from the


from the Top of the Mind


from the
Top of the Mind

“Dr. Crawford’s presentation was the highlight of the conference and a much needed reminder for all of us (especially nurses) to keep it all balanced. Bill’s psychology background surely protruded through his messages and I know it was well-received by all!”

Nancy Perovic, RN, BSN
University Of Chicago Hospitals, Chicago, IL

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“Regret acknowledges that I made a mistake. Shame says that I AM a mistake, and guilt is what others use to try to make us feel ashamed.”

~ Bill Crawford

The Difference between Guilt, Shame, & Regret

Often, in my work as a psychologist and seminar leader, I hear people talk about how to learn from mistakes. And, often, they mention shame or guilt as what one should feel in order to avoid making the mistake in the future.

While this is understandable, I don’t recommend it as a strategy for creating a positive experience of life. Why? Because it means that we have to feel bad to do good.

For those of you who follow my “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy, you know that this is trying to access our best qualities, characteristics, and skills (which reside in the upper 80% of the brain, the neocortex, what I call the “Top of the Mind”) by driving us into the lower 20% of the brain (the brainstem) which is only designed for fight-or-flight.

It is from this lower brain that we feel shame, guilt, anger, resentment, and depression, and while these can be powerful motivators for avoidance and/or retribution, I do not recommend them as trustworthy states of being if our goal is to create a meaningful experience of life.

So, what do we do?…Just minimize our mistakes or pretend that we did nothing wrong? No. Learning from the past can be a wonderful way to create a more successful future, if it is done from the Top of the Mind. In other words, if we can use awareness, and even regret, to look back at choices that were either unconscious or did not produce the results that we wanted, we can see those choices as good information about what doesn’t work and choose a more purposeful way of being going forward.

In this way, regret becomes a very different perspective than guilt or shame because it allows us to access the clear, confident, creative part of the brain… if we can feel/see this regret as good information about a choice versus some indication of our failure as a human being (which is generally what people feel from guilt and shame).

Therefore, given that we are not, and will never be perfect, I suggest that we begin looking at our imperfect choices in a way that we would recommend to someone we love. Rather than implying that they should feel bad in order to do good, I suggest that we access the upper 80% of our brain by owning the choice, acknowledging the fact that we regret it, and moving quickly to create a vision of how we want to do this more successfully in the future.

My favorite question for accomplishing this is, “Knowing what I know now, what do I want to differently in the future?” Not a bad way to learn from our mistakes without guilt or shame, don’t you think?

~ All the best, Dr. Bill

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