Health & Wellness Articles

Stop Feeling Guilty about Every Mistake

Don't Let Toxic Guilt Wipe Out Your Willpower

By Dean Anderson, Behavioral Psychology Expert         
Page 2 of 3

When you routinely push aside the little voice in your head that tells you, for your own sake, that you may want to think twice about eating that candy or double cheeseburger, it doesn’t go away. It just moves a couple of steps further down the chain of events and gets even louder. Now, instead of hearing that voice before you act, you don’t hear it until after you've already done the thing you might not really have wanted to do. Instead of a gentle voice reminding you to think before you act, it’s screaming at you about what you already did wrong and what a jerk you are. This compels you to spend way too much time worrying about why you keep doing this sort of thing, and getting down on yourself to the point that you become your own worst enemy. This is toxic guilt, and it is not your friend.

End the Toxic Guilt Trip: Exercise Your Healthy Lifestyle Conscience

Fortunately, the solution to the problem of toxic guilt is really quite simple, at least in theory. All you have to do are three simple things:
  1. When that quiet, nagging voice in your head starts saying that you are about to do something it doesn't approve of, listen to it. Stop what you're doing for a few moments to ask yourself, "Is this what I really want to do?"
  2. If you agree with the voice, decide not do the thing in question. If you disagree, decide to do it. And if you're not sure (or if you halfway want to and halfway don't), try to postpone your decision (and action) until you've had a chance to sort things out a little more.
  3. After you've made your decision, act! Then take a few more seconds to notice how you feel about what you just did. Nothing fancy here, no psychoanalyzing yourself, no reading yourself the riot act if you didn't do what you wanted. Just note what you decided, what you actually did, and how you felt afterwards. File this in the memory banks for future reference.
Now, you could be sitting there right now saying to yourself, "What the heck is this guy talking about? The whole problem is that I never hear that little voice until after the fact. The minute I see those candies, or smell that cheeseburger cooking, I go on autopilot and stuff it in my mouth."

This is NOT true. The little voice is there, you just aren't hearing it because you're more accustomed to your louder toxic guilt.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • Great article! I just totally messed up, and it's still morning. I was mad at myself, and feeling so guilty, so I decided to come on SparkPeople for some much needed inspiration. The front page had a link to this article on it, and I feel much better about the rest of the day now. I plan on eating my fruits and veggies, watching out not to add too many calories or fat, and trying to get some fiber in. Thank you so much for this article! - 6/2/2015 12:14:25 PM
  • I needed this today. I dropped the ball just a little the last two days while hormones were raging, after a few weeks and being right on track. I've been beating myself up mercilessly about it, and being reminded that it's okay to acknowledge the slip-ups--but it's counterproductive to dwell on them and let them completely derail your efforts.

    Great timing. - 11/15/2013 4:14:17 AM
  • I agree with this article because, until recently, I thought I was impulsive, and just couldn't say no. But, of all things, I watched my daughter resisting a tempting desert; she looked at it, slightly cocked her head, then walked away. I never asked her about it, but thought maybe she learned that from me before I gained all this weight. I do hear that little voice now, and hope I have the strength to continue listening for it. 8-) - 5/19/2013 3:30:11 PM
  • Very informative - 5/17/2013 11:51:54 PM
  • I only read the first 3 so far and it is great advice. I agree that it is for all areas of our lives. Thanks. - 1/25/2013 3:24:29 PM
    Great advice not only for weight loss but for every area of our lives. Thanks, Coach Dean! - 1/11/2013 5:17:34 PM
  • Great article! I suffer from this. I haven't for the most part over the last two weeks, but I def mindlessly gnosh and I def beat the crap out of myself after I do it. I love the advice in this article and that there is hope in retraining that small voice to become the new force to be reckoned with. I will be practing this! - 1/3/2013 3:10:54 PM
  • This is such a wonderful article. I am my own worst enemy. If I talked to others the way I talk to myself I would be a very hated person. Thank you for helping me. - 8/23/2012 12:50:15 PM
  • A very good article - its healthier to try to learn from our mistakes and then move on. - 4/22/2012 5:00:52 PM
  • Excellent article. The key as Dean says, is to "stay grounded in the moment." - 4/5/2012 9:55:53 AM
  • Dean Anderson has a GREAT way with words! Love reading his articles! - 9/14/2011 11:13:49 AM
  • Incredible how this article put words thoughts that have rumbled about in my brain without direction or definition. Knowledge is power - thank you!! - 8/18/2011 2:35:42 PM
  • The sort of things that were described in this article happened to me often. Instead of purging myself or wallowing in self pity about it, I take responsibility for it and move on. I have done this several times and I know I can always get back on track. I don't even feel guilty about the occasional binge anymore. When I binge, I enjoy it and say to myself "I will get back on track tomorrow". And guess what? I have ALWAYS got back on track. It may not always be the next day, but I always get back on track. All it takes is for me to start planning my meals again and maybe compensating for a few days. Even with the occasional binging, I still lost/losing weight. Look at me now, I have lost almost 16kg and I am only 0.5kg from reaching my goal weight. It may have slowed down my progress, but I don't care. I'm in this for the long haul. :D - 5/21/2011 11:41:23 PM
  • We all need to change our mindset from "I deserve this calorific food" to "this is not healthy for me, I should have something else. I did this myself the other day when I sat down with a bag of potato chips, I got up and got myself a banana and some natural yogurt instead. We all have it in us to make better choices. We just need to think what makes us healthy!!

    :D :D :D - 5/3/2011 11:24:27 PM
  • Thanks, I really needed this reminder. I CONTROL ME.

    rumbamel - 5/3/2011 2:18:22 PM

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