The Baby Monkey Metaphor

This is an honest post about an emotion that clings to my back like an orphaned baby monkey every day of my life. That emotion is guilt.

To give examples, here are some of the myriad things I feel guilty about on a daily basis: Not working hard enough; Not being ambitious enough; Not being a good enough fiancé; Not being a good enough daughter; Not being a good enough friend; Not writing; Not pursuing my life goals; Watching too much crap instead of writing/pursuing life goals; Caring too much what people think about me; Being so privileged when so many are not; Not appreciating being so privileged when so many are not; Never being satisfied/always wanting more; Eating badly; Not going to the gym; Not being mindful; Worrying about everything/sweating the small stuff; Being too apologetic; Wasting too much time on social media. I could go on. In fact, I daresay I could fill ten pages with all the things that I feel guilty about from one moment to the next. But I won’t (because I’d only feel guilty about the time I wasted writing it). It’s a depressing (if somewhat exaggerated, for the purpose of this post) truth that the only time I don’t feel guilty is when I’m sleeping, although if I remembered more of my dreams I wouldn’t be surprised if I felt guilt in most of those as well.

It never fails to amaze me how humans can be so intelligent and yet so utterly stupid at the same time. Unless felt in a justified context, for example when we have genuinely done something to upset another person, guilt – like worry and anxiety (which I could also fill a small tome about, let’s not go down that road here) – is a useless emotion. After thirty four years of living with it I can vouch for the fact it does not increase productivity – far from it, it is productivity’s antithesis. It also doesn’t improve personal relationships, or indeed help other people in the slightest. I wouldn’t go so far as to label it a selfish emotion, because it is usually underpinned by a sense of duty towards others or towards our true (non-egotistical) selves, but it sure is good at making a person introspective to the point of being boring.

So in the spirit of the age old ‘new year, new me’ mentality, it’s time to face the truth: the baby monkey on my back, whilst cute, has never led me anywhere positive; in fact, it has only led me into procrastination, anxiety and paralysing self-doubt. In short, cute or not, it’s time to ditch the monkey. Life is too short to be paralysed by useless emotions. It’s time to start fostering the useful ones.

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Putting theory into practice

Tonight I unintentionally put Professor Daniel Gilbert’s theory (which I mentioned in yesterday’s Bea article about happiness) into practice. Having woken up with a sore throat I spent the whole day feeling increasingly less keen to go to my first running club session after work. As the day progressed I thought of every excuse under the sun to not have to go. The front runner (if you’ll excuse the pun) was the fact I felt worse after running 3k at the gym last night, so running 8k outside would almost certainly make me more ill. Fortunately my sensible Twitter followers coerced me by citing the ‘below the neck’ rule, and as my lurgy was most definitely above the neck I decided I had run out of excuses and would give the run a try (I can’t deny the scone and slice of cake consumed at a colleague’s leaving do in the afternoon was also a contributing factor to my need to exercise).

I digress. So how did I put Professor Gilbert’s theory into practice, exactly? Well, I did the run, and at the end of it I thought how much I had enjoyed it and how glad I was to have done it. I even wondered why I’d made such a big deal of it and spent so long trying to talk myself out of going. What Professor Gilbert would no doubt say about this is that when imagining the run – in what was then my present – I was feeling unwell, and was only able to imagine doing the run whilst feeling unwell, which led to me overestimating how bad I would feel whilst actually doing it. As it turned out I felt much better by the time I started the run anyway, and so when the run became my present I was able to enjoy it far more than I had imagined.

Realising this has been a revelation. I’m actually rather stunned!

By the way, in case you’re wondering, I’m thinking of amending the ‘past post’ rule of this blog so that I occasionally post something I’ve written before, but it doesn’t have to be every week. I’m delighted to say I’m enjoying writing something new every day so much I’m finding I don’t want to post old pieces of work (most of which I’m now viewing with a more critical eye anyway and deciding they’re not up to scratch for publication).

Tomorrow’s the last day of January – one month done and still going strong! Who says New Year’s Resolutions are hard to keep?

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Here’s the image that comes to mind when I think about things that weren’t as bad as I imagined. I’d built myself up into a frenzy of worry when I did my first triathlon in 2009, but on the day of the event (as you can see in this pic) I quite enjoyed it! Bar the swimming. I bloody hated that part.