How Becoming Less Judgemental Could Change your Life
Have you ever analysed your thoughts to see how judgemental they are? You may be shocked about how often you pass judgement. Myself and a friend (a psychologist) are trying an experiment at the moment on trying to be less judgemental. I can tell you I struggle at times, but I know it’s worthwhile. Like most things, it’s just a habit that we can work on and change. I’m finding that I have to realign my thoughts – on a daily basis – so that they are less judgemental and more accepting of myself and others.
Stopping the cycle of judgment is likely to make us happier, kinder people, so I’m going to continue on my quest. In fact, psychologists suggest that it may even impact on how healthy we are, both mentally (research shows lower rates of depression in those who are less judgemental) and physically (we tend to make better choices when we feel a greater degree of acceptance of others and ourselves).
Have you ever noticed that when you’re being particularly harsh, you are also more likely to feel tired and overwhelmed (a chicken and egg scenario)? It’s not surprising that all those negative thoughts – turned inwards or outwards – take up a lot of emotional energy and leave us feeling depleted or even sick.
How Does it Come about?
Someone says or does something that we don’t like. We pass judgement on it. We become angry, or disappointed or resentful. Yet have we stopped to try to understand that person and why they might say or do those things?
Unfortunately, social media and the media in general have cajoled us into a particularly nasty form of judgement, one where someone is judged solely on their appearance or trashed publicly for the choices they make. Yet our children and teens aren’t really aware that most of the images they’ve seen have been photoshopped.
And don’t get me started on that nasty trend of ‘exposing’ celebs for their cellulite/wrinkles/muffin-top – it might make us feel better about our own shortcomings in the short-term, but really? Is this what it takes to feel good – trashing someone else? Hopefully our children can learn to view all this with a largely cynical eye, but only if we teach them to.
But What’s the Harm?
Being judgmental can close off learning and put invisible barriers in place – consider how a ‘bitching session’ with friends – about others on your radar – rather than making you feel connected with friends, actually makes you feel more isolated and depressed than anything. It puts an end to compassion and understanding, and closes off horizons so that we end up living with a very limited world view. We do it to feel safer and more secure, but it often leads to us worse; self-criticism, negative thinking and paralyzing self-doubt. An inner voice that performs a running commentary on someone else’s faults and failings, or our own, is hugely damaging.
The only antidote is to start finding self-compassion for yourself, as this will help you to accept the flaws in others. Studies show that meditation can help improve self-compassion. But this doesn’t have to be formal in method; it could be simply spending quiet time, alone – in nature or just lying on your bed and thinking positive thoughts about yourself and others.
6 Steps to Becoming Less Judgemental:
1. Depersonalize it: when someone disagrees with us or in some way appears to be making our life difficult, remember that it’s usually not about us at all. It’s much more likely to be about their own pain or struggles. As Will Smith once said: “Never underestimate the pain of a person because, in all honesty, everyone is struggling. Some people are better at hiding it than others.”
2. Stop being so hard on yourself: have you ever noticed that the most judgemental people are often also incredibly hard on themselves? Leading shame expert and author Brene Brown, in her book Daring Greatly, comments on this: “We judge people in areas where we’re vulnerable to shame, especially picking out folks who are doing worse than we’re doing”.
Brene suggests: “Feel good about you. If I feel good about my parenting, I have no interest in judging other people’s choices. If I feel good about my body, I don’t go around making fun of other people’s weight or appearance. We’re hard on each other because were using each other as a launching pad out of her own perceived deficiency.”
3. Slow down: try to catch yourself before you speak. You can’t get your words back. Pause. See if you can understand where the person may be coming from. We don’t know the reasons for someone’s behaviour; try to give them the benefit of the doubt where possible. Don’t act until you’ve given it some thought (with a healthy dose of compassion to yourself and to the other person involved).
4. Be curious: curiosity can be a great tool for overcoming a judgemental attitude. When you would normally think judgemental thoughts, instead replace them with curiosity about an aspect of someone’s behaviour that you don’t understand. Strive to be more curious, open-minded and accepting of another person – it actually makes you feel really good!
You could try thinking: “It’s actually very interesting that they said that; I wonder where that comes from? I wonder what happened to them in the past that made them react that way?” Or if, for example, someone pushes passed you in a queue, instead of judging them to be very rude, consider that they may be stressed or be late for an appointment. You may not approve of their behaviour, but you could try to understand rather than judge it.
5. See the similarities: remember, we are more alike than than we think. When I feel critical of someone, I try to remind myself that the other person loves their family just like I do, and wants to be happy and free from pain or struggle, just like I do. That person also messes up and makes plenty of mistakes, just like I do.
6. Is it just close to the bone? Look at your own behaviour; sometimes, we may be judging someone for something that we do ourselves, or have done.
For example, the next time you find yourself yelling at someone for poor driving while you’re in the car, or being furious by someone’s off-hand, thoughtless comment, try asking yourself, “Have I ever driven badly?” or “Have I ever said anything insensitive, without thinking?” Of course you have – we all have! Because we all share one thing – we’re human!
There you have it, 6 Steps to Becoming Less Judgemental. Pick one of the tips to try this weekend. See how you get on, be honest and review your performance on Monday morning. If it goes well then take another step on board and try that out. Before long you’ll have the steps fully embedded and you’ll be well on the way to becoming less judgemental and happier to boot.