girl observing pond 300x300I like using the word “mindfulness”. Mindfulness is all about noticing your thoughts, your feelings, your body, your behavior. And here’s the key—and also the hard part: it’s about noticing all those things without judgment.


We all have thoughts, but many of us can’t help but accompany those thoughts with a heaping helping of judgment. And it’s often not the “nice” kind either.


It’s often the kind of judgment that says things like,

“You’ll never be happy at work”


“You don’t come from money, you’ll never be wealthy”


What’s wrong with you, why do you always trust the wrong people?”


It’s judgment that keeps you stuck right where you are.


Mindfulness is about noticing without judgment

To be clear, though, mindfulness is NOT about replacing negative judgments with positive ones. It’s about divorcing your observation from judgment altogether.


Have you ever heard the Chinese parable of the farmer, his horse and his son? If you haven’t, you can read it here. I love it. The moral of the story is “don’t get too hung up on judging whether something is good or bad because you just never know.”


There’s something powerful about noticing, with kind curiosity and without labeling as either “good” or “bad”, that seems to have a positive effect. (Ironically, I just labeled the effect as “good”, right?)


Maybe it’s that it helps create some movement in situations where you’d otherwise tend to stay stuck.


Is it good? Is it bad? Who knows?

I think of the path that led me to becoming a career coach. I was noticing how unhappy and unfulfilled I felt in the job I had at the time. And I could easily explain all the elements of that job that led very logically to my unhappiness. But I stayed stuck in that “state” for a while because at the same time I noticed my reality, I was also judging myself pretty harshly.


My self-talk included things like,

“You made a mistake taking this job. What a waste, all the time you’ve spent here!”


“Who do you think you are? You can’t get a better job out there in this economy.”


Once I started applying a “mindful” approach, in which I wasn’t sentencing myself to a lifetime of unfulfilling work, or judging myself harshly and unfairly for past decisions, I began to make room for creativity. I started allowing myself to imagine what could be.


I stopped judging myself and began making room for what could be

It didn’t mean that, all of a sudden, everything’s coming up roses and it’s impossible to fail. It just meant that I now had energy for dreaming and creating the future I want because I didn’t spend all of it worrying about unlikely outcomes, or coming up with 100 reasons why something I’m thinking is a “dumb” idea.


I understand why people may not want to spend too much time noticing all the things they don’t like and how they make them feel. It’s why people with high credit card debt don’t want to look at their personal finances. Or why someone who’s overweight avoids seeing a doctor.


Why would you want to keep noticing things you don’t like?

Maybe it’s that noticing will make you examine whether or not you really want to change. What if you really don’t want to stop spending frivolously? Or what if you really don’t want to be healthier? What would that mean?


But it’s also that it can be “yucky” and disconcerting to keep thinking about these things. And why would you want to keep noticing, as you have already done so many times before, that you don’t like your weight, your job, your relationship, or the place where you live. And noticing without even trying to develop a solution? Isn’t that the same as obsessing over it? No, it’s not.


When you notice without judgment, you process differently

The difference is that noticing these things in your life as a type of impartial observer allows you to process them in a different way. It allows room for creativity to flow, and for shifts in perspective to happen.


Noticing with detachment also allows you to monitor reality more objectively. Maybe you feel like you hate your job “every day, all the time”, but when you start really noticing, you may notice that it’s not actually “all the time”, and that there are some aspects of your job that you really like. And that may be crucial information to have as you look for your next job.



THIS WEEK: Allow yourself to be mindful. Write down what you’re noticing without judging, and see what else comes up. What causes you to feel inspired? What little things spark in you excitement about the future? Is there a course or a class you’ve always wanted to take? Where have you always wanted to travel?