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Success without Guilt!

August 8, 2011

Last month a coaching client called me in guilty tears. Caught between being a good enough mom and giving enough to the business she hit “tilt.”

No wonder! Her small business recently exploded with all kinds of new opportunities and the kids are out of school for the summer. While excited about her potential success she felt guilty that she was messing up her kid’s lives.

Through her tears she spoke, “Am I giving enough to my kids? Will I ruin their lives by working so hard on my business?”

Frantically, her thoughts flipped to work, “Am I giving enough to work? Will I lose this new fantastic opportunity because I can’t give 100% of my time?”

I said, “It’s ok. You are not alone. Many businesswomen/moms feel this kind of conflict.” In fact, studies show that women feel equally guilty at home and at work.

A group of researchers in Spain queried 360 men and women from three different age groups, asking questions designed to measure level of guilt in certain situations, such as “You have forgotten that today is one of your friends’ or relations’ birthday and you know that this type of thing is very important to him/her and that he/she likes people to remember.”

What the research team found is that women in all three age groups (adolescent, 25-33, and 40-50) experienced significantly higher feelings of habitual guilt than men, with the 40-50 year-old women experiencing the most.

After coaching hundreds of businesswomen to develop their  leadership and increase their success at work and fulfillment at home, I’m convinced that guilt sits on or near the top rung of our Big Time Ugly Limiters  to success. Can you relate?

Here’s one tip you can use to wake up your wise self and lessen the poisonous effects of guilt:

Tip #1: Change your habits: turn your attention from guilt to appreciation. Guilt is a habit of mind. When you obsess in remorse or over emphasize guilt you give it disproportionate weight and power. It’s easy to hear a woman say 8 guilty comments to 2 positive comments. Just listen to yourself or other women around you!

When guilt takes up 80% of your thinking and feeling, it diminishes the remaining 20% of your joy. Guilt is a success-stopper! It takes you off track and detracts from your effectiveness. It stifles your wise inner knowing and shrinks your personal power.

Instead, try this! Recognize those moments that you genuinely appreciate, when you acted in integrity both at home and at work. Perhaps it’s three seconds of grace when your smile lit up a client’s troubled face. Or maybe it’s a hug you extended to a tearful child or a smart half hour when you completed this quarter’s income and expense. Appreciation expands your feminine wisdom and you’ll be surprised how much smarter you start to feel.

Here’s the assignment I give for coaching “homework:” Come to the next session ready to:

  1. Describe 5 times when you recently gave the kids/your family/friends exactly what they needed. (a warm bowl of soup after a chilly day at the pool, a long hug after a scraped knee, an afternoon when you hung out and played on the playground, or sat on the grass and told stories back and forth)
  2. Describe 5 times when you felt competent and effective at work. (handling a crisis, presenting a new product, dealing with a difficult employee, coming up with a creative slogan for a new offer)

We do this week after week. My clients begin to return with a different perception! They start to value their lives and affirm their judgments about where to invest their time, energy, and talents. Remembering, repeating, and speaking positive moments out loud begins to change how they organize their time for the next week.

How about you? What percentage of your thoughts and comments circle around guilt? What percentage are appreciative? I’d love to know what you discover.

I’ll return to this topic with more strategies later this week. Make your list of “the good” in your work and life every day this week. See if you can start to recognize and appreciate positive moments at work and home so that they become 80% of your habitual thoughts.

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