Getting off the guilt hook

I love a cool spring. It slows things down. On this last day of April it is 50 degrees so some daffodils are still blooming, their radial petals wrinkling and going transparent. I forced myself out for a walk yesterday, two-and-a half miles, collecting two grocery bags of roadside trash along the way. It was a beautiful, sunny day.

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I don’t know why I had to force myself to do this, but I did. Even on the loveliest day I can be overcome by inertia and just want to stay inside and read, shove food into my face, and grow old. There is no excuse for this. It is just a fact.

The advantage of the self-directed life–being able to direct yourself–is also its disadvantage–you must direct yourself. The voice that tells you what to do from day to day, from hour to hour, is your own. You must follow your own conscience. But that voice is not always helpful. Often it sounds like a scold or a nag, in dialog with its opposite, the voice of resistance. “You should do this.” “I don’t wanna do that.”

This inner conversation goes on even after you have figured out your life purpose and launched your own projects and goals and all that. Things seldom move along on their own momentum for long. You run into snags, encounter distractions, drop the ball, come to difficult parts. Then the old dialog starts up, scold v. resistance.

Recently I have been undergoing large doses of this inner conversation. Heavy on the scold side because I have been wasting a lot of time on entertainment, watching movies and TV and reading. This is a sign of resistance and it makes me feel guilty but I do it anyhow.

A couple of days ago I began to chip away at one huge resistance I’ve had on a writing project. I had dropped it altogether for six months. The longer I was away from it, the harder it was to get back to it. Nobody was imposing deadlines, nobody was holding me accountable, nobody was cheering me on. I had to do all these things for myself and I wasn’t doing them. Guilt grew along with the resistance.

Finally I ran out of excuses (other duties, entertaining, travel, baby care, spring cleaning, yada yada) and turned back to the writing project. That is all it was, really, just turning toward it rather than away from it. Reviewing in a friendly way. Dabbling at adding something here, editing something there.

I have done this for several days and it has been enough to assuage the guilt. The really cool thing is that it only takes a few of these small victories over the slothful, resistant self to make me feel good about myself and silence the nagging, inner scold altogether. I can even do the same self-indulgent things as before and not feel bad.

The small victories yesterday were working on the book for a few hours, getting out for that walk, and refraining from snacking all evening. This allowed me to watch three episodes of a Netflix series and two hours of TV (American Idol interspersed with a PBS documentary about beautiful, soft-lipped monkeys in the Himalayas) without feeling guilty. My standards for achievement, you see, are not all that high.

More important than what I actually do or don’t do is managing my life in more or less good conscience without being paralyzed by guilt. Doing enough to let myself off the hook. What do you do to let yourself off the hook?

4 thoughts on “Getting off the guilt hook

  1. Nancy, you are so good with describing your feelings! I chuckled through most of this and definitely identified with you. I did real good working on quilt projects this winter and not “killing/wasting” all my time. But why do we think we have to always feel like we have to be accomplishing something? I used to think that retired people just took it easy and enjoyed life as it is!! I am enjoying life but do feel guilty for not getting more things done. Now that spring is finally here I want to be putzing (is that a word?) around out in the flower gardens. Thanks for writing so now I don’t feel like I’m the only one who procrastinates! Things undone don’t bother me nearly as much since I had my heart attack. Life is too short. And now I have a good friend from Silverwood who in the past year or 2 has had her bladder removed because of cancer, then it was in her lungs and now it has hit the brain and is inoperable. Yes, life is way too short. Jeanne Date: Thu, 30 Apr 2015 15:53:47 +0000 To: jcheyerly@hotmail.com

  2. It’s a balancing act! I’m learning to say NO to guilt and YES to self care. When I’m feeling stuck, I give myself permission to do art. When I do something enjoyable, that usually gives me energy to do some of the daily chores I don’t really enjoy.

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