What to do when mindful 'non-judgment' doesn't work
Updated: Jun 29
One of the key traits of mindfulness is to practice 'non-judgment'.
How mindful 'non-judgment' is often explained.
If you are new to this concept of non-judgment, this may sound strange at first. You may be thinking 'What does that mean?'
A common definition is:
Non-judgment involves acceptance of our present moment experiences, not getting caught up in our stream of likes and dislikes.
This includes accepting our thoughts and feelings—whether positive or negative—and immersing ourselves in the present moment without evaluating it.
An example of this is when we are judging ourselves:
Your auto-pilot self-talk might be: "I feel useless. After my presentation at work today, I did a terrible job answering the questions from the audience. I feel like an idiot and I'm so embarrassed."
You ruminate about this for many days, causing yourself to feel inferior and inadequate. The mindful non-judgment way of handling this might be to recognize your self-talk as thoughts and judgments, stop evaluating and judging what happened and how you're feeling about it. Notice and accept that you are feeling but stop the rumination. Focusing your attention on whatever you are doing in the present moment so you aren't spend your time ruminating. But often this is easier said than done!
An example of this when we are judging others:
Your auto-pilot thoughts might be: "My boss is so stupid. He has no idea how to manage people or run a project. He's making my life miserable and should be fired."
The mindful non-judgment way to handle this is to recognize you are judging your boss, accept how you are feeling, and focus your attention on the present moment. But often this is easier said than done!
. . . But being 'non-judgmental' is hard!
The reality is we are human beings with a human mind. The human mind tends to gravitate to negative thoughts more often than positive thoughts. We have opinions. We judge.
We all have egos and those egos want to judge. The fact is that the ego likes to put others down so we feel more powerful.
Give this a try instead -- here are more practical ways to achieve 'non-judgment'
If you find being non-judgmental is impossible or too challenging, don't worry, this is very common. After training people since 2011 on mindfulness, I have discovered these two very helpful and achievable ways to make tangible progress on this topic of non-judgment:
1. Notice when you're judging.
Can you simply recognize when you are being judgmental?
Often we don't even realize we are being all 'judgy' when we are criticizing, putting down, and getting annoyed at someone, something or even ourselves. When we are in auto-pilot mode, we aren't being present and we aren't consciously choosing our actions. We aren't being mindful.
So the first and important step is simply to be aware of when you are judging something. And notice how it feels in your body when you are judging - perhaps you feel tense, your blood boils, or you feel anger and you're hardly breathing.
Here's how your self-talk might sound as you become self-aware of your judging:
"Oh, yeah, I'm judging my boss again."
"Hmm... I'm already getting annoyed with my cousin, and I haven't even let her speak yet!"
"Oh no, what's wrong with me. I'm so lazy, why can't I get motivated to exercise? Oh, I'm judging myself again."
2. Soften your judgments.
Once you've become self-aware that you are judging, the next step is to soften your judgments.
Since being completely, 100% non-judgmental is a pretty tall order, how about softening your judgments instead?
So the second step to to ease up a little, letting the emotion relax a little, and lighten up a bit. This can go a long way.
Here's how your self-talk might sound as you soften your judgements:
"My boss must have stuff going on his life, or maybe he's just unaware of how he's behaving."
"My sister is probably doing the best she knows how, even if it is annoying to me."
"I may not exercise as much as my doctor suggested, but I'm doing better than I was."
Notice your body sensations as you soften your judgment. Take a breath. You might just notice a physical relaxation, even if it's slight. You might notice a softer, gentler state-of-being within yourself. Being in the present moment can be powerful.
The end result
Whatever the situation may be, the key idea here is that recognizing when you are judging, then softening that judgment can significantly change your experience.
The benefit is less frustration for you. And a further benefit is that if you show up more positively, you are likely to affect and influence how others react to you.
This is something I share with every audience I speak to:
If you don't judge, you can't get frustrated.
Simply put, if you stop judging people, circumstances and things, how can you get frustrated? It is when our manufactured expectations are not met to our own satisfaction that causes upset, stress and judgment.
So if we can soften our judgments, what does that do for our well-being and our state-of-being? Can you imagine a lighter, less frustrating existence?
This indeed takes practice. But the next time you encounter a frustrating situation, can you check in with yourself: Am I judging? Can I soften that judgment?
And then see what results you experience. This has personally helped me a great deal and many others too.
When you find ways to live more harmoniously in this world, life will feel better and easier.
~Wendy Quan, Founder, The Calm Monkey