The guilt of not getting things done

Leo Babauta, an author, vegan and minimalist says it happens to all of us: we do not get done what we hoped to get done, then we feel stressed or guilty about it.

“It is time to let that go, because it is not helping us. We can build resiliency around this, with a little mental training. And it will help us in magical ways,” he says.

The things you set out to do

Think about whether you have done any of these things:

  • Set out to do a certain habit (exercise, eating, meditation, writing) and then did not do it as planned. You feel guilty, disappointed in yourself, or just stressed.
  • Had a list of things you need to get done, and then did not get most of them done. This just added to your stress.
  • Planned to work on a project or do some writing … and then procrastinated. Again, you felt guilty, disappointed or stressed.
  • Hoped to change your patterns, like eating or how you talk to others or how you practice mindfulness. Then everything goes to crap and you feel disappointed.

Things did not go as planned

Babauta says there are thousands of variations on these, but the main theme is that things did not go as you had hoped, and that causes disappointment, guilt, stress.

“Here’s the thing: there is no problem with the failure to meet our expectations. The real problem is the expectations. And the stress that it causes when we do not meet the expectations,” he says.

“In all the examples above, we have this ideal in our heads about how things should be, how we want to be. There is nothing wrong with that — we all do it, all the time — but the problem comes when we hold too tightly to the ideals/expectations. It causes difficulties: we feel let down, we feel anxiety, we feel anger or resentment at ourselves, we become unhappy,” continues Babauta.

“This process of expectations and then not meeting them and then less happiness … it happens over and over, throughout the day. We are constantly doing this to ourselves.This leads to stress, unhappiness, feeling overwhelmed, feeling like we cannot change, a lack of trust in ourselves. This is the real damage. It hurts everything we want to do, making it more likely that we just give up, because we do not trust ourselves,” he says.

This is the problem

“The answer is to hold less tightly to our ideals. Become aware of our expectations (of ourselves, but also of others), and cling to them less. Toss them out, if possible, and just see what happens,” says Babauta.

“Love what actually happens. Love yourself as you are, not as you wish you would be. Sure, endeavor to do good, out of love for yourself and others … but when you do not meet those expectations, toss them out and love who you are, what you have actually done. Love reality,” he continues.

Babauta provides a prescription, if you want one:

  1. Set an intention to love yourself by exercising, eating better, meditating, being kind to others, doing your work in the world. Set the intention out of love, then do the best you can.
  2. Whatever you do, notice your expectations, toss them into the ocean. Love what you actually do, love the moment and yourself no matter what. Let go of the useless guilt and stress and self-criticism.
  3. See what held you back from meeting your intention. Make an intentional change in your environment so that it won’t keep holding you back. Set another intention, out of love, but don’t cling to it. Repeat, over and over.

By letting go of these expectations, by tossing them into the ocean, we can let go of our difficulties and actually be at peace. Actually, find contentment. Actually, love ourselves. And this leads to a happiness with the world and ourselves that is incredible and that fills the heart up.