If you are stuck with something you don’t like about yourself, like judging others, here is a useful tactic to help you break the habit and stop judging involuntarily. 

Judging others is normal, and sometimes useful. From an evolutionary standpoint, it was a vital survival technique. Quick, automatic decisions can help keep you safe and out of harm’s way.

But, day to day, judging spontaneously like that has some serious downsides. For example, it’s not very nice to condemn someone without evidence, can reinforce prejudice, and can begin to isolate you socially.

The technique I’ll describe here relies on you honing your curiosity, so distracting yourself from the judgement.

Here’s how it works

When we like or dislike something with a passion, we have made a judgement. Judging is vital to normal functioning, and survival even, but it has a downside; judgements render us ‘partially blind’ (see Hayakawa).

When we have made a judgement we filter out any information that doesn’t agree with the judgement. When we feel passionate about something we seek information that supports our viewpoint and we dismiss anything that doesn’t. 

This isn’t just true of negative judgements, by the way, it also happens when you make a positive one. For example, like a wrong choice in your love life; falling for the wrong person! 

Many of us have been there; love and passion make you blind because they are based on hasty judgement.

If you find that you are unhappy with a situation a change in viewpoint can make it more bearable, or even acceptable, so here’s how to change a strongly held point of view. (By the way, I’m talking about our own views here, this is not about persuading others).

Stop judging – a tree is not just a tree

Since judgements involve all-or-nothing thinking the first step is to loosen up your thought patterns. It is hard to stop judging when such thoughts come to mind automatically, but you can interrupt the pattern by deliberately engaging your mind in something else.

Start by stepping back and making a detailed appraisal of the situation or person (you are finding hard to accept). When you make yourself describe something in detail, eventually there will be something you appreciate, or at least understand differently.

If you get stuck with this at first, persist. Rehearse, and you’ll learn how to break down the judgement. Here’s an example using nature. Imagine that you are standing by a tree, looking at it. A tree is just a tree, right? It is also a judgement of sorts (I know what a tree is like so I don’t need to think any further). But think again!

As you start to examine the tree, in detail, notice its many different aspects like size, which way it casts a shadow, the sound it makes, colours, textures, the network of branches and twigs… Notice too, your relationship to the tree, distance from it, perspective… What does the tree feel like if you touch it… 

The list is endless and you can take a few seconds to a few hours doing this. As you do, you are teaching yourself to view things differently and to stop judging.

Remember that we learn to stop judging at both conscious and unconscious levels. Have faith in the process, however weird it seems right now, try it. By the way, you can do this with anything, including people.

This post was inspired by:

Hayakawa, S, (1991), Language in Thought and Action.

Langer, E., (1989), Mindfulness.