deep breath

By Amy Hackworth. Poster by Evajuliet on Etsy.

A few years ago I was working with a life coach who pointed out my tendency to notice a fact about my life and jump to a negative reaction about that fact. In the moment, I’d made a comment about how my house was a mess, and how annoyed I was by it. She helped me separate the fact (that my house was messy) from my strong negative reaction to it (that having a messy house was an annoying burden). A messy house isn’t inherently negative; the negativity was a judgment I chose that actually made the challenge seem greater than it was.

This was my introduction to the value of delaying judgment — of noticing first the fact or feeling or experience, and holding off on my propensity to immediately label it as good or bad. This non-judgmental approach is also a tenet of mindfulness, which is simply defined as “a state of active, open attention to the present.” If only it were simple to implement…

In her book called Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness (geared to classroom educators), Deborah Schoeberlein writes, “Purposefully taking a mental step back, in order to notice what happened without immediately engaging with intense emotions and reactions, provides a kind of protection against unconstructive responses and the self-criticism that can slip out and make a hard thing even harder.”

“Unconstructive responses” includes labeling ourselves bad mothers when we’re impatient with our children, or berating ourselves for feeling ungrateful when we’re less than appreciative for our good lives. These judgments and their negative feelings overshadow opportunities to learn about our ourselves and shortchange growth for frustration and irritation. When I untangle my self-judgment and instead notice what I’m experiencing, I’m more thoughtful, rational and definitely more effective when it comes to considering solutions.

Have you noticed that self-judgment makes “hard things even harder”? What helps you mentally step back before diving into emotional responses?

P.S. Some interesting research about how mindfulness can decrease burnout in medical professionals and interesting suggestions (pause, presence, proceed) that apply to more than just doctors here.