In mindfulness or Yoga, we are often reminded to not…judge. I really wondered how to stop it and if it was possible at all to not judge as I seem to fail miserably, especially when it comes to judging myself for not sitting in serene inner peace while meditating.
So I did some research and thinking and found out that NO, it is not possible to not judge.
Why do we judge, and what is the role of judging? Our evolutionary brain is designed to make quick judgements as those judgements were and are essential for our survival.
Before we are conscious about having made a judgement, in split seconds our brain is computing incoming information, forming a judgement whether we are safe or not, and then this judgment appears in our mind as either an opinion or a decision we make, for example that we can safely cross the road as there is no car in sight. So far, so good.
But what about those judgements we make about others, our fellow human beings? Are they helpful too? To a certain degree, they are indeed helpful as again we need to know who is a friend and who is a foe. Fortunately, for most of us, the world has become a much safer place since we last evolved, and that is true despite the current pandemic. This does not mean that because we are safe and we do not actually need to constantly check and judge the humans in our environment that we can let go of judging.
So much to the helpful part of being able to judge. When does judging become unhelpful or even keeps us from doing what we want? It is the inner judgement that is not helpful when it goes beyond keeping us safe.
The inner judge is constantly telling us what do do, when to do what, and if all of that doing is good enough - and mostly not, that is the part we need to look at. Many of us are highly critical of themselves, either of their looks, their achievements, or often - both! We are seldom satisfied and have a good opinion of ourselves.
Cosmetic surgeons have seen an increase in the request for botox treatments as people are working online, and see their image constantly on their screen. Looking in the mirror is usually a static thing, but seeing your face in action is totally different, and accepting your looks, your wrinkles and flaws is very difficult for many.
What is the difference between self-criticism and inner judgment? Self-criticism helps us to analyse what we do and sees possibilities for improvement, inner judgement is usually negative and destructive.
In his book ‘We are our brains’, Dick Swaab explains that our brains work on automatic pilot to a great extent, and unconscious and implicit associations enable us to make countless complex decisions quickly and effectively. This was not possible if we had to consciously weigh the pros and cons of any decision we make.
The good news is that there is a small window for consideration, that is the time between unconscious judgement and acting on that judgement, unless in life threatening situations. The moment we become aware, that is conscious of the result of that unconscious computing, we can decide whether we act on whatever had been processed, we can form an opinion or we can also decide not to do anything with it but observe the inner process.
The inner judge can be transformed into an inner observer, and being aware of your inner dialogue gives you the opportunity and the choice on how to act on your emotions, and the associated thoughts. If we are afraid or threatened, we easily find the reason for our emotions outside ourselves, in somebody else which we can then blame, that is we form a judgement. It requires discipline, and awareness to guide your assessment of any situation back inside, observe what is going on. If we judge others, we lose contact with them AND with ourselves.
The awareness that we judge others make space for more honest and open interactions and the result is a deeper sense of connection. Wisdom can only grow if we are aware of our constant stream of judgements, and if we give ourselves the time to look at one thing or person from a different perspective. Interestingly, we often have a negative opinion about people who have a trait that we secretly admire. If we can be honest with ourselves, we might have an opportunity to acquire exactly that skill or trait. Or we conclude that it does not suit us, but we are free from unsolicited judgements and opinions of others.