3 Steps to Banishing Guilt

When it comes to feeling guilty, we’re all victim to beating ourselves up for different things in our lives. Whether it’s the extra piece of cake we didn’t need, spending too much time at the office (and not enough time with loved ones), or even taking a day of PTO (you deserve it!), many of us are in a constant state of struggle in balancing what we should be doing, with what we shouldn’t. Here are three steps to banish guilt.

1. Ask those around you what they think.

If you’re feeling guilty, it’s usually because you think others’ expectations of what you should be doing, are different than what you are doing. Case in point: as a mom, I assume my kids want me to stay home rather than work. One day, I asked my nearly four-year-old if he wanted me to go to work (it was a Saturday). To my surprise, he said he liked when I go to work (gasp!). I then asked if he likes when I stay home—he said yes (yay!).

In my mind, I created this terrible vision of how I thought his days were filled—crying that mommy isn’t home, throwing tantrums because he misses me—when instead he is spoiled by grandparents and playing at preschool—creating bonds with other family members and learning important skills he otherwise may not be exposed to.

Lesson: When in doubt about if you should feel guilty, ask someone that when you do X, Y, Z, how they feel about the situation. The answer may surprise you.

2. Know that your needs can (and sometimes should) come before others’ needs.

Like putting on your oxygen mask first before assisting others during a flight issue, taking care of yourself is paramount to being able to give your best self at work, home, and play. So yes, you shouldn’t feel guilty about needing time to decompress after a long day, a gym visit, or doing whatever it is that keeps you sane. Keeping yourself healthy and with a clear mind does wonders to those around you.

To discover what you need, reflect on the times in your life in which you’re at your best self and understand why. It could be a hobby, a food, or an adventure, but take the time to learn when you’re at your peak performance and replicate when possible.

Lesson: If it’s benefiting your health—mental, emotional, or physical—it’s a worthwhile activity to engage in. You shouldn’t feel guilty about participating in things that strengthen you as a person or contributor.

3. Learn to prioritize and learn to let go.

A part of banishing guilt is understanding parts of your basic needs of survival that you need fulfilled to be your best self. From there, let go of anything else that doesn’t bring joy, fulfillment and contribute to your success. For instance, it was particularly hard for me (a neat freak at heart) to learn to let go and embrace a semi-messy house (it’s still spic and span by most peoples’ standards!), let laundry pile up, or even have the dreaded red notification on my inbox of unread emails.

After a few painstaking weeks of letting things go (and it was hard), it started to become second nature to wait a day or two to clean or respond to that email. And guess what? NOTHING CHANGED. That said, I do get peace of mind from being orderly, so I’ve learned that it’s a balance between what is manageable and what will bring me the most joy.

Lesson: The work will never be done, but your life will. Learn to let go of what you can to enjoy the other aspects of your life. It’s a change to embrace this mindset, but once you do, you’ll experience more joy and less guilt.

Even with embracing this mindset, we all slip—we eat the cake, we work late, we let a project slip. It happens. But being able to adjust our mindset will help us live a freer, more enjoyable life with less guilt.

Kelly Santos is the founder of cart mama, a shopping cart attachment that makes shopping with kids easier, and serves in the marketing department of Carousel Industries. She is mom to two amazing little kids, wife to a supportive husband, baker of everything sweet, part-time runner, landlady, and former small business owner. To connect, send a hello to info@cartmama.com.