5 Steps to Ending Judgment

When we have the intention of becoming mindful, the attitude we bring into it is an essential ingredient. We can’t just have the idea that mindfulness is healthy somehow and sit down to do it, following a set of instructions, thinking it won’t work but expecting it to anyway. Spoiler alert: It won’t work. Our state of mind matters. Attitude determines whether anything we set out to do will be successful or not. One might argue that a person’s state of mind is, in itself success or failure.

In his book, Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn outlines the 7 Attitudes of Mindfulness. These are Non-Judging, Patience, Beginner’s Mind, Trust, Non-Striving, Acceptance, and Letting Go. These 7 Attitudes are guidelines intended to reduce stress, increase joy, and support positive self-improvement. We have explored several of these on this blog previously, but today I would like to focus specifically on Non-Judging.

Judgment of Ourselves

When your inner Mean Girl starts to pipe up and tell you where you are failing or why you can’t do something, this is when you are judging yourself. Especially when you are facing something difficult or unfamiliar. Suddenly words like “can’t”, “hard”, “busy”, or “won’t” start to flood our consciousness. We look in the mirror and notice every flaw, we start to wonder who we think we are to try something so audacious, or we judge ourselves unworthy to associate with the people we aspire to. We judge ourselves more harshly than anyone else ever could.

Experiences may also be judged and labeled as “good” or “bad”. This party is “good” because our friends are there and it is upbeat. This meeting is “bad” because everyone is arguing. In truth, it is not the experience itself that is good or bad, it is our judgment of it that makes it seem that way. Another person standing right beside you may have a completely different judgment, and so a different experience. It isn’t the situation that changed, it was the mindset.

There is no better example of how we judge ourselves than when in meditation. First, we have only ourselves and our thoughts when we sit quietly. It’s the reason why meditation is scary for many people. Who wants to sit around with someone who judges us so harshly? Second, meditation itself can seem difficult and become another area to judge ourselves on. “I can’t control my thoughts, so I’m no good at this.” Or, we start to label each thought that crosses our consciousness. “Good thought. Bad thought. Wait, I’m not supposed to be thinking at all! I’m terrible at this.”

Judgment of Others

Speaking of labeling, you may be surprised at how often you label everything you come across in your outside life as well. We tend to think of things in terms of “good” and “bad” or neutral. The things that are neutral don’t stay with us long. These are uninteresting to us, so fade into the background. Our friends are good. People who disagree with us are bad. These are the things that focus our minds.

It’s when the unexpected happens that we are thrown for a loop. When our friend does something unspeakable and suddenly gets recategorized from “good” to “bad”; or the person we disagree with turns out to be not so bad once we get to know them is when we understand that judgments may not have been accurate. The people didn’t change, our perception of them did. Unfortunately, our perception of the world is fairly limited and it is the only thing we can base our judgments on. Our perception only includes that which we know. My daughter is fond of saying, “You don’t know it until you know it.” Keeping that in mind, are any judgments fair?

To be clear, judgments can be useful in situations where you might be in danger. In this case, err on the side of caution and remove yourself from any location or social setting where you get a gut feeling that something is not right. Don’t second guess yourself if a red light starts flashing in your head. Intuition and judgment are very similar things and until you can feel the difference, it is better to keep yourself safe and risk judging someone unfairly than to endure potentially serious consequences.

5 Steps to Ending Judgment

Judging every detail that crosses our path decreases our enjoyment of the present moment. When we label things, we put expectations on them which takes us out of the present. Suddenly these things become tainted with our expectation rather than simply being what they are. Judgment may serve a purpose in keeping us safe, but many times it simply causes us, and those around us, unnecessary grief. So how do we get rid of judgment?

  1. Be aware of automatic judgments. “Hiking in nature is good.” “Jury duty is bad.” Take ten minutes and notice how often you make judgments. Look outside at your neighbor’s house, or around in your own living room. What observations can you make? Are you merely observing objectively or are you judging?
  2. Stop “Shoulding”. When we harbor expectations about an experience, a person, or ourselves, we take ourselves out of the present moment and perceive the situation through the “should” instead of looking at it clearly. If we think we “should” be able to meditate for 5 minutes without thoughts popping up, we judge ourselves harshly when thoughts pop up. If the “should” isn’t there, thoughts merely come and go like clouds without decreasing our enjoyable experience.
  3. Stop wasteful thinking. Don’t use weasel words like “can’t,” “try,” or “have to.” When you say you will “try” to do something, it leaves the door open for maybe not being able to accomplish the said thing. “I will finish my housework this morning,” sounds more like something that will get done, right? Don’t say, “I have to do housework today.” Instead, say “I get to do housework today.” That sounds like you are grateful for having a house to clean, rather than resentful about cleaning it.
  4. Practice being impartial. Rather than feeling that you have to judge everything today, sit quietly for a few minutes and simply practice observing without partiality. Remember that things aren’t good or bad, they just are. We decide whether they are good or bad. Let things be without feeling the need to judge them. It might surprise you how hard this is. Being aware is the first step. Now you will notice your tendency to judge!
  5. Don’t judge your tendency to judge. When you do catch yourself judging your circumstances, yourself, or people around you, simply observe that you are judging and let it pass neutrally. Be wary of being judgy about judging!

If you find this useful, there’s a good chance your friends will, too. Share this with your friends right away while you are thinking of it. Thanks for reading!

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