27 September 2023

How to stop feeling guilty when you make a mistake

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Darren Fleming* shares tips on how to let go of guilt at work.

So your Director has told you that you’ve let them down. It’s not cool – you pride yourself on being a team player.

How do you handle the guilt that arises around that?

It might sound like a funny question to ask, but where are you experiencing the guilt? Is it on the chair beside you, the desk in front of you or somewhere in your body?

Of course it’s in your body, and as such you are responsible for it.

No-one can make you feel a certain way.

Others may trigger you, but it is up to you how you feel.

If you want to let go of guilt, keep this in mind.

The sensory body feedback loop

We experience the world through our seven senses – sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, movement and mind.

When our sense organs are activated an electrical signal is sent to the brain for processing.

When the brain detects the words from your Director, it automatically assesses them as either desirable or undesirable.

The criteria for this assessment are held within our memories, beliefs, opinions and experiences we’ve had.

The brain draws on these to arrive at its conclusions about your Directors comments.

Once an assessment has been reached – even if only partially – the brain sends a signal to the body to tell it what is happening.

It is only at this time that the body has any idea of what is going on in the environment that it is in.

The body has no way of processing sensory information.

A sensation is labelled

If the brain assesses your Director’s comments as undesirable it will send a signal to the body advising of such.

We may label this signal as guilt, regret, resentment or any other feeling we think we are justified in having.

It’s important to note that up until this stage the whole process is automatic.

It can’t be stopped.

You cannot stop your sense organs encountering the world, nor the brain from interpreting the signals it receives.

You cannot stop it drawing on particular memories when it’s conducting its assessment.

And we can’t stop it from sending a signal to the body – after all that is what the system has evolved to do.

If your Director has said something that causes you to feel guilt there is no way you can stop it from arising.

But that doesn’t mean you have to hold on to it.

Every time the body receives a signal from the brain it reacts in one of three ways.

If it likes the sensation it will send a signal back to the brain directing it to come up with ways to generate more of the sensations.

It does this by thinking on how it can control the environment so it can experience what it wants.

It is the same for undesirable sensations.

If the body doesn’t like the sensations that you’ve labelled as guilt, it will try and counter them.

It will send a signal to the brain to generate thoughts as to why you think the Director is wrong or how you could have acted so you didn’t let them down.

It is doing this in a bid to stop the sensations being sent from the brain to the body so it doesn’t experience them.

But trying to override a sensation does not remove it – it is still there, just with something over it.

Trying to change the thoughts is a battle you will always lose – after all the Sensory Body Feedback Loop is automatic and can’t be stopped.

But you can deactivate it.

Letting go of the guilt

The third way of reacting to the energetic sensation is to simply observe the sensation the body is experiencing.

Just watch the sensations and see what they do.

Pay 100 per cent close attention to them.

Don’t label them (guilt, resentment) don’t make them right or wrong (I should/shouldn’t feel this way) and don’t justify them (I really did let them down).

Just experience them.

When you experience the sensations they will fade.

No emotion lasts forever.

When you observe it you will see that it very quickly dissipates.

When it dissipates it will be gone and you won’t have to fight it anymore.

We are all in control of how we feel.

Simply observing what you feel will enable you to gain greater control.

*Darren Fleming is an expert on mastering your mindset. A former public servant (ABS) he is now a speaker, trainer and mentor to senior leaders wanting to master their mindset. His latest book Mindset Mastery – Do less. Achieve more is out now.

Get sample chapters at www.MindsetMastery.online.

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