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Getting past the guilt of making a “bad” choice

Does this scenario sound familiar?

You are out at the movies and you see the snack shelf full tempting candies, or you come home after a long day of work and have a craving for Nutella. (I use Nutella as an example because it’s the bane of my existence and one of the loves of my life. It’s my go-to that gives me pleasure and guilt-often at the same time!) You tell yourself that you shouldn’t have it, you go for it anyway, and then you proceed to feel guilty, regardless of how much you ate. Then you follow up with some negative self-talk about not having enough will power or needing to be stronger. Long after the incident, you find yourself still holding onto that “bad” choice and the feeling of guilt that came with it…

Most of us are great at beating ourselves up, but not so good at forgiving ourselves and letting go. The good news is that there is hope! Here are four ideas/strategies that can help you get from feeling bad to feeling great again.

1. Remember that everything is a matter of perspective.

Have you ever been in a car accident and had a different opinion than the other driver as to whose fault it was? Same event, different perspectives. Human beings are meaning-making machines. We are built for it. So rather than thinking of indulging in Nutella as a personal defeat, think of it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Which leads us to the next strategy…

2. Realize that the past is past, and it’s okay to give yourself a break.

It’s one thing to know that an event is in the past, but accepting it is another. What would it take for you to shift your perspective and accept that you can’t undo the past or a less-than-ideal choice?

Consider that not letting go is holding you back from moving forward powerfully. I fundamentally believe that at any given time, we are doing the best we can with the knowledge we have. It’s a perspective shift that helps me to embrace self compassion, and it comes in handy at times when I am being hard on myself, which is quite often.

In any circumstance, the way we respond is shaped by how we perceive the situation, the tangible skills we have, and our overall outlook. Maybe we didn’t have the life experience necessary to handle the situation effectively, or maybe it was an incredibly stressful time. Whatever the factors, give yourself a break and know that you did the best you could at that time. If you learned from the experience, consider the perspective that you have gained valuable knowledge that can help you make empowered choices in the future.

3. Let it go, and move forward.

Princess Elsa (from the motion picture Frozen) may have been onto something! At some point, we have to accept that a choice was made and it wasn’t the “ideal” choice we would have preferred. It’s now time to turn the page.

Try looking at the choice you made and the lesson you learned as a “do-over.” If you could go back and do things differently, what would you do? Write it down and consider asking some questions like:

• Do I need to hold onto to these thoughts and feelings anymore?
• Are they helping me or hindering me?
• How would changing these thoughts or feelings make a difference in my life?

Writing down your do-over affirms not only that you have learned from your mistake, but also shows that if you had the skills then that you have now, you would have done things differently. This helps to create clarity around your choices and the motivations behind your actions.

Look at where you can change your thoughts and beliefs about the situation. Then write down some new goals and a positive perspective you can take instead. Practice them with an effective approach to action taking.

4. Don’t just take action, take Kaizen actions.

Kaizen is the Japanese art of making relatively small, continuous improvements. Said another way, think small thoughts, take small actions, and give yourself small rewards with continuous credit.

There are several reasons why Kaizen is extremely powerful:

• It bypasses the fear response, effectively putting an end to procrastination and the fear of failure.
• Changes become habits, habits drive actions, and actions create permanent results.
• Small changes, made continually over time, create huge impacts.

How we view the past-especially our “mistakes” or “bad decisions”-really comes down to our perspective and making a choice to let go and move forward. We truly have the power to shift our views, to find moments of forgiveness, and to make peace with past mistakes. We always have the power to act in new ways, ultimately embracing personal compassion and empowerment.

Marco Iafrate