We wouldn’t call someone else stupid for making a wrong turn. In fact, if we heard a friend refer to herself as “stupid” for making a wrong turn, we would assure her compassionately that we’ve all done the same thing.
Unfortunately, beating ourselves up for making everyday mistakes often becomes easy and automatic. It develops into a negative cycle of thinking: our action (took a wrong turn) leads to a consequence (late to a doctor appointment) leads to negative self-judgment (“I’m so stupid.”) perpetuating unhealthy beliefs and attitudes about ourselves.
The problem with judgments
Judgments distract us from reality. They replace the facts of a situation with fiction.
When we judge, we often stop observing and become isolated.
Judgments tend to feed negative emotions like anger, guilt, shame.
Even “positive” judgments are risky. If things can be judged “good” then the flip side is to judge things as “bad”.
Practicing mindfulness can help us have more self-compassion and less negative self-judgment!
The practice of mindfulness is to simply observe our thoughts, feelings and actions without passing judgment. By practicing mindfulness, we can create a habit of awareness to the urge to self-judgment, replacing that self-judgment with compassion.
With mindfulness we can notice, with gentle curiosity, our thoughts and our internal dialogue, even if it is filled with self-doubt and negative speak.
The point of taking a nonjudgmental stance is to give ourselves an opportunity to observe the same old things that we always observe in our thoughts when it comes to self-judgment and open ourselves to thinking about things in a different way.
So if I withhold my urge to self-judgment, and simply observe it with a curious mind, it is easier to let the thought go, allowing me to replace it with self-compassion thinking.
Skill Builder: How to take a non-judgmental stance with mindfulness…
Step 1: Practice noticing judgments by labeling them as judgments.
“I am so stupid that I took a wrong turn and was late to my doctor appointment.”
(I am noticing the urge to self-judgment has just passed through my mind!)
Step 2: Ask yourself, “Is judging effective in this situation?”
“No. It just made me upset and nervous at my appointment. I’m not usually late. And I don’t usually make wrong turns.”
Step 3: Replace judgments with statements of facts.
“I made a wrong turn. I was late to my appointment.”
Step 4: Practice accepting what is (facts, preferences, consequences) and let the judgments drift away.
“I was late. I can’t change that fact. I prefer to arrive early or on time for my appointments. Next time, I can leave earlier so I have extra time in case I take a wrong turn, run into traffic or there is construction.”
Step 5: Notice the urge to judge your judging!
“The judge in my head wants me to feel bad about not being ‘perfect.’ That somehow I am a failure as a human if I fail in any way, even something so trivial in the grand scheme of things as taking a wrong turn.”
Step 6: Repeat steps one through five as needed!
Kym Hansen-Duell, LMSW, ACSW is a licensed social worker at the Pine Rest Traverse City Clinic. Kym has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Central Michigan University and a Master of Social Work from Grand Valley State University. She is a member of the National Association of Social Workers and the Academy of Certified Social Workers. Kym is available to speak at community events on topics such as ADHD, depression, parenting, family issues and workplace stress.