How to be less judgmental of yourself and others.
A few weeks ago I was sitting down with my friend Vanessa having some tea and she told me a brief story.
Vanessa was waiting for some friends in front of a Chinese restaurant. She noticed a homeless man sitting on a curb in the parking lot. Her friends were running a bit late so she decided to walk back to her car and read a little from a book she’d left in there.
On her walk back the gentlemen on the curb asked if she had a dollar or possibly some change she could spare so he could grab a bite to eat. She only had plastic on her that evening but told the man she would check in her car and be right back.
As she got to her car she noticed a spare dollar and a little change in one of the drink holders. She grabbed it and walked back towards the man and handed it to him. It was hard to see his grin under his beard but it was clear he was thankful.
As she walked back to her car to read while waiting for her friends she told me she couldn’t help but think that he was probably going to walk across the street to the liquor store to buy a beer or some other alcoholic beverage.
She felt terrible for thinking that’s how he was going to spend the money but she just couldn’t help it, her mind went right there.
Her friends showed up a few minutes later and they went into the restaurant to enjoy dinner. The gentlemen on the curb were still sitting there with the dollar and change she had given to him. Her mind still envisioned him buying booze with the money, but oh well, she thought.
About 30 to 40 minutes into her dinner with friends she noticed the gentlemen from the curb walking into the restaurant. She was a little surprised and wondered what he was doing in there. He approached the hostess. Vanessa could see his lips moving as he must have said something to her.
The hostess walked away and was gone for a few moments as the gentlemen sort of paced back and forth anxiously. She returned and handed the gentlemen a styrofoam container and he extended his arm to hand her a few dollars and some change. She waved her hands back and forth in what seemed like a “no thank you gesture,” but the gentlemen placed the dollars and loose change on the hostess stand, dipped his head, and proceeded to leave the restaurant.
My friend was a little confused but carried on with her dinner. As she left with her friends she approached the hostess and asked her what he bought. The hostess said “Cho Mein? He comes in a couple of times a week and always orders Cho Mein. We told him we’re happy to just give him a container for free but he insists on paying for it.”
My friend got the goosebumps and walked out of the restaurant feeling a little terrible about herself for assuming he was going to buy alcohol with the money she had given to him.
On her way out she saw the man on the curb eating Cho Mein.
WHY WE’RE JUDGMENTAL
There’s a difference between making judgments and being judgmental. We have to make thousands of judgments each day to function. In his book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, author Brian Wansink tells us that we make over 200 decisions related to food alone.
Making judgments is something that we need to do in order to stay alive. These decisions help to shape our lives from our health to wealth, and personal relationships. Some of these judgments may seem insignificant like whether to have regular or decaf coffee, what tie to wear, or whether or not to bring or buy our lunch today.
Some of these judgments are huge, like whom to marry, what house to purchase, or if you should jump ship on one job for another or maybe even start your own business.
The judgments you make can help foster positive relationships and let go of toxic ones. They can also help you avoid crises and develop strategies to overcome obstacles.
When we make these decisions we’re acknowledging differences, skills, talents, objects, and people. All of these things are important when it comes to helping us make the best decisions for ourselves.
Psychologist Gregg Henriques refers to being judgmental as “constantly viewing others through evaluative lenses.”
When I think about being judgmental in my past I think about times when I was overly critical of myself or someone else and either getting a kick out of making negative moral assessments or feeling just awful about myself personally for jumping to such conclusions(this is more often the case and I’m sure the same for most of you).
Being judgmental has become somewhat of a knee jerk reaction; a habit that we don’t really even think about it.
It’s become as natural and mindless as tying our shoes or the route we take to work. We’re constantly judging ourselves and others based on things like looks, behaviors, careers, clothes, and even food choices without even realizing it most of the time.
When we do catch ourselves it’s often too late because the act has become so habitual. A great example of this is when someone cuts you off on the freeway. We’ve all been cut off before and immediately jumped to the conclusion that the person that just cut us off is an asshole.
Yet, we’ve ALL cut someone off before except when we did it we were just in a rush right?
WHAT DOES IT MEAN IF SOMEONE IS JUDGEMENTAL?
When you hear the word judgmental you almost always view it in a negative light. It’s used to describe someone that rushed to judgment without reason. But another way to see it is someone that forms many opinions – sometimes harsh or critical – but other times objective and helpful.
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH A JUDGMENTAL PERSON?
How we judge others is how we judge ourselves so first, make sure it’s not you. Are you actually judging them or yourself? The way you measure yourself is the way you measure others and think how others measure you.
For example, if you value your money and possessions you’ll judge others on their money and posessions. If you value health and fitness, you’ll judge others on their health and fitness. If someone values family and relationships, they’ll judge others based on their family and relationships.
Everyone has their own values so there will always be judgment, It’s inevitable. If you are in a conversation with someone and find they are being judgemental, use it as an opportunity to learn – not to prove your point. Their judgments are telling you everything you need to know about them and what they value. Instead of saying something, ask a question.
WHY WE PASS JUDGMENTS
The judgments we make on ourselves or others are often related to simply not understanding. We’re just not making an effort to get to know someone or something before deciding what we believe to be a definitive answer or fact.
Jumping to conclusions or passing judgments has become a part of our culture. It’s now simply something that we just do every day.
Why we judge:
- A way to bond with others (gossip)
- Insecurities and general unhappiness with ourselves
- Scared, intimated, or jealous of someone or something
- We want to see a change in our own life that someone else may be or already has experienced.
- Helps us make decisions (sometimes it helps sometimes it gets in the way)
Psychologist Jonathan Haidt says that it helps us as individuals to operate cohesively within society.
By doing so we are operating in a “tit for tat,” or “do unto others…” mentality. This is one way for us to successfully operate as an individual in a group atmosphere and a way to hold each other accountable.
In a sense, when we know we are constantly judging ourselves or someone else might be judging us it may help to keep us accountable for our own actions. I’d say for the most part this rings true but in some instances, it doesn’t depend on the environment and certain circumstances.
BEING JUDGMENTAL AND SOCIAL COMPARISON THEORY
Another way that you may pass judgment on yourself or others is through social comparison theory.
Social comparison theory (AKA: Stacking up with the Jones’s) states that your own self-worth is based on how you feel you stack up with or against others.
This is often done on various levels:
An important thing to remember here is something we’ve talked about in the past and that is our “behind the scenes.”
Everyone’s life looks better on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc… but the truth is you never really know what is going on behind the scenes in someone’s life.
Social comparison or this “rating system” is something that happens automatically and out of habit as a way to help define who we are or how we stack up. In a way, it helps to give us an identity, whether good or bad.
As human beings, we like things being measured or definitive (1). If it’s not good it’s bad, fast or slow, pretty or ugly, smart or dumb, less than or greater than, better or worse, richer or poorer, etc…
However, judging ourselves against others is the fastest way to anxiety and stress.
Instead of using social comparisons, it’s best to use self to self-assessments.
- Have you been more consistent with one of the habits in the Busy Person’s Fitness Guide this week than you were last week?
- Are you looking a little more dapper today than yesterday because of some wardrobe changes you made?
- Are your relationships a bit stronger today than yesterday because of the emphasis you’re making on communicating?
Most social comparisons and judgments are made because in some form or fashion you’re not 100% happy with who you are. Now it may not be possible to be completely happy with the person that you are but I do believe it is very possible to be happy with the progress that you’re making towards becoming the person that you’ve always wanted to be.
HOW TO MAKE BETTER JUDGMENTS AND BE LESS JUDGMENTAL
1. Wear their shoes
Not literally of course, unless you feel that will really help. Actually, the odds that you’ve worn their shoes before is pretty high. I’m sure you’ve been stuck in a traffic jam, had a rough morning, got yelled at by your boss, had your kids drive you nuts, got in a fight with your significant other, etc… Remember what that was like and how it may have influenced your day?
If you haven’t shared a smiler experience with someone imagine what it might feel like and how it could affect your day and those closest to you.
But what if someone just gives you the finger, cuts you off, curses you, or just gives you some attitude why you’re trying to buy a cup of coffee?
Pretend! I’m serious, pretend that something has gone wrong in their day. You don’t have to excuse anyone’s behavior but just give them a smile and let me know how it makes you feel.
It is important to remember that we are limited in our understanding of another person’s life by our own range of experience. As the proverb goes, “don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes (2).
2. Cultivate Curiosity
Unfortunately, it’s very easy for us to fall for them, they don’t look like me, dress like me, act like me, have the same goals as me, so I don’t want to get to know them. Also known as “first impression syndrome.”
In their book Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, authors Mahzarin Banajai and Anthony Greenwald discuss how we have a natural tendency to jump to conclusions about people based on first impressions, specifically looks. They even have a test for it
Challenge your judgments by getting to know someone. Usually, a simple introduction and a few general questions can create a world of a difference. If possible, turn a general how do you do into a coffee meet-up or even better a game of mini-golf and really get to know someone.
Society is quick to evaluate, criticize, and place a label on people. Instead of trying to “diagnose” who we think people are let’s actually communicate with them.
I feel like anyone I’ve ever actually taken the time to get to know I end up having something in common with. From there a connection is born.. building bridges baby 🙂
3. Stop blaming others
On a personal level, I’ve found that I am my most judgmental and least happy self when I am blaming others. When I acknowledge that my circumstances are because of the choices I’ve made I’m at my happiest and least judgmental.
4. Have more experiences
There’s not a ton I can write here because there’s an entire article already dedicated to how important our experiences are. Whenever I am doing new things and creating awesome experiences the last thing I think about is judging myself or others.
5. Crowd em out
When you make judgments that create pain or hurt be aware of them but quickly follow them up with a positive judgment. Eric Barker tells us that you can crowd out those hurtful judgments by focusing on projecting good judgments on ourselves and others.
6. Watch for universal judgments
Just because you may judge yourself or someone else as inferior in some aspect doesn’t mean that it holds true across the board.
Athletics, intelligence, social skills, music, art, school, certain work; each of us has unique talents and skills and some are better than others in certain fields.
Books smarts might not be someone’s thing but they could have a high Emotional Intelligence. Just because you or someone may struggle or be great in one field doesn’t mean that it will hold true across the board.
7. Speak only in observations
In his book, Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life, Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D. suggests that we distinguish between observations and evaluations.
Evaluations use words like stronger, better, and smarter – and phrases like he is angry, you did it wrong, or you’re being lazy. They are often subject to personal opinion. However, evaluations are a necessary part of life as they allow us to decide if the bathwater is too hot or if we should wash the car or not. Problems arise when we begin treating these evaluations as definitive facts.
Observations are something that we can see, touch, or hear. It’s either happening or it’s not. For example, someone is either yelling at you or they’re not. They’re either hitting you or they’re not.
We do this do ourselves as well:
- I’m so stupid
- I have no discipline
- I can’t get motivated
Rosenberg suggests checking in with yourself while passing judgments to see if you are making evaluations and treating them as facts or if you are actually observing something.
- Clearly state what you see
- Apply what you see with regards to the context of the situation
- Express your feelings rather than your thoughts
8. Person vs. The situations
If someone cuts in front of you in line at the grocery store what is your initial thought? That the person is rude right? However, if we’re the ones to do it we most likely have a justified reason (hurry, late for something, only one item, didn’t even know we cut in line).
We often define a person’s (or our own) personality based on one small action or behavior. Let’s ask ourselves how knowledgeable we are about what is actually going on before jumping to conclusions before defining who someone is.
There’s a little quote I really like and I wish I knew who said it. “If you’re going to judge, judge the sin and not the sinner.”
JUDGMENTAL: FINAL THOUGHTS
Becoming nonjudgmental should not be the goal. Judgments are a very important part of life but I do think all of us can get inherently better at it and learn to be a little less judgmental when it comes to ourselves and others.
With any change, you are trying to make it’s really important to realize that it’s going to take time. If being a less judgmental person is a goal of yours it will take a little elbow grease and practice.
But keep at it and don’t be afraid to keep learning and making adjustments along the way.
Are you more judgmental of yourself or others?
Has anyone passed judgment on you and how did it make you feel?
I’d love to hear in the comments below.