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The Difference Between Judging Your Experience and Living It

If you stop whatever you are doing and ask yourself, Am I happy? odds are, you won’t be as happy as you just were. The worst way to be happy is to ask yourself if you are happy.

Same goes for all kinds of desirable experiences.

The more you wonder if your relationship is the right one, the less likely you’ll find it is. When you’re at your best and everything is clicking, the moment you ask yourself, Am I in the zone? you are no longer in the zone, or at least not as much as you were. This is true in public speaking, athletic performance, the practice of medicine, and the bedroom.

Perhaps the most striking way to realize the experience-changing nature of judgement is via meditation. Any veteran meditator will have faced a situation that goes like this: you are settling deeply into a contemplative groove; your being begins to merge with your breath, or maybe even the universe; and then you wonder, Holy cow! Is this really happening? Am I really shedding my sense of self? Is this a transcendent moment? Yet the second you ask that question, it no longer is.

This topic is on my mind because some lovely folks in my community have recently undergone  challenges in their marriage after twenty years of living together. No big betrayals or anything like that. Just two years of on again, off again; dating other people, don’t want to date other people; and so on.

I was talking to one of them the other day and she mentioned how sick she was of these trial periods of living together again. “We’ve lived together for twenty years, we know what it’s like to live together!”

Now I am no relationship expert or therapist, but it became clear that they were doing a whole lot of intellectualizing and judging their experience: Am I happy living together again? Is this what it felt like before our falling out? Is it better now? Worse? It also became clear that the minute either of them got caught up in these sorts of questions, the worse they felt about themselves and their situation.

We proceeded to talk about judgement and how it serves us really well until it gets in our way. And how, perhaps in this situation, judgement was getting in their way.

Decades of modern science and millennia of ancient wisdom tell us that genuine happiness, peak experiences, and coveted flow states all emerge when we are in-sync with whatever it is we are doing. And being in-sync with whatever it is we are doing inherently means that we are not judging it.

It’s not just extraordinary moments that suffer from judgement, but ordinary ones too. You are sitting on the couch next to your partner. She’s reading a book. You’re listening to music. You aren’t speaking to each other but everything feels fine—that is, until you start to wonder, Why isn’t she listening to music too? What does it say about us that I can’t relate to the novels she reads? I know from Instagram there are thousands of people who like the same music I do, why doesn’t she? And on and on and on.

Or, you’re in the zone writing and the question starts to creep into your mind, Is this any good? Well, not any more!

You get the point.

To be clear, I am not suggesting any of us do away with judgement altogether. Sometimes the relationship really isn’t as good as it could be. Sometimes your mood is awful and being aware of and evaluating it is the first step to seeking help or making productive changes. Sometimes the writing just sucks.

What I am suggesting, however, is that we keep in mind that too much or unskillful (wrong place, wrong time) judgement can, and often does, get in the way of what we want most.


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