How To Make Your Guilt Work For You

Guilt, modern-day pop psychologists tell us, is a bad thing. “You are a good person,” they tell us. “If you’ve done something bad, it’s not your fault. It’s due to your upbringing, your DNA, or the bartender who served you those extra drinks. So rather than flog yourself, tell yourself how good you are. Think positive.” That, of course, is a lot of crap. If you are feeling guilty about something you’ve done, you probably deserve to feel that way. Rather than find ways to deny your guilt, let yourself feel it. Use it propel yourself back into better behavior.

Not long ago, I sent you yet another message about how bad watching television is. I think the very same day I wrote that piece was a day that I stayed up till 2:30 in the morning watching the boob tube. Why would someone who detests television do such a thing? Well, in my case it’s because I’m weak-minded. Because I’m addictive. Because I’ve never met a bad habit that I didn’t acquire. Should I try to explain my bad behavior? Should I remind you that I don’t have a TV set at home — that I stopped by my office to do some work after dinner and then decided to “reward” myself with 15 minutes of basketball?

That I really meant to turn the set off after the Heat game but couldn’t help but catch a half-hour of Howard Stern (the least shocking, most personable voice in media) — and that I really, really would have shut the damn thing off then had I not accidentally hit the “scroll” button and discovered that the latest Ultimate Fighting Competition was on. How could I resist that? Should I mitigate my guilt by explaining my good intentions? Hell, no. I should do what I did: beat myself up mentally and consider suicide. Then crawl into bed feeling like the miserable failure that I was, and let the guilt do its thing.

By 5:30 the next morning — and I did force myself to get up at the regular time — I was raring to go. The lesson? Don’t deny your guilt. That will compound your mistake by making you a liar. Accept your guilt. Use it productively. Ratchet up your self-abuse till your ego is as tight as a drum — then use that energy as a trampoline to bounce back. That’s what’s happening now. I’m back at work, a little bleary-eyed but charged up and determined to pay for my sins.