Editor’s note: Registered dietitian Isabel Smith leads our small-group Guided Reboots. Ms. Smith guides Reboot participants through food, organization, health and mental challenges to achieve their personal health goals. Find out more about our Guided Reboot plans.
Guilt—we all feel it for one reason or another. Whether that guilty feeling comes from not executing choices regarding food, healthy habits, work or other decisions, it’s one of the major issues I hear from those participating in one of my Guided Reboots. Guilt allows us to carry feelings of dissatisfaction, failure and negativity—all things that we need to work hard to rid from our lives in order to really make positive changes and promote making our best choices.
Permission and how it leads to making good choices
One of (if not the most important) aspect to actually making the best choices is to not hold ourselves so tightly to our ideals of what we “should” be doing. We often keep ideals of things we really should or shouldn’t do in our heads: “I really must wash the dishes within 5 minutes of eating,” or “I must workout 7 days this week, or else,” or “I cannot have any dessert at dinner.” Sound familiar? Whatever it is we’re holding so tightly, it has to be let go.
With those things we hold so tightly, we also hold a lot of guilt—especially when we don’t do exactly what we had (or hadn’t) set out to do. It’s the guilt that actually hinders our success long term and leaves us feeling unhappy and unsuccessful (even when we’re actually succeeding).
Give yourself a break
First things first, let’s let go of those ideals (at least some of them) we hold so tightly when they make the uphill climb even steeper. In fact, it’s key to give yourself permission to do exactly what you don’t want to do, whether that be not workout daily, eat dessert, or leave the dishes in the sink. There’s a lot emotion tied up in those things we try so hard to do (or not to do). and permitting ourselves to actually be deviant, in most cases actually makes the activity we’re trying to avoid a lot less attractive. And when we make that activity less attractive, it’s much easier to stay on track.
When we let go of the most stringent demands we place on ourselves, and the things we try so hard to do or avoid, it’s almost as if we free up our emotional conscience, allowing us to make clearer and better decisions.
Okay, so how do you do it?
4 tips to give yourself permission
- Bring it to the surface. Write out (or at least think about) that thing (or things) you’re trying so hard to do/avoid doing. Bring them to the surface: things that make you feel particularly guilty if you don’t stay on track with the ideal.
- Loosen up a little. Loosening the reins a little (both with ourselves and with others) can help things fall into line, and can also help us make better choices. When we loosen the reins a little we allow for gray area—that space in between all or nothing. We also help to slow ourselves down, think about our choices and make ones that are better for us (and hold a lot less guilt).
- Give yourself permission. Now that you’ve loosened the reins a little, give yourself permission to engage in the behavior that you’re trying to avoid doing (or not doing). It may sound crazy, but allowing yourself (before you get there) the option to have dessert, to leave the dishes in the sink, and to skip a day at the gym can help us really think about our decisions and help us in fact make better ones.
- Be kind to yourself. Although we always want to do our best–the likelihood of it happening all the time isn’t 100%, and that’s okay. When you fall off the wagon, or deviate from the plan, that’s alright! Just make sure you hop right back onto the plan as soon as you can. Allow for some gray area in your choices- and be kind to yourself. That too will help to facilitate better choices being made.
Remember that small steps lead to big changes, so be kind to yourself, take note of the things that make you feel particularly guilty and do your best to try to take a slightly different approach.