I used to think that it was the awareness of your internal state that mattered, but in study after study, “observation” of internal state is not a significant predictor of wellbeing.⁴ No, the best meta-emotion predictor of wellbeing is a variable known as “nonjudge.”⁵
People who score low on nonjudge agree with statements like, “I tell myself that I shouldn’t be thinking the way I’m thinking” and “When I have distressing thoughts or images, I judge myself as good or bad, depending on what the thought/image is about.” People who are high on nonjudging say the opposite: When they have distressing thoughts, they simply recognize that that’s what’s happening, without judging themselves as good or bad, right or wrong. In other words, nonjudging allows you to feel what you feel, whether or not it makes sense to you, whether or not it’s comfortable, whether or not it’s what you believe you should be feeling. Nonjudging is neutrally noticing your own internal states.
I’ll illustrate this with my favorite research paper on the subject, a recent small study that looked at the role of mindfulness in people’s experience with generalized anxiety disorder.⁶ The researchers measured, among other things, participants’ anxiety symptoms and the degree of interference with daily life these symptoms caused, along with participants’ responses on the Five Factor Mindfulness Questionnaire. Two of the five factors are “observe”—noticing your internal experience—and “nonjudge”—not categorizing your internal experience as either good or bad.
So dig this: Research participants who were less affected by their symptoms did not experience lower frequency or severity of symptoms, nor were they more aware of their internal state—the “observe” factor. Nope. The people who were less impacted by their symptoms were those who were more nonjudging! In other words, it isn’t the symptoms that predict how much anxiety disrupts a person’s life, it’s how a person feels about those symptoms. It’s not how you feel—it’s not even being aware of how you feel. It’s how you feel about how you feel. And people who feel nonjudging about their feelings do better.
Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life – Emily Nagoski
Come As You Are; Ch 9 Meta-emotions: The Ultimate Sex-Positive Context — How to Let Go: Nonjudging; pg 417
- Ibid.; Van Dam, Earleywine, and Danoff-Burg, “Differential Item Function”; Baer et al., “Using Self-Report Assessment Methods”; Silverstein et al., “Effects of Mindfulness Training.” (This last paper concludes, unaccountably, that interoception—awareness of one’s body—is what made the difference, even though the “observe” factor did not change significantly and the “nonjudge” factor changed the most significantly.)