Conscious Judging, Mourning, and Self-Forgiveness

One day, maybe I’ll write a post about how “judgement” (like “belief”), is one of those words that is overloaded to the point where using it at all is likely to interfere with precise communication.

But today, I’ll just use the word “judgement” as best I can.

While I was working with someone the other day, it came to our attention thats he had a bunch of unresolved, quasi-specific judgements about herself.

When I say quasi-specific, I mean that they were somewhere between “I’m not good enough” and “I would have had a more fun evening if I’d remembered to download Game of Thrones a few hours earlier.”

Judgements like these can be quite suffering-inducing because (as usual) it’s easy to get stuck in a pattern of resisting them.

One solution is to take a step back and not only noticed the judgements but make space for them, hear them out, decide whether they’re true and how you’d like to change your behavior in the future. Once you’ve done that, you can mourn the past, forgive yourself, and move on.

I’ll give an example below, using a judgment that still somewhat lands for me, that “I’m lazy.”

Make the judgment as specific as possible

I guess there are a few things going on when I think this about myself. One is remembering how I’ve always found homework-type activities pretty aversive. I’d usually do them, but I wouldn’t want to and would leave them until the last minute pretty frequently. There’s a second thing about having a suboptimal level of activation energy for working on projects, given my longterm goals. And then there’s a fairly separate thing where I often want to lie down and not move much.

Decide whether I think it’s true

Well, it’s a mix!

First, the homework thing. For one thing, it wasn’t universally true. Sometimes I enjoyed homework and did it happily and not at the last minute. But most of the time, it’s true that I didn’t. But looking back, I see a lot of contributing factors here, and I think lazy is a pretty bad framing. I think at some points in my life I needed more productivity techniques, and at other times I needed actually support doing the work. But I had encountered productivity techniques, and I did have people who were willing to help with the work.

I think the issue was actually more that I often wasn’t clear about what my priorities were and how much time I was willing to spend accomplishing various goals. I tended to discount my desire to relax, socialize, and have fun, even as I spent lots of time doing these things. I wouldn’t plan for them, and I didn’t feel comfortable having honest conversations with myself about how much different goals mattered to me.

Plus, I think academic environments aren’t ideal for me. 

I can see why things turned out the way they did, given my circumstances. There were a few individual decision points that may have mattered, but I see the situation as more of a structural problem than anything else.

Motivation to work on projects is sort of a different thing. I think it’s true that I find it much easier to start projects than to finish them, and to think big picture than to actually implement. I think that will always be my tendency, and now I have strategies to deal with that better than before, even if they’re not ideal.

Finally, there’s the thing about not wanting to move much. I think that compared to other people, I do desire a pretty low level of physical activity by default. I enjoy going on long walks and hikes, and I’ve been going to a Zumba class every Friday, so I know that it doesn’t bother me much to move a lot sometimes. I also wouldn’t call myself particularly out of shape. But when I’m at home, I’d usually rather be sitting than standing, and I’d most prefer to be lying down. 

Mourn the Past

It’s interesting to think about what it would have been like if I’d been better at doing homework (and also practicing the cello). I would have gotten better grades in college, and that would have made me more likely to consider certain career options, I think. I might have developed better relationships with my professors. But I find that I don’t actually feel much when I imagine myself with that life. 

Not working on side projects more does feel like something to mourn. For example, I think there are futures not so far away from me in decision space where I actually worked on a startup very seriously one of the summers I was in college. And I do think my life could have been substantially more awesome if I’d done so. I won’t go into all the details, but I have a clear picture in my head of who I could have been if I’d worked harder in that specific way. I regret that I made the choices I did. I understand why I made the choices I did, and I also think they weren’t the best ones I could have made.

Forgive Myself

I do forgive myself for not having seriously worked on a startup at various points in my life. It would have been a big leap of faith, and it would have been hard. I had strong reasons to believe that it was a good idea, but it wasn’t a safe, easy plan.

It’s not hard to feel genuine self-compassion when I imagine interacting with a younger version of me who made the choices I did at the time. 

Move On

I think the biggest thing I need to remember to move on with my life is just how much long-term benefit there is to working seriously on projects I care about, and especially completing them. It’s hard for me to internalize how much I benefit, since much of the benefit comes far in the future. Having taken the time to examine my feelings, in this moment I feel more motivated to work on some things that have currently been on the back burner. I doubt I’ll see a very big shift, since I don’t think this issue was all that emotionally charged, but I notice a slight change in attitude right now.

So there’s my example! Having done that exercise, I don’t feel myself react much to the statement that “I’m lazy.” I didn’t fully examine the part about not wanting to move much physically, and there still might be a bit of work for me to do on that, but the total reaction is definitely less.

I’ll end with a quotation from Nonviolent Communication that I like a lot:

An important aspect of self-compassion is to be able to empathically hold both parts of ourselves—the self that regrets a past action and the self that took the action in the first place.