48. Stop Seeking Justification ... For All of It
Welcome to episode 48 of the Mindful Weight Loss Podcast. I am your host and your coach, Emily Erekuff and today I am talking about why it's important to stop looking for justification for your thoughts, for your emotions, and even for your actions.
And I'm sure that sounds kind of weird right. Justification, according to Google is "the action of showing something to be right or reasonable." And so wouldn't you want your thoughts, feelings, and actions to be reasonable? Surely you don't want to be unreasonable. That is defined as "not guided by or based on good sense" or as "beyond the limits of acceptability or fairness" and that definitely doesn't sound good.
But here's the thing, when we attempt to justify our thoughts, we end up being engrossed with them instead of being able to let them pass through your consciousness like clouds in the sky as so many meditators will advise you to do. The very notion of needing to justify a thought makes the thought more personal; you become more invested in it.
And so say somebody cuts in front of you in line or yells at someone, and you think "man, I'd like to punch that guy in the face." Now I agree that's not a very nice thought, but you can notice it and let it go, OR you can start judging the thought or yourself for having the thought. You might think "Oh, that's terrible. What is wrong with me?" And gosh, then your brain can have a field day giving you answers to that question.
The same thing happens with food. You see a beautiful cake in a window and think, "OMG, I would just love to eat that entire thing." You can notice that thought and let it go, or you can again start to question what's wrong with you or maybe just start harping on yourself and thinking something like, "OMG, no wonder I'm overweight" or "How am I ever going to lose weight if the idea of eating an entire cake sounds good?"
And so notice that in cases like this we are justifying the thought; we're trying to make sense of it in light of our reality and in light of what we want and who we want to be. How can we think we want to punch someone in the face when we are a nice person? How can we want to lose weight and eat an entire cake at the same time? And insodoing this we make these thoughts into problems.
But what if we could just stop demanding that our thoughts be reasonable? What if we could stop requiring that they make sense or fit into the narrative we're trying to write about ourselves? What if we could just let them be? What if we could detach from and depersonalize them and see them not as originating from us? Because really, that is the bigger issue. We identify with them. We say, "Those thoughts are MINE" and from then on we feel the need to justify them. We take ownership of them and from then on we're responsible for them.
But really, where the heck do thoughts come from? A large amount of them are probably programmed in us in childhood from our parents and society and what we're exposed to on TV. You probably only think about punching the rude guy in the nose because you've seen that in a cartoon. And so why then take credit for someone else's idea? Why bother spending any amount of time worrying about it when it's really not a reflection of who you are or want to be?
Instead of thinking of thoughts as clouds, I like to think of them as birds and I think of my attention as birdseed. And so any attention I give to a bird is like giving it birdseed and that does two things. 1. It strengthens the bird and fattens it up in the best way possible. AND 2. It encourages the bird to hang around and come back again later to see if I have more birdseed.
And remember the birdseed is my attention, whether that's good or bad attention. And so when I appreciate the beautiful birds I'm strengthening them and encouraging them to come back. But also, when I'm criticizing the birds I don't like, I'm strengthening and encouraging them too. Instead of just letting those birds pass through the yard, we get all up in arms that they are there in the first place and we throw birdseed at them to get them go go away, and then they just munch on the birdseed and hang out.
So stop trying to make your yard so perfect. You can't control which birds are going to show up. But you can control which birds will keep coming back by how much attention and birdseed you give them. So when you see one you don't like, just notice it and let that be that. You might just say "Oh, look, that's a negative thought." or "Oh, that's interesting" and that's all there is to it. Just like you don't have to own the birds in your yard, you don't have to take ownership over all the thoughts you think, just the ones you want to keep.
And now let's talk about justifying our feelings or emotions. Because feelings are not of the mind, they are therefore naturally unreasonable. They really aren't meant to be reasonable, that's not their function; their function is to get your attention.
And I want to point out the difference here between questioning and justifying. When it comes to our emotions, if we aren't sure why we are having them we can compassionately question them and try to find out what they are trying to tell us. For example, we might feel upset and ask ourselves, again compassionately, gently, why. Just as a friend might pull us aside and say, "Hey, are you ok? What's going on?" Because your friend knows that you need to express something. And how interesting when we think about the word expression. When we express something we convey meaning, but we also get it out, we expel it from ourselves. And once we get it outside of ourselves, it's so much easier to look at it, examine it and see what all the fuss is about.
And that's what Byron Katie does with her work. You notice an upsetting thought and you hold it up to scrutiny and what you generally find is that the thought usually isn't true, or you see the effect it has on you and you can more easily let it go.
But instead of gently, compassionately questioning our emotions, we tend to try to justify their very existence. We come from a place of not wanting them to be there; of resenting them, and we do either one of two things. Because we're coming from a place of resentment, we don't really listen to the emotion we're feeling and instead we just use our brains to find all the reasons we might be feeling sad let's say. And we either find numerous reasons to feel sad, that maybe weren't the original reason in the first place, and we fall down this slippery hole of sadness. Or, we conclude that there's no reason we should be sad and so that sadness just shouldn't exist. We say there's no validity to the feeling.
But neither option is good. The one programs your brain to take stock of everything wrong in your life and makes you depressed and the other doesn't make the feeling go away. And instead you end up feeling worse, because you now also feel unreasonable, bad, guilty for feeling it.
And at the end of the day, you can't get out of feeling and allowing your emotions. I mean you can suppress them, but when you do they just get bigger and uglier and they're gonna come out either way. You have to stop trying to justify them and just be with them. Your emotions are likely children who need to be seen and held. In fact there's a beautiful quote from Rumi that says "Open your hands if you want to be held."
You are a steward of this body that feels these emotions and your job isn't to deny and repress them, it's to be a tender space for everything that occurs within you. Your emotions don't require justification, only acceptance.
And now lastly, why not justify your actions. And actually, this is kind of the exception here because I do think we want to justify our actions in some sense, but first let's talk about when not to.
Bottom line: We need to stop justifying our actions to anyone else. There's a great saying, "Never explain yourself. Your friends don't need it and your enemies won't believe it." And it's like in Mary Poppins when Mr. Banks demands an explanation after the chimneysweeps have been dancing around the house and she says, "I'd like to make one thing quite clear. I never explain anything." That response always sort of mystified me when I was a kid, but I appreciate now how bold she was in that statement and how powerful it was. What was to explain if nothing was wrong?
Gosh and yet don't we try to justify or explain our own existence at times? Don't we try to lose weight to do that; to validate ourselves for taking up space; so that we can be, what, attractive? And to whom?
Whom are we trying to please and justify ourselves to?
To social media? To the world? To the scale?
Because the beautiful reality of it is that you should only be justifying your actions to you, and by you I don't mean to your ego or the inner critic who is keeping score. When I say you, I mean that thing in you that lights up when you feel love or joy. That is the only thing you should serve. In fact, really the measure of your action should never be "Is it justified?" It should be "Is it loving; is it joyful? Is it loving and joyful for you?"
We can justify all sorts of terrible things. We can justify being unhappy in our jobs because they make good money. We can justify eating just 1200 calories a day because it will make us skinny, supposedly. Heck, we can justify way worse than that.
The end never truly justifies the means because in the meantime, on the way to whatever end you have in mind, if you're sacrificing for that goal, then you are sacrificing your very life. You're sacrificing your now for your future. And your future is just an idea. It always becomes now.
So if you start to feel like you need to justify your actions to yourself; if there really is zero joy in doing the action itself, then you have to question what you are doing. In fact, trace the action back to the feeling and the thought behind the action, because there is probably something there you need to see. There is probably a thought or belief that you are acting from that doesn't really work for you.
And in fact, what does being rich or skinny really give you other than thoughts of security, success, accomplishment, or whatever. Those ends that we sacrifice our lives for are also just thoughts. And you can get rid of the middle man so to speak and just give yourself those thoughts anyway, without the outcome and without having to throw your life away.
Instead of waiting to be thin to feel proud of yourself, do something that makes you feel proud right now and revel in it. Or don't even do anything, just think a thought that creates the feeling and revel in that.
And you don't have to justify that to anyone either. We walk around thinking that we're not allowed to do things; that we're not allowed to be satisfied with who we are; that we're not allowed to want more for our lives; that we're not allowed to rest or take breaks, or care for ourselves, or leave our jobs or go for our crazy dreams or whatever. But none of that is true. You want to make REAL progress in your life and REALLY evolve? Do what you don't think you're allowed to do; do what you don't think is possible. And then you'll see that the only one who made up those rules was you and that there's a lot more that's possible than you ever thought.
So remember. Don't justify your thoughts. Don't take ownership of your thoughts. Simply feed the birds that you want to come back to your garden and let the rest pass through.
And don't attempt to justify your emotions. Hold them and gently ask them what is wrong, just like you would a child who is hurt.
And don't justify your actions; really don't justify anything to anyone. Because you don't owe anybody else a darn thing. You are here to serve the joy in you, and if you follow that you will get so far beyond weight loss, you won't even need to listen to this podcast anymore.
I said it just a few episodes back, but I'll repeat it here again because it's so good. Rumi says "whatever lifts the corners of your mouth, trust that". Please do make an intention to notice those things and follow them.
I hope you enjoyed this episode and I hope you take really, really good care of yourself, and I hope to see you next week.