January 21, 2015

Do you feel guilty while you are doing what works?

Occasionally, I come across the strange phenomenon that people know that something works but still experience a diffidence about actually doing it. This diffidence has to do with a certain sense of guilt. Hmm... knowing that something works but not doing it because you feel guilty about doing it? Sounds strange, doesn't it? I'll give an example. Recently, I have written a few articles about how beneficial physical exercise is for people. I mainly talking about how healthy walking is. An example is my review of Erik Scherder's book. I have received many positive responses to this article. Last week, however, I talked to someone about this topic and this woman said: " I do believe that walking is good for you and I even recommend it to other people! But I don't do it myself. When I walk during my lunch break I feel guilty. I am very Calvinistic about these things. I feel like I am not working hard enough when I am taking a walk in the middle of the day."

As a trainer, I once discovered that it is helpful to give participants lots of space and opportunity to practice together and to not interfere too much. This means you should not be around them all the time. When I had just discovered this I sometimes felt a bit guilty, too. The participants were working hard and I was just waiting. I felt like I did not work hard enough. This is the same sort of sense of guilt the lady in the example above had. There are many more examples of similar things which work but provoke a sense of guilt. One example is ending your meetings exactly on time. Or frequently taking a short break while working. Or saying no to a request.

That these things provoke a sense of guilt may be understandable but it is usually completely misplaced. Understandable, because your intention is to do your best and to help and these things appear to be at odds with that. But misplaced because they are actually not at odds with them at all. You might interpret walking during your lunch break as a sigh of laziness but that interpretation is too simple. After a walk you'll probably return recharged and creative. The same is the case for taking short breaks which may ultimately help you become more productive. Not being present all the time as a trainer is not a sign of lack of commitment but a sign that you understand that participants need time and space to try out and discuss things for themselves and with each other. Ending meeting on time does not indicate a lack of motivation. It contributes to a clear and effective way of doing meetings which may benefit all attendees. They will know exactly know where they stand and can more effectively organize their work.

That you sometimes may feel guilty while doing what works may be understandable but is probably misplaced. Your sense of guilt is probably based on a mistaken, too simple, assumption about what you should do.

Question: Is there something of which you think that it does work but which you still feel guilty about? On which assumption is your sense of guilt based? Is that assumption valid? 

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