Being my own witness

I’ve spent most of my life judging myself. So lately I’ve tried observing myself instead. Observing lets me be my own nonjudgmental witness. You can observe yourself too by noting what you do and how you feel.

For example, if you drink a Red Bull, your observation would be, “I am drinking a Red Bull.” After the Red Bull, if you feel energetic, your observation would be, “I feel energetic after drinking a Red Bull.” If you feel tired and irritable after that, your observation would be, “I felt energized after drinking a Red Bull, but now I feel tired and irritable.”

Notice how observations describe the facts of what we do and feel, not our evaluations or judgments of what we do and feel. Also notice how clear this particular lesson becomes through observation: Drinking Red Bull led to energetic feelings, and then to irritable feelings.

Observing myself is the most instructive thing I’ve ever done.

Here are some things I am learning through observation:

When I go to sleep without alcohol, caffeine, Tylenol PM, or other sleep disturbers in my system, I get 1–2 hours of deep sleep and 1–2 hours of REM sleep, as measured by my Fitbit. Let’s call this “quality sleep” for the purpose of this note.

When I go to sleep with sleep disturbers in my system, I get less than 1 hour of both deep sleep and REM sleep. In other words, I do not get quality sleep.

Without quality sleep, I witness myself feeling irritated, frustrated, and overwhelmed more regularly. I also notice myself smiling and joking less, and focusing more on things I cannot control.

But with quality sleep, I witness myself feeling less irritated, frustrated, and overwhelmed. Instead, I feel calmer and safer. I also notice myself smiling and joking more, and focusing more on things I can control.

Exercising has a similar effect on me. I exercise by walking for 20 minutes twice a day.

When I combine quality sleep with exercise, I feel more pleasant and enthusiastic. Add uninterrupted reading time, writing time, and meditation to the mix, and you’ll find me even more inspired.

Do you observe yourself? What have you learned or what can you learn by being your own witness?

Do you want to start observing yourself? Start by writing down your behaviors and feelings. See what you learn over time!

P.S. Here’s a list of feelings if you want help describing how you feel. You can find a similar list on pages 75–76 of Do Better Work.

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