Judge Not

“Dude, you got to wake up. This is embarrassing.”

My brain, tired of suffering through the 10th thump of the snooze button, managed to issue this order. So, I forced myself to open my eyes and look around the bedroom. Although I’m extremely near-sighted, the mere act of looking intently for 30 seconds kickstarts my brain into processing the real world: “That’s a chair. Oh, there is that sweater I meant to take to the dry cleaners. I don’t remember leaving that pile of clothes on my bed…oops, sorry cat!” Without thinking, I’m then out of bed in pursuit of the possibilities of the day.

After the morning prep of showering and eating, the next hurdle I face is work. There are two kinds of work-related activity: communicating with the outside world, or focusing on a project. When I have to work on a project, I find that I have to apply the opposite of my morning wakeup routine. Instead of letting the outside world trigger new impulses, I have to tune them out. The way I do that is by observing the thoughts I have, and telling each one to go away for fifteen minutes until only the project-related one is left: “Yes, I would like to go have a burrito at the restaurant. But not for now. I should look up the latest iPad rumors, yes, but that can wait. Yes, I would rather be at the beach, or maybe at the coffee shop, but that is not what is important for the next hour. After that, we’ll see. Uh, I guess there’s nothing left but to look at this job I have to do and make some squiggles…we’ll see where that goes.”

Usually the combination of these two mechanisms works pretty well when I remember to apply them, but a few chilly mornings ago I found myself stuck in limbo. It was cold, I was tired and probably dehydrated, and I kept falling back into the same dream. I thought my eyes were open and looking at the world, but I was actually dreaming it. My head had also fallen into a nook between two blankets that effectively muffled the alarm clock.

When I realized this is what was happening, I tried to rationalize myself out of bed several times, but none of the reasons overrode the desire to stay warm and sleep more.

“No, that sounds boring,” said my brain. “And it will take too much time,” continued the brain. “It also is lame.”

After more irritating minutes of this, I have a sudden epiphany: I spend a lot of time automatically pre-judging my actions. For the first time, it occurred to me that maybe this was a poor attitude to have, and that perhaps it was something I could change.

I’ve puzzled over attitude toward household chores as compared to my dad. When Dad sees a small piece of scrap paper on the floor, he bends over and picks it up. BOOM. DONE. If it’s something usable like a paper clip, he files it with the other paper clips, perhaps reorganizing them as he goes. By comparison, when I see a small piece of garbage on the floor, I think:

“Garbage. Looks unsightly, I guess.” “I should pick that up. Yawn.” “I’d have to bend over, then bring it over to the trash. That will take time. Time I’d rather use doing something else.” “Bored. Moving on. I’ll pick that up later, maybe.”

Perhaps the difference is that Dad just doesn’t have these negative thoughts. He just does them. It’s possible that he, as a child of wartime scarcity and even scarcer opportunity, finds the freedom to do ANYTHING much more empowering than I.

I categorize ACTION-related thoughts automatically, and they fall into two dimensions: boring/exciting and easy/hard. Just about any thought that did NOT fall into “easy+exciting” is quickly squelched with negative thinking. I hate the feeling of being trapped or bored, and therefore my thoughts seems to automatically assess the danger of any given task. I am probably overly sensitive to the mere possibility of boredom or frustration, and stubborn enough to stand my ground against it. However, this defense mechanism creates tremendous drag on my productivity. To be productive, one must accept inconvenience, difficulty, and deferred payoff. Having a good attitude toward these three barriers helps you get through the work, and I’ve been pretty good at adopting this stance. However, I hadn’t addressed the primal judging behavior of my mind, which creates resistance and resentment so automatically that I wasn’t even aware of it.

The upshot of this epiphany: There is no need to judge what I need to do. It just is what needs to be done, and there is no inherent unpleasantness in it that will kill or disable me. This week I’ve been striving to not judge tasks, clearing my mind of negative associations that arise out of habit.