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PsychNotes February 2016

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February 24, 2016       

Mindfulness is Simply Being Without Judgment

by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
Mindfulness is often presented by myself and others as “being present in the moment.” However, I find that isn't a satisfactory description because we can be present when thinking about the future or the past as well. In other words, we can mindfully anticipate the future and set goals as well as mindfully evaluate the past. So, what is it that a mindful focus on the present, future, or past has in common? I believe the commonality is the lack of judgment.

For instance, I woke up this morning with my cat sniffing my face which made me think about how animals don't judge our breath. To them, how our breath smells simply is what it is which is part of all kinds of smells we emit. My cat didn't recoil at my morning breath but just included it as part of what it knows about me. What it knows about me is based upon past experiences and it can also anticipate future experiences with me (such as I'm the one to ask for food). All of this is without judging whether I smell good or bad or whether I am a good or bad person. I just am who I am as far as my cat is concerned.

Similarly, when we are in a mindful state we are without judgment. However, that doesn't mean we can't evaluate or make improvements. Even though, in the English language, the term “judgment” is technically neutral, meaning to evaluate, it is generally used in a more negative, harsh manner: to judge means to evaluate in a critical and demanding way.

Therefore, when I say that mindfulness is being without judgment what I'm referring to is a concept: mindfulness is without determining the badness or goodness of something. It is the experience of something without the judgment attached. When we are in pain, mindfulness is recognizing the pain without evaluating it as “this is awful” or “this isn't fair!” When we have an interpersonal conflict, mindfulness is focused on resolving the conflict, not judging the other person or their intentions. When we have a job to do, mindfulness is doing the job without judging and being overwhelmed with the complexity of the job as in "this is too hard!"

Generally, when we are mindfully present without judgment we are not engaged in irrational thinking because what the different styles of irrational thinking have in common is judgment. For instance, mind-reading or personalization is evaluating in a negative way what someone else is thinking. Catastrophizing is judging future events negatively. Blaming, shoulds, negative evaluations, labeling all have to do with judging the self or others.

It would follow, then, that when we have a more mindful attitude, one without judgment, we are living a more rational life.


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