One critical aspect of mindfulness is trying to take a nonjudgmental approach to viewing your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. We are often quick to label things as “good,” “bad,” and related variations (e.g., wonderful, horrible). For example, we start thinking things such as, “It’s terrible that I have so much do,” “I’m a bad person for saying that,” etc.
Certainly, there are times when judging is appropriate. After all, we’d have to always flip a coin or roll a die to make all of our decisions if everything were neutral. That would make life quite ridiculous! However, we need to realize that once we start judging things as good or bad, our feelings getting pulled along with these judgments. When we become mindful, we try to adopt a nonjudgmental approach so this gives us some psychological distance from our thoughts. We are not our thoughts – we are much more than that. But when we are not mindful, in a sense, we can become victims of our thoughts – be swept away by a current of negative thinking.
Here’s how this can work practically. Let’s say that you made a social blunder at a party. You might think to yourself, “I’m such an idiot for doing that!” Now, it’s a given that it’s probably never helpful to be so harsh on oneself, but let’s say you are having trouble being kind to yourself. A mindfulness strategy that could help you feel a bit better is to think to yourself, “I’m having a thought that I was an idiot for doing that.”
By using this approach, we are able to create some distance from the current of our thoughts. In essence, we are standing at the shore and watching the current of our thoughts. If we extend this metaphor of our thoughts as a river further, then stopping a river is quite a challenge. Getting out of the river to stand at the shore and safely watch the river flow is much easier. Give it a try sometime when you notice yourself getting inundated by negative thoughts and feelings (note that negative feelings typically result from our negative thoughts). As you practice, you’ll get much better at getting to the shore. Sometimes you’ll even prevent yourself from even falling into the river in the first place!