A few days ago I was supposed to be at the office at 2pm for a two-hour meeting. I was a few minutes late. Before I walked in, someone in the group chat suggested going to the gym together after the meeting. I hadn’t brought my gym clothes with me so I decided to go buy some new gym clothes. So I just missed the meeting entirely.
What the hell?
Usually I judge the shit out of myself for this kind of thing. I feel guilty or embarrassed. I kick myself for doing something so socially off. And then because I’m unable to accept my own behavior, I don’t expect others to accept it. So I spend a lot of energy coming up with my “stance” — what’s my story about why I just did what I did? What rhetoric am I going to use when people confront me? How can I justify my behavior? What circumstances can I blame my choices on?
Then I’ll start remembering all of the other times I made similar mistakes. I’ll reminisce on my utter incompetence and I’ll diagnose myself. In my mind, I’ll have this on repeat: “What the fuck is wrong with me?”
And suddenly, one moment’s poor decision has turned into weeks of cleanup and low energy and self-judgment.
But this time I decided not to judge myself.
I could feel the option to self-criticize but I chose not to take it. I stayed neutral. I insisted on not telling myself any stories. And if a story tried to sneak in, I forced myself to feel open.
Feeling open is not the same as “having an open mind.” Openness is a state of being. There’s nothing defensive or active or righteous about it. It’s empty and spacious. It’s a temporary release of all stories and biases and attachments.
This is a little hard to describe. It’s more visceral than mental. To feel open I didn’t think anything specific. It was more in my lungs and chest and heart. It’s the feeling of being open. The feeling of being neutral and unbiased and curious. Imagine watching the moment unfold on TV. Your character might be in a bind— but you’d be comfortable in your living room— just watching openly, interested in what comes next.
Openness is incompatible with self-judgement.
Every time I could feel a negative thought creeping in, I would flood my system with openness. And I felt relief. I felt neutral and objective and clear. Consistently. Eventually the negative thoughts stopped trying.
It seems contradictory doesn’t it? It seems like if you feel a negative thought creeping in, you should protect yourself— guard yourself by closing down. Or overwhelm it by filling your mind with positive affirmations.
I’ve tried that stuff. It’s never worked for me. Closing down or distracting myself just postpones the suffering. And trying to fill my mind with positive thoughts feels fake and wears me out.
Had I succumbed to the self-judgment, I probably would have ditched the gym to avoid my team, wallowed in my own shameful discomfort, and spent the rest of the evening coming up with reasons and justifications.
But by opening myself up to my behavior instead of defining it and judging it and making conclusions about it, I had access to options that perpetuated openness. I wrote a lighthearted message to my team apologizing for missing the meeting, went to the gym, laughed with some of them about my weird choice, then had a blast playing pickleball and basketball.
It was over.
We’ve all experienced the shittiness of self-judgement. Whether you said something inappropriate that offended someone or cheated on a partner or wasted an entire day watching Netflix.
Self-judgement breeds shitty solutions.
If you’re stuck judging yourself, the options you perceive will be weak. You’ll be inclined to withdraw or make excuses or overcompensate or pass blame.
But try feeling open. Try feeling it right now as you read this, just to experience it. Try it the next time you’re frustrated with yourself. Try it the next time someone cuts you off. Try it the next time you see Donald Trump speak. Do you notice how true openness and judgmental thoughts can’t coexist?