindfulness meditation helps with the first two practices by teaching us to notice without judgment. Just 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation (or really any meditation) on most days helps to become aware of our thoughts. Many times, the thoughts that lead to feelings of guilt and shame are so automatic that we don’t even realize we are stuck in those patterns.
During meditation, we focus on our breathing. When we notice that we have gotten distracted by thoughts or sensations, we gently bring our focus back to our breath. Doing this over and over helps us to notice our thoughts and thought patterns at other times of the day.
And, meditation actually changes the brain. In an interview for the Wall Street Journal, Harvard neuroscientist, Sara Lazar, says, “Mindfulness is just like exercise. It’s a form of mental exercise, really. And just as exercise increases health, helps us handle stress better and promotes longevity, meditation purports to confer some of those same benefits.”
Practicing these three things regularly will help you become more aware of your thoughts that lead to feelings of guilt. Changing your thoughts about the situation will change your feelings.
It will allow you to finally let go of the guilt you feel. In addition to feeling better right away, letting go of the guilt will actually free you up to be more productive.
BONUS: These practices will help you to notice all that you do (all of your achievements) and to realize the importance of being kind and gentle with yourself too.
It all leads to being happier and more fulfilled. And, isn’t that what we all want?
PLUS, if you know me, you know I only promote things that are simple to put into practice! I’ve avoided things for many years because I thought it would be too hard, take too much effort, or just not work for me. I’m here to tell you firsthand that these practices are EASY and THEY WORK!
Give them a try and let me know what you think. I bet, after a month or so, you’ll be feeling more relaxed and positive AND stop feeling guilty about wasting time (and all those other things we beat ourselves up about).
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This Post Has 15 Comments
Oh how I needed these tips! I’ve had so much guilt recently for not completing things. I’m now learning how to accept and be more gentle with myself.
Yes, Danielle! Please do be gentle with yourself. It’s so common to feel badly about not completing things. I have so many half done projects. I used to get very overwhelmed when I would think about all these things that were undone, but I’ve gotten so much better at letting go of the guilt and overwhelm. Thank you so much for reading and adding your note!
Great post, many thanks for sharing. Will be popping back when I have more time for a full read. Jacqui x
Oh, thank you Jacqui! See you when you come back! ; )
We can be do hard on ourselves. Like you mindfulness meditation has helped me see how this doesn’t serve me, and that I need to practice self-compassion.
(PS. Pema Chodron’s teaching is really helpful. 😍)
Thank you for adding your thoughts, Leigh! I love to hear how mindfulness has helped others. ❤ It’s kind of amazing!
At 69 I’ve worked guilt into my life as it’s really part of my culture. I find guilt to be a great motivator and still use it with my adult children 😊 but I personally don’t feel guilty about anything.
Thanks for reading and for sharing your perspective, Phyllis!
This is such great advice! I am so hard on myself sometimes, and it leaves me paralyzed with feelings of overwhelm. Mindfulness is key to breaking the cycle!
I get that, Michele. I think we need to consistently be reminded not to be so hard on ourselves. And just let go of the guilt. (I was needing that reminder today again.)
Great topic. I feel guilt all the time when it comes to not spending enough time with my kids. As I get older I realize how quickly time is going by and I don’t want to waste a minute of it. I know give myself grace for time I’ve wasted in the past, because it’s in the past and I can’t change it. But moving forwarded…..no wasting time for me.
You’re right, Anne. Enjoy the moments by being mindful is what has helped me. My kids are young “adults” and when they are around, I know how important it is to just BE with them.
This is so relatable and I found myself going through a lot of this when quarantine first started. For me it was a comparison thing – to the people who suddenly became gourmet chefs, redecorated their whole houses or wrote e-books for their blogs all in the first month. I had to step back and remind myself that we all work at our own pace and adapt to major life changes in different ways. I think all of your tips are very useful! Thanks for the remiders.
Thank you, Betsy. I”m glad you found these tips useful. Comparing ourselves to others does seem to creep back in…even though we “know” that we shouldn’t be doing that.
Great insight on mindfulness and meditation. Being raised by a “doer”, that was instilled into me and taking downtime was a waste of time. It has taken me years to accept that my mind and body needs that downtime to be the best me. It’s all about balance right?