What is judgment?

Ah, judgment. A thorny and uncomfortable topic for many. By definition, judgment means assessing data and coming to a measured conclusion, and we make countless judgments every day to survive and thrive, from setting an alarm when we go to bed to picking out lunch. Problems arise, however, when we judge ourselves and others too critically and too often, creating anxiety and stunting happiness.

Judging everything happening around you—including yourself—and consistently seeing the worst is called negativity bias. It’s natural and quite common. In fact, it’s programmed into our brains, a relic from our hunter/gatherer days when danger lurked around every corner. But in our modern world it no longer serves us, and it’s best to find a way to release it.

But the global pandemic has pushed judgments into overdrive about almost everything—the politician you don’t agree with, your neighbor who refuses to wear a mask, and even yourself when you’ve spent all afternoon on the couch.  

So, how do you stop making judgments that don’t serve you? The first step is noticing your judgments. Don’t beat yourself up, just acknowledge the thoughts as you have them. Once you get in the habit of observing your daily judgements, consider them through the following lenses:

  • Thoughts are just thoughts: First things first, thoughts are just that—thoughts. Just because you think something doesn’t make it true. If you have a judgement that’s not serving you, acknowledge that it was just a thought and has no power over you or your reality. By seeing your thoughts as changeable things, it becomes easier to release them.
  • Lean in on compassion: Are you giving whoever you are judging the benefit of the doubt? If you have a negative judgment, try to turn it into something positive based on compassion. And if you are already being compassionate, ask yourself if there’s a way to double down and offer even more. A good step is to gently stop your judgment and send the person loving kindness instead.  
  • Don’t forget the situation: Stressful situations can make us all act out, but when we judge ourselves and others we often make it about character and not context, forgetting that actions don’t always define a person. If you notice yourself judging, stop to consider the situation. Did you or the other person have a bad day? Were you or the other person in a stressful situation? You may also not be fully aware of what’s happening with someone else, and it’s important to acknowledge that you don’t have all the context.
  • Pick the most positive outcome: If you find yourself assuming the worst, pause and acknowledge that you are leaning into the negative. Now, find the most positive outcome of the situation and acknowledge that this too could be a reality. This may feel hard and perhaps even silly, but it will help train your mind to get out of the habit of jumping to the negative.
  • Understand it can be about you: Most of the time, when we judge others, we are actually judging an aspect of ourselves. It’s a protection mechanism to make ourselves feel better about something we think we lack. If one person in particular riles you up, stop to consider why this person triggers you. Do they have something you desire? Or, if you find yourself judging everyone for the same thing, examine why this aspect brings out your judgement. You may find you are in fact judging yourself through other people, and by recognizing this pattern, you can begin to heal.

We are all perfectly flawed human beings, and if you find yourself being judgmental, remember everyone struggles with this, and our minds are powerful, adaptive muscles, that can unlearn negative thought patterns with practice. By noticing our judgments, and considering them carefully, we can begin to track our thought patterns and build more positive habits.

Let us know what you think below and be sure to share any additional tips that have helped you.

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