When we receive not-so-great news, we tend to begin believing that the worst will happen and based on that, become fearful of the future. For example,when you are unhappy with an exam grade or performance review. It is a disappointing thing to happen, and more often than not, people begin to worry about the bearing of these grades on their future. We begin to blame ourselves or others for this perceived failure, seeing it as a sentence to an unsuccessful life. Sometimes, we make the mental effort not to let the bad news get to us. We tell ourselves: “it is done and dusted - there is nothing I can do about it and it is better to move on with my life”. However, we aren’t always convinced by this declaration, so the sinking feeling and negative thoughts remain.
In the process of feeling bad about a disappointing period in my life, I was introduced to a notion of being judgement-free. Basically, it was counsel not to judge the things that happen in my life as good or bad, but to see them as things that needed to happen for some reason or the other. I assumed this to mean that some things are meant to be and others not. One day, it occurred to me that I was wrong. It is not so much about things being meant to be. The truth is that: it is what it is- no more, no less.
It was in that moment I realised that removing judgement from my perspective does not necessarily start from telling myself not to be disappointed. That clearly does not work; it represents words about which I will not be convinced, at least not until something else happens to distract me from my disappointment. I have come to see that a more useful approach is one that builds the habit of seeing things exactly as they are while learning not to ascribe to situations, that which does not yet exist.
What I mean is this. I have failed an exam, the habitual reaction is to feel bad - I am going to get a poor grade, then it will affect my career or my GPA etc. What if my reaction was instead one in which I asked myself what the grade might be indicating to me in this very moment. The grade is telling me something about my present, it has nothing to do with what will happen to me in the future, unless I let it. It is saying - “hey you, there are some gaps in your knowledge that you need to fill.” or, “hey you, you know the material well enough but you need to work on remaining calm under time pressure.” or “hey you, perhaps it is time you start studying in a different way or even start studying in the first place.” I can only get a sense of this message when I carefully go through the exam with the intention of hearing this message and being committed to learning what I can do to grow from it. In all honesty, I hardly take this approach. When I reflect. I focus on where I went wrong, often to see how many marks I lost. I ignore all the ones I got correct - even though they too indicate something to me. I don’t really internalise the corrections to my mistake. I am just aware of the mistake itself, which is not very a very helpful awareness because it is focusing on the wrong thing. The fact is that the exam grade is indicating something to me now and my duty is to hear and listen carefully to the message, so that I can respond to it honestly.
When I say respond to it honestly, I mean do not be like those who in fake jest or some form of self-deprecation, conclude that they are “just bad at this” after losing one point. It is not a helpful response to what is a very specific situation. A judgement-free reaction is one that seeks to understand what an occurrence means right now and does not try to assume the role of a fortune teller. You may feel disappointed; you worked hard, but still could not quite crack it, but do not let your disappointment distract you from the key to moving forward, which is to see things for what they really are. Saying “I’m just bad at it” is a declaration without aim or purpose. On the other hand, saying “ I correctly understand that 1+1=2 and I misunderstood that x = y. Now I know that x = z because of b” is an intentional reaction that has taken the opportunity to grow and create a new level of understanding.
It is not just about exams or moments where you believe you have been unsuccessful. This attitude of seeing things as they are needs to cut across all aspects of our lives, chief of which is the way we see ourselves. We often see what we are not. We hardly see who we are and so there is hardly any intention in our daily lives because we are living a reality based on ignorance and false judgements. We need to take the time to open our eyes, filter the noise and see things for what they really are right now, not what we think they will bring or chase away tomorrow.
This includes not letting other people’s feelings, perceptions and judgement make you cloud the vision of truth, which is something that you have to discover on your own by spending time in deep and careful thought. You need to be able to find out the truth about a situation and then convince yourself of its truth otherwise it will be so easy to fall back into a disappointed mindset where your mind creates images of your biggest fears.
The benefit of this approach is that you aren’t left feeling helpless against the picture of the future you painted in your disappointed state. Instead, you are armed with the truth. So you can move on with awareness and intention. The alternative is to get stuck in a rut feeling sorry for yourself over nothing more than an imagined negative future. In this way you give up control over your life to the whims of your imagination and end up wandering about aimlessly with a negative approach to things.
I learnt that removing judgement is not so much about telling myself not to feel bad, that does not work. It is however, building the discipline of seeing things as they are while resisting the temptation to predict what is not.
In short, seek the truth about where you are right now.
Forget your fears about what may or may not happen to you tomorrow.
For the future is made of who we are and what we do now.