From an early age, things happen to us that can have a traumatic effect. We make decisions about ourselves so early in our lives that we don’t even remember them. If we don’t remember them, what’s the problem?
The problem is that we continue to react to things in a particular way which become our “habits.” Our reactions are automatic and always the same, so much so that some go unexamined. The unexamined reactions have the tightest hold on our actions.
My interest in this is in the area of performance, particularly athletic performance. What causes an athlete to reach a certain level of performance and suddenly crash and burn? Or, maybe, what’s consistent is the performer’s inconsistency. You know, flashes of brilliance. “I can be good, but not too good” is an example.
Let’s look at two of the most common effects of children’s decision making. These two have been viewed often as words for the same thing. Two words are shame and guilt. Carol Dweck, in her book Mindset, points out they are not the same at all. I concur, not that she needs any agreement from me.
The way I understand it is that guilt is a perception of something one is doing, while shame is a perception of the way one is being. Distinguishing one from the other I think is critical because they occur in different domains. To break up the habits we must design new habits or it could be said new conversations. You know, the ones you have with yourself.
It seems to me that makes it nearly impossible to be fully self expressed. Self expression is the access to one’s talent. I am not a scientist. I am just going on my experience of working with thousands of people over the past 50 years.
The higher performers climb, the more vulnerable they become. The pressure to always be great increases. The great hall of fame basketball player Jerry West told me one day that the toughest thing about being labeled a “Super Star” is that you could never have just a “good” night. Often the great performer handles shame with alcohol or drugs. This substance abuse prevents the person with the talent from being great. Remember you are already great. Keep reminding yourself.
Since guilt is about doing, it may require a couple of things.
- First, acknowledge the source of the guilt (what did you do).
- Then, forgive yourself for the unacceptable thing that was done.
Take an action that by its very nature causes a disappearance of the guilt.
Shame or guilt might not be a habit with you. If they are don’t try to make them disappear by yourself. Find a trained pro.
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