I work with a lot of people on their difficulties, and one of the biggest ones people have is some variation of, “I am falling short of my expectations (or others’ expectations and I feel guilty, shameful, inadequate.”
In fact, I would guess that most people feel that they’re letting themselves and others down a lot of the time.
I told one of my clients, “I see a possibility for you where you feel that nothing you do is wrong, in a shameful way.”
This is the possibility that I see for all of you as well — that you can’t do anything wrong. You might make mistakes or fail, but it can’t be wrong in a shameful way.
What would that be like for you? You work hard, you fall short, and you don’t feel bad about it. You just keep trying your best. You keep failing, but see it as learning and growth. You keep deviating from your plan, but don’t feel that there’s anything wrong with you.
All of it is peace, learning, curiosity, exploration. Nothing is wrong or bad.
What would that be like?
You Don’t Have to Feel Bad About Yourself
We make ourselves feel bad a lot. I know this from my own experience, but also from coaching a bunch of awesome people. They are amazing, beautiful, intelligent, good-hearted. And they all feel like there’s something wrong with them, that they are shameful and failing.
Yep, we’re failing, but only in the sense that we’re not quite doing what we hoped. Let’s learn from that. Let’s use it for growth. But let’s not feel bad.
Making ourselves feel bad isn’t helpful. And make no mistake — we’re doing it to ourselves. With the expectations we set, the narrative we have about ourselves, and our habit of comparing ourselves to others and to our ideals.
We make ourselves feel bad, but we don’t need to. It doesn’t help.
How to Let Go of the Guilt, Shame, Wrongness
Repeat this multiple times a day: “I have nothing to feel bad about.”
Then feel the sense of goodness in yourself. You have the best of intentions. You have a good heart. You just want to be happy, and hope to be helpful and caring towards others. You have a lot of goodness in your heart.
Whenever you notice a thought or narrative or story that makes you feel wrong or shameful, notice that. Bring awareness to it. Then don’t believe it — pop it like a bubble, or let it stay but don’t give it so much heaviness. Laugh about it, give it a hug, dance with it, but don’t let it rule you.
A couple ways to play with the story & the shame:
- Have a mantra to tell yourself whenever the story re-appears. Something like: “I have nothing to feel bad about” or “I’m kicking ass no matter what my old story tells me!” or “What I’ve been doing is exactly good enough.” Repeat it, yell it out, sing it. Have fun with the mantra. Let yourself lighten the mood.
- When you notice the shame or story, use it as a mindfulness bell, reminding you to drop into the direct experience of the moment. Keep practicing with that. In the direct experience of the moment, there is nothing wrong. Smile and breathe.
You can do nothing wrong. You are good at your core. Start to believe it, my friend, and see if you don’t find a sense of lightness and freedom.
This post was previously published on Zen Habits and is republished here with permission from the author.
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