Isn’t it annoying when people say, “Quit being judgmental”? It’s probably because they want you to see something that matches their perspective. Unless you are playing a game or willingly answering questions that challenge your opinions and beliefs, the request to stop being so judgmental is one of the most irritating things someone can ask for.
“Quit being so judgmental” is like the request, “Can’t you see outside of the box?” You have “a box” in your brain that defines how you interpret your experiences that is hard to see beyond for a good reason. Your “box” defines who you think you are and how the world works so you can function without questioning everything you do. If you didn’t have your box, it would be difficult to get out of bed every morning. From opening your eyes to closing them at the end of the day, you are making micro-decisions almost every moment. It would be paralyzing to have to think through each choice and action. Therefore, most of your decisions are made subconsciously. You activate conscious analysis when uncertainty is apparent, fear is escalating, or you are conflicted by your temptations.
Because you unconsciously act based on the perspective within your box, your thoughts, words, and actions are full of judgment. Your brain instantly discerns right from wrong, good from bad, and safe from dangerous based on your past experiences—what you have been taught and what you have discovered from what we have read, heard, or seen. This makes you judgmental.
You are a judgy, biased person by human nature.
Generally, you make judgments with no intent to be malicious. Your brain wants you to choose to feel relatively safe and intact. Fear, defensiveness, and anger are meant to protect you. Assessing and discounting others is more often an unconscious reaction than a hurtful choice.
To judge is human. To see beyond the box, you must recognize your judgments, beliefs, and biases, and then forgive yourself for being human so you can see what else could be real and true.
To release judgment, you must accept you are judgmental
How can you disturb your preset notions to see your situations and problems as new? When you have the urge to advise, categorize others, or negatively judge what you hear or see, how can you notice and return to being fully and compassionately present?
Behavioral researcher Dr. Richard Boyatzis says, “You must see your box before you can see outside of it.” You have to discern your assumptions and beliefs. The steps are to:
- Notice you are having an emotional reaction. Judgment, disgust, irritation, and fear show up in your body. Do you feel your judgment in your stomach, chest, or neck? Set your phone to alarm three times a day and ask yourself what you are feeling. The faster you can catch your reaction, the quicker you can choose to feel patient, accepting, or curious. You can download a template here to help track your emotional states.
- Listen to the stories you are telling yourself about others. How do you know what you think is true? Years ago, I read an article about a study where they researched people’s level of disgust for others. The beauty of the article was the follow-on study where they paired the disgusted people with objects of their disgust. They were instructed to share stories about their families, their upbringing, their struggles, and their joys. The ending is totally predictable. When we listen to people’s stories, we realize how similar we all are. Disgust melts into empathy. Intolerance decreases.
- To change your thoughts, choose what you want to feel. It is difficult to change how you feel when you are stuck in your emotions. If you can recall something or look at a picture of someone you are grateful for or something that makes you laugh, you might open your mind to a new perspective. Then you can choose to look at other people with compassion, wonder, and care.
Vincent van Gogh said, “Let’s not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives, and we obey them without realizing it.” It’s not about stopping your reactive brain. It’s what you do after you react and judge that makes you a great leader, parent, friend, or human.
I am writing this post while riding in a high-speed train in China. The train is full of people different from me. The man next to me talks too loudly on his phone, encroaches on my space, and makes me jump over his legs to go to the bathroom. Yet when I struggled with figuring out the power outlet, he reached over to do it for me. His smile melted the frame of my box. As I looked around the train at my fellow travelers, I realized that if I knew their stories, I might be fascinated, amused, heartbroken, or delighted beyond my quick assessments.
If you catch yourself judging others, can you step back and think about what stories the person might share? What fears, dreams, hopes, and disappointments might they be experiencing? Or better yet, can you ask them?
When you want others to stop judging, start with yourself. If we all judged a little less, we would make a great contribution to our chaotic world.
For more tips, check out Outsmart Your Brain, 2nd Edition: How to Master Your Mind When Emotions Take the Wheel.
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