5 Steps to Be Less Judgmental

by Joanna Kleinman

I will admit it. I hate how judgmental I can be. But, the truth is that human beings are judgment making machines.

judgementalEven those human beings who proclaim they are not at all judgmental, they too have judgments. How many times have you formed an opinion of someone before you really got to know them? How many times have you felt judged by someone who doesn’t really know or understand you?

Most of our judgments of others come from fear. You see, the judgments that we have are all connected to what we have determined is the right way to be, the right way to live life, and the right things in life to value. Therefore, all of our judgments are somehow attempts to reinforce that we are “right” about the way we live.

We need to be “right”, because if we are wrong, it makes us feel like we are flawed in some way. And because it is difficult and scary to look at your flaws, and easier to find flaws in others, we automatically try to feel good by finding flaws in others. For example, if I pride myself on being a “free spirit”, I may have a judgment about someone who is very organized and methodical in her life. Even though being a “free spirit” might come with the price of disorganization, I might say to myself, “she needs to loosen up and have a little spontaneity!” Someone who prides themselves on being organized and methodical might say, “how can she live her life being so disorganized and unprepared?” Even though her organization might come with the price of anxiety, she will continue to have a negative opinion of others who don’t value what she values. The judgments that we have can teach us a lot about ourselves. In order to be less judgmental, we have to have a willingness to examine ourselves.

Here are 5 steps to being less judgmental:

1.  Be willing to admit that you have an ideal version of yourself and your world that is YOUR creation, and your judgments of yourself and others are reflections of trying to live up to your ideal standards. Your ideal version of yourself may not have to be “perfect”, but somehow your ideal is different than who you are now and the life you are currently leading. We judge others because we feel so much better when we project our flaws and short comings onto someone else. But the reality is If I have to feel better than you to feel good about myself than how can I really see myself? If I am so busy judging others in order to find peace and happiness, is that really going to make me feel the way that I want to feel, or will I just continue in the spiral of judgment, fluctuating between judging myself and feeling badly, and judging others to make myself feel better.

2.  Remember that ALL human beings are judgment making machines, and stop trying to control others’ judgments of you. What percentage of the day are you in your head thinking about you and your life? 95%? 97%? It may even be as high as 99.9%. And when you are judging someone else, how long do you think your judgment stays in your mind before you are right back to thinking about yourself? A few seconds? That is what everyone else is doing too: Focusing on themselves 99% of the time, and perhaps having a fleeting judgment that may occupy their mind for ½ a second. It is these judgments that we spend a great deal of emotional energy trying desperately and mercilessly to control: the ones that someone MAY have about us for ½ a second before they are back to focusing on themselves. We spend most of our emotional energy trying to become our ideal self because we think that this will prevent us from experiencing judgment and criticism, and will finally give us the inner peace we crave. It is literally a complete waste of energy, but unfortunately what occupies most of our mind is attempts to fix, control, or improve ourselves. If you didn’t need to prove anything to anyone, and there was nothing that you needed to change about yourself and your life, would you find it easier to not judge others? Is it possible that if you look deep enough, that all your judgment is connected to yourself, your life, and feeling things don’t look exactly the way that you want them to?

3. Stop comparing yourself to others: Insecurity, anxiety and depression are common in our society, and most of this is due to self-judgment, to beating ourselves up when we feel we aren’t “winning” the game of life, but this whole notion of what it means to win is a product of what and who we say we need to be. Therefore, we often compare ourselves to how others are living their lives, to see if we are actually “winning.” The result of this comparison thinking is that millions of people need pharmaceuticals every day just to cope with life. We think if we achieve our ideal standards, we will feel how we want to feel. But, the truth is that our self judgments cause a war within our minds. We don’t make ourselves feel better by judging others. Instead, our judgments of others feed our judgments of ourselves. We make ourselves feel insecure and inadequate, and then we judge others to lessen the inner discomfort that we feel.

4. Don’t expect life to go the way you always want it to go. We are a culture obsessed with “feeling good”. But this desire to always feel good breeds a habit of criticizing ourselves harshly when we do not feel the way we want to feel. Why do we have this unrealistic expectation that we should always feel good and that life should always go the way that we want it to? The truth about life is that it is unrealistic to expect that life should always go how we want it to. The more we can embrace the unpredictability of life, not get down on ourselves for our where our life doesn’t look like the ideal, and learn to accept who we are, the less self judgment we will inflict upon ourselves. When we are less judgmental of ourselves, we have more of an ability to accept other people’s flaws as well.

5. Practice self compassion: Having self compassion means understanding that being human is to struggle with feelings of inadequacy, and trying to feel better by finding the faults and flaws of others to feel better about ourselves may work momentarily, but is not a permanent solution to feel good about ourselves. People are afraid to be self compassionate because they are afraid that they need an inner critic to keep them strong or on track. If they listen to the criticisms of the inner critic, this will help them to fix their shortcomings and ensure that they will feel good about themselves. But instead, this only leads to more emotional suffering. When we practice self compassion, we feel more at peace within ourselves, and can have more compassion for others who may be struggling with inadequacy too, rather than finding fault with them.