Say the thing you need to say, and do the thing you need to do

Guilt and regret are powerful forms of clutter. They can be small, but continuously present at the back of your mind, weighing on you for years. Or, they can overwhelm all of your thoughts and be the ultimate distraction.

Obviously, if we could find a way to avoid guilt and regret completely, we would. This is an impossible feat, though, as we’re human. We aren’t perfect. We do things that disappoint others and ourselves, and we simply strive to keep these disappointments to a minimum.

How we handle the guilt and regret in our lives can play a large part in how much they clutter up our thoughts. Large regrets may never disappear completely. Even after apologies have been given and wrongs rectified the best they can, you still might carry some guilt with you the rest of your life. Conversely, and thankfully, most small regrets can be alleviated by taking actions to rectify the situation.

The following plan of action will not work in every situation, but in many situations it can help to assuage the guilt and regret that comes with unintentionally saying something hurtful or acting in a hurtful way:

  • Stop being defensive. When we have done something wrong, it can be easy to turn to the defense. Being defensive, however, isn’t helpful when we’ve actually done something wrong. Fight this reaction, and try your best not to make the regret worse.
  • Acknowledge your mistake. As quickly after you recognize you’ve done something to disappoint others or yourself, acknowledge this mistake.
  • If appropriate, apologize. Not all guilt-inducing situations call for an apology, but many do. If your situation would be improved with a heartfelt apology, step up and give one. Even if the apology should have come years ago, an apology is almost always welcome. Don’t apologize, though, if you’re not sincere. An insincere apology will only exacerbate a problem.
  • If appropriate, provide restitution. Similar to an apology, not all guilt-inducing situations require restitution. However, if your situation would be improved through an act of righting the wrong, do it. If you borrowed a friend’s car and got in a fender bender, paying for the repairs and a rental car while her car is in the shop are good places to start to provide restitution.
  • Do what you need to do. Not all guilt and regret comes from wronging someone else. If you are carrying guilt because you have failed to act in some way or procrastinated on something that is important to you, now is the time to act. Schedule time to do the thing you need to do. Stop making excuses and take care of what needs to get done.

Stop guilt and regret from cluttering up your mental space: say the thing you need to say, and do the thing you need to do.

12 Comments for “Say the thing you need to say, and do the thing you need to do”

  1. posted by Alix on

    I think “restitution” or “reparation” is the word you’re looking for, not “retribution” (, which has the connotation of “getting even with” or “punishing”). 😉

  2. posted by Andrea @ Behind Closed Drawers on

    @ Alix – agreed

    But this post is pretty powerful. It’s so true … those niggling things in the back of your mind are the shadows and ghosts of failure and/or regret and will keep eating at you until they are addressed. This was a good reminder.

  3. posted by Alix on

    @ Andrea
    Absolutely! Mental clutter is exhausting, but we get so preoccupied clearing out our things that we don’t take time to clean out the emotional baggage.

  4. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Alix — HAHAHAHA!! Auto correct is hysterical sometimes. Okay, that is corrected now. Speaking of mistakes …

  5. posted by Kay on

    The saddest thing in the world is the “should have/could have” feeling we all have when we have lost a loved one. It’s a hard game we play then and hopefully will be a lesson for our future lives.

  6. posted by priest's wife on

    great post! Feeling guilty is a waste of mental space

  7. posted by dsnk on

    I needed to “hear” this post–Thank you.

  8. posted by Sidney on

    I am SO TIRED of the “coulda/woulda/shoulda” (or whatever order that’s supposed to be in that I’m not concerning myself with) which is currently crippling us.

    I, too, like to procrastinate. But it so freeing to just DO IT!

    I need to go empty my dryer now…

    Very resonant post, Erin. No surprise. Thank you.

  9. posted by BevAnn on

    This hits close to home for me.

    2 years ago, there was a huge argument between our group of friends, and one dear friend who was dating a girl, none of us really liked, and she didn’t like us! LOL So, for 2 years there have been ill feelings, and we have missed him SO much.

    I had a tragic event happen to me in September and I reached out to him. He was there for me. Then in December his father died unexpectedly and we were all there at the funeral for him.

    He has since told her life is too short for the stupid crap that had been going on, and friends were way to valuable to be thrown aside over petty arguments. He told her he’d divorce her, if that’s what it took to have his friends back. She relented and Friday was the first time we all got back together. It was awkward a little, but overall a great time. I hope it’s the beginning of the end, of that chapter in our lives.

    Lifes too short guys. Don’t sweat the small stuff. 😉

    Thanks Erin, your post is great!

  10. posted by Mary S on

    Great timing for me also, only new year’s resolution is forget about feeling guilty, do it or don’t do it, and move on.

  11. posted by BeverlyD on

    There’s a thing about guilt. It’s appropriate to feel guilty if you ARE, then DO something about it. Make your restitution, sincerely apologize if you can, but don’t wallow in it. Guilt is not meant to weigh you down or hold you back, it’s supposed to remind you that you wronged someone. Once you’ve made amends, get over it already. OK rant over.

  12. posted by Living the Balanced Life on

    Great words! Mental clutter can so weigh us down. Get it off your chest and get it over with!

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