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September 16, 2021

How to Switch from Judgment to Curiosity—& Why it Matters.

 

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I have a pretty active “judge” living inside of my head.

She is pretty stoic and a pain in my ass.

She isn’t particularly flexible and her expectations are insane half the time.

She’s half slave driver, half arrogant asshole.

In my journey, I have also come to know many like myself. So many of us have found ourselves underneath the weight of our own or someone else’s expectations and judgment.

For the purpose of clarity (and curiosity), I checked in with the Cambridge Dictionary for an exact definition of judgement. It is “the ability to make decisions or to make good decisions, or the act of developing an opinion, especially after careful thought.” (Cambridge Dictionary, 2019)

Even the definition of the word is laden with language of expectation.

While making decisions is a necessary component of life, labeling them good or bad sets us up to fail almost immediately. This type of labeling creates a state of negative evaluation—both of ourselves and others.

It is also something that is becoming more and more prevalent in our world today. As the speed of life continues to accelerate, utilizing judgment templates can be tempting for simplicity’s sake alone. Unfortunately, slipping back into archaic patterns is not helpful when it comes to problem-solving, advocacy, and change.

Despite this fact, taking a judgmental stance has also worked for me at different times. In a world laden with post-traumatic stress, my judgments have been developed from real and valid experiences. For many of us, judging ourselves or others harshly is learned, reinforced, and a well-worn neural pathway.

Shifting perspective from critical to complementary is not a one-step process, and curiosity is a great way to kick-start shifting thought patterns into a more positive and helpful direction.

When we look with curiosity, we get the opportunity to view life as a spectator without attachment to a specific outcome. When we step away from words (and judgments) such as right or wrong and into a more observational perspective, we can look at what is happening with a lens of helpful versus unhelpful. This gives us the space mentally and emotionally to meet the problem with observation, which in turn provides us a less intense perspective.

Some time ago, and quite by accident, I discovered a quote by Victor Frankl that has stuck with me, especially in times of stress and hardship:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

This quote brilliantly illustrates that there is the opportunity to choose how we want to relate to ourselves and the world around us. While we may not see it at first, acknowledging that the space exists triggers the brain into curiosity. This allows us to create new mechanisms and neural pathways. We come to research ourselves, our decisions, and our self-care in a way that is self-supporting and effective.

There is no better way to cultivate different responses than to get curious about the ones you have now and how your judgments may be getting in the way of your progress. It can actually be fun on occasion too.

Activity:

Pick a recent day in your life for a quick review. Think about the decisions you made that day and why. There were likely several choices that you made without even really thinking about it. A good reference point is getting into your car and driving someplace familiar. Along your route you have to make several judgments including a safe driving speed, stopping, and deciding where to turn and when.

Each time a decision was made, you relied upon your ability to “make considered decisions” and come to “sensible conclusions.”

Now let’s get curious about that same drive. Ask yourself why you drive the speed you do or why you take the route you take. Your answer may include mention of it being the fastest route, fewest traffic lights, or even the route that allows you to take your kids to school along the way. The route is likely a well-worn path and your car almost drives itself.

What if you took a different route one day? What if you chose to drive a different speed? What would change about the situation? Would you be more likely to take mindful notice of your surroundings? How would that change affect your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors?

The point of this exercise is to illustrate how many choices we make every day utilizing judgment. We know what has to happen when and we pursue the end goal with consideration and deliberate action. We utilize preobtained data as a template similar to a computer. Our brains are hardwired to respond to environmental “prompts” that cause us to respond with habitual behaviors. (Science Daily, 2014)

Additionally, judgment itself is a part of the critical thinking skills we are taught as children and one of the most evolved defense mechanisms we possess as humans. (Resnick, 1987)

It can often get us into trouble, however, because it relies on information that can be outdated and irrelevant.

Examples of Judgment in action:

Identifying where we utilize judgment in our lives starts with observing our thoughts and how we engage in internal dialogue with our own behaviors.We know that it can be a destructive force in our lives.

Let’s talk about how this might be showing up in your life today through a few examples:

The “Should” Mechanism

How often do you find yourself saying or thinking that you “should” or “shouldn’t” have done something?

I should have gotten out of bed the first time my alarm went off.
I should have worked out over the weekend.
I shouldn’t have eaten that.
I should have said something.
I shouldn’t have said something.
I should have gone to the store before work.

These types of statements can be fairly common in thought and though they seem to be part of life, they inadvertently slow us down and can sabotage our progress when making change.

Think to yourself how often you “should” yourself or someone else. How does it feel in your body? Is it effective for you?

Here is the truth: no one person can do it all perfectly, and using “should” sets an expectation inside of our consciousness that perfectionism is possible. It is not. Life itself is a giant grey area and this is no more evident than when you are actively trying to change something in your life. No one can make change perfectly. It does not happen overnight and one of the best ways we can advocate for our own progress is to take a step back from our judgment.

How to switch into curiosity:

Remember “stop, drop and roll” from childhood fire safety classes? It is quite relevant here and using it as a reminder to yourself is a quick way to create new awareness in a gentle, effective way. Instead of engaging frustration about a decision, pause, look inward, and ask a few questions about why.

In this experience, you may start to find that the reasons for your choices are not what you expected. Instead of lacking willpower around the office snacks, you may come to realize that you’re not taking time to eat lunch. Even further, you may find that you’re not taking lunch because you have a deadline and your self-care was sacrificed to complete the program. The reason for the afternoon donut isn’t your lack of willpower, it’s your body kicking in and reminding you to eat because you need it.

Understanding how we make choices and process information is an invaluable resource—especially in times of stress.

Looking at our choices, reactions, and responses in search of new information can unlock an entirely different way of relating to ourselves.

Some questions to ask yourself moving throughout your day:

1. Why did I make that choice?
2. Did I want to do it differently, but didn’t feel like I could?
3. Why did I say that or why didn’t I speak up?
4. Did I rush through that situation mindlessly?
5. Was I actually listening in that conversation?

You will likely start noticing new questions yourself, and as you answer these questions, you might find that there are even more questions that follow. There are no right or wrong questions…or answers.

Go where the information takes you. Happy investigating!

~

Reference:

Resnick, Lauren B. (1987). Education and learning to think. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. p. 8. ISBN 0309037859.

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