Think of the first time you heard “don’t judge” from one of your friends or family members. It probably felt a bit odd and unfounded, as you were not even aware what you were doing was wrong. We are creatures of habit and it’s easy to fall into the bad habit of judging people. This is a short story on how I was able to fix my negative judgment of other people and myself.
At the end of 2012 I started reading Human Dynamics by Dr. Sandra Seagal and David Horne. Human Dynamics focuses on the different thought processes people have and how to create synergistic teams with the understanding that no one’s process is better, just different. Naturally I am the more subjective type and have a great difficulty viewing things from an objective view. However, being overly subjective allows for an increased empathy and relate-ability with people because I can literally feel what they feel.
When you make a decision you always use “reference points” to ground your perspective. For sales’ associates it could be “monthly sales,” for blood donors it could be “lives saved,” for a charities it could be “dollars raised.”
My emotions are my reference points. This means I have trouble separating my emotions from situations that are strategically disadvantaged to use emotional reference points because of their ungrounded nature. One second I may feel one way, the next moment I may feel another. Making professional decisions from emotional reference points is like trying to strategize for a board game with only the Spanish directions.
It’s more natural for me to make my decisions from emotional reference points. I often end up passing covert judgment on the people I speak with, and the way I feel is dependent on the subject matter we are discussing. In turn, I will involuntarily pass judgment on that person based on the emotions I feel in that moment. If I were to talk to a friend in distress I may judge them as a helpless person who needs nurturing, when in reality they could be one of the strongest people I know. This shows how emotional judgments can contain errors.
This pattern of judgment has repeated itself over my life but I’ve never had a tool to help myself overcome this issue. I was never able to understand how some people avoid passing negative judgment on others and themselves.
Don’t Judge, Just Observe
I assumed people either judged you or they didn’t. People could either turn their judgment on or off like a light switch. Until a trip in late 2012 to my Aunt’s place I could see no reconciliation to this problem.
My Aunt is a very objective person. I jokingly called her a robot with moral values because she has this amazing mental capacity to process information in an objective way, even in very emotional situations where I’d go whacko! For months she had told me “don’t judge, just observe” but it didn’t sink in until I saw how different she is compared to her husband.
She thinks, plans, does the accounting, finances, and even strategizes for the family. He focuses on his day-by-day experience, works as a longshoreman when he feels like it, and nurtures his family. She wants to build a financial support system, and he would rather go fishing with the kids. If she were to judge him, their relationship would tarnish and break after a critical amount of compounded-resentment bursts from a series of unmet expectations. Because she observes him, she can see him for his strengths and appreciate his “way of living,” giving contrast to her own.
Observing and not judging also has benefits for their kids (my cousins) who grow up in an environment where regardless of their differences; each individual has the support and freedom to be who they are. To watch this was very inspiring for me and forced my common assumptions about things like Nazi-level-cleanliness and what that says about a person.
All this is because they observe and don’t judge.
I am now able to separate my subjective judgment from my objective observations. Every conversation I have with someone, I remind myself to observe their actions and not judge them. Previously this was difficult for me, (as I would imagine it is with most people) because I wanted to project my values and motivations onto them instead of trying to understand their perspective.
I also apply this, a tremendous amount, to my internal dialog. After any conversation I have, I always reflect on what I’ve felt. The more I’ve felt, the more reflecting I do. I will often pass judgment on myself based on the emotions I feel. I am very critical of myself, so when I reflect on my feelings, most often, they will be interpreted negatively and my self-judgment follows suit. Once this cycle continues to repeat itself, I find it hard to break.
During my phase of reflection, I now focus on observing my actions and feelings that occur, rather than judging them. The two things this does for me; first, it clearly separates my emotional bias from anything I can learn from the experience and second, it allows me to extract objective lessons I can communicate to other people. As a coach this is extremely valuable.
As I increase the number of observations and lessen my judgments I am more positive and less emotionally unstable.
My aunt is truly an amazing person and taught me how to separate my emotions from my thoughts. Emotions are a subjective experience. Every time you meditate, what you feel belongs to you, just the same, as every emotional outburst you have, is yours. You are the only person who feels exactly like you do. By focusing on your observations instead of focusing on your judgment of others or self-judgment, you can be a happier, more effective, and motivated person.
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