Instance to Pattern

My cliff notes from “Shifting Guilt”:

This post recaps three previously introduced tools to shift guilt that comes from acting other than you desired. It recasts them as related, a theme of shifting guilt for a mistake to guilt for a systemic flaw in yourself; from the instance to the pattern.

Tool One: Refinement. Ask the guilt what it would have had you do, instead. Be specific. And, be open to recalling that none of your alternative actions were better than the one you chose (which melts the guilt).

But also notice if this shifts your guilt into a pointed obligation, which requires the second tool.

Tool Two: Internalization. Recognize external obligations, and transform them into a desire you can internalize — or reject. Ask yourself if it would be okay to drop the obligation completely, to address this directly. If it is a relief to drop an obligation, congratulations: You’ve rejected someone else’s preferences for your own. If some part of you protests dropping the obligation, recognize those as internal guides for your future behavior, and use them — rejecting the external obligation you no longer need. Avoid the trap of changing  language without removing the obligation (such as turning “I should have” into “it would have been better if I had”). “Because I prefer a world where …” is a useful language formulation crutch when forming this habit, but (again), remember to keep discerning until you arrive at a truly internalized preference.

This can lead you to internalized guilt, but guilt nonetheless. The third tool is for this situation.

Tool Three: Realism. Examine your guilt to see if it asks something unrealistic of you. Could you have performed the way your guilt would’ve had you, sustainably? Rule out working yourself ragged. Sift guilts through a realism filter, and you’ll discard those that require you to be more than human.

After applying these three tools, you may find yourself still guilty for behaving in a way that you don’t think is best. “Perhaps you will realize that you’ve been adrift, that you’ve lost focus, and you’ll feel guilty for failing to maintain your drive.”

This is progress. Look for patterns of behavior that lead to guilt, and focus on those. Rather than feel guilt for a specific failing, feel guilt for the pattern — the level of how you process.

These three are universally effective for the author to transform guilt into a critique of his own process, which you can address directly. (See future posts.) There may be other forms of guilt that you’ll need additional tools to shift; construct your own tools accordingly.

This post is part of the thread: Replacing Guilt Cliffs Notes – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.