The Pleasant/Unpleasant Rule: Use This to Cultivate A Sense of Ease When Things Seem Bad

I bet you do this.

You win an award and you think, this is good.

Or you get the biggest slice of cake and you sit back and think, this is so good.

This is pleasant

And when something untoward happens, like you get sick or your boyfriend dumps you or there’s no cake left, you label it bad.


The pleasant unpleasant rule

We all do it.

The mind’s tendency to judge things “good” or “bad” is one of its favorite and most annoying tricks.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been immersed in teaching the Doing Nothing Meditation course.ย  One of the exercises we did is to replace the words “good” and “bad,” with “pleasant” and “unpleasant.”

Let’s call it, the

the pleasant experiment

And boy does it make a difference.

The word “unpleasant” has no judgement. It’s neutral.

It’s simply stating a fact that something doesn’t feel good.

This is unpleasant

We still feel pain, but without all the judgmental mind chatter there’s an easiness.

It’s also far more accurate because how can you really tell if something is good or bad. There are countless examples of things that seem “bad” in the moment, but with hindsight we see are perfect.

Maybe there was no cake left for you. But then you decide to go to the store and get your own darn cake and on the way you run into a guy who just fell down and broke his leg so you take him to the hospital. Which now that you think about it is a whole lot more fulfilling than eating cake.

girl carrying guy

If you really want to judge what’s happening in your life, consider that you don’t have enough information.

Give yourself five or ten years and then do it.


PS: I know this seems simple, maybe you already do this. But if you don’t, give it a try. It’s something I learned over 20 years ago from Jon Kabat Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living and it’s saved my sorry ass many times.

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  1. Thanks for this reminder Lisa. Sometimes I get caught up in the judgement and forget this gentler perspective.
    I do the same switching with the “should” drive that creeps in to my life – switching “I should” to “I could” eases things and reminds me that I have choice and power.

    • It’s easy to do isn’t it. Such a human thing. Great point about the “I should’s.” They creep into my life too! But like you say, swapping them for “I could” is so much gentler. Surprising how much difference it makes.

  2. Margaret says

    I just got a notice from Amazon yesterday that your book that I preordered was canceled by the publisher. I hope that was a mistake as I was so looking forward to reading it ?

    • Hi Margaret, It’s full steam ahead with the book so that’s very odd that you got that note. The cover has recently been changed though, i wonder if that had something to do with it. But yes, it’ll be out and readable shortly, June 6. Thanks so much for letting me know! I’ll pass that on to the publisher.

  3. I love this. It feels very pleasant to me!

  4. Great post Lisa. Im trying to teach my daughter this at the moment. She’s at the age now where she’s labeling everything as good or bad and she’s also learning this at preschool. Hopefully as she gets older she will begin to understand more.
    P. S. Can’t wait for the book.

    • Thanks Damien! How interesting being a parent and seeing how early these ideas get taught, and seeing your daughter learn the “good/bad” model so early. I love thinking of her learning this other way. We can’t wait for the book either! Thanks for your support:))

  5. I loved this exercise during the course – such a great course!

    I often switch want/don’t want with would like/wouldn’t like or would prefer – helps take the urgency away from all those wants.

    It’s amazing what a simple word switch can do

    • Hey Ketra! I’ve never thought about switching out “want” – I’m going to enjoy playing with that one. Thanks so much for sharing. It is amazing what a different it can make isn’t it! And great to hear that you enjoyed the exercise and the course!

  6. Kelly Fitzgibbon says

    Love this. It made my morning more pleasant. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Crying is UNpleasant but am told it’s good for a person. What think you of this?

    • Hi Virginia,
      I love your question, thanks for asking it. I feel like something of an expert on crying having done so much of at it at one time in my life! My view is if we feel like crying, especially around some big unexpected change that we’re processing, that it’s perfectly healthy and natural thing. I don’t know that I think of it as being good or bad, more that it’s happening, so that it must be fine.

      The unpleasant idea definitely helped me. Sobbing uncontrollably in front of someone I’d just met (which i did a lot at one stage) was unpleasant. And embarrassing! A common scenario for me would be a receptionist would ask my name and I’d start crying so much I couldn’t talk, and they’d have to take me out the back. And they be so worried about me, and I’d be trying to talk between the tears to reassure them that I was fine. I used to just notice it, think that it was unpleasant to be doing it, but also have a sense that it was just a sign that something was shifting within me, and I was healing. I’d often laugh about it with my sister afterwards, but at the time it sucked.

      Hope that helps!

  8. Thanks for the share Lisa-

    I LOVE your way of explaining and your pictures are the bizz. Looking forward to putting the ‘unpleasants’ into practice. Much love x

  9. I’ve been enjoying and learning how to separate myself from my mind for a long while with your help Lisa. Only now has the penny completely dropped and with all my heart I thank the universe for sending your wisdom my way.
    I had a story in my head that said who I thought I was and how I should be. Thank you for helping me to see and be what I really am… I’m getting there.

    • I know how you feel, Fiona. I felt the same way when I learned these insights and it’s an honor and just completely special to me to be able to share them with you. Thank you so much for letting me know how you’re going. If there’s anything else I can do, please let me know! Best wishes, XX

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