Have you ever noticed that judgmental people are miserable, while those who are accepting of others are content and at peace?
A Little Experiment
I experimented with a highly stressed client. I challenged him to carry a clicker and count how many judgments he made in a day. I asked him to find his baseline, then actively work to reduce it.
He came back two weeks later and said he felt ridiculously calm. He said in the beginning he was clicking almost steady.
Now he doesn’t carry his clicker; he clicks silently in his head instead. When he notices a judgement, he challenges it, then lets it go.
Another Example: My Girlfriend Sue
Let’s assume my girlfriend Sue is 20 minutes late for our regular lunch date. I am annoyed and start judging. “This is so inconsiderate, she makes me so mad. She’s embarrassing me, making me sit here all by myself.” Urrrgggg.
A Different Scenario
Now imagine the same scenario. I’m waiting for Sue and I say to myself, “Sue is late. I’m annoyed. I’m hungry and I want to order but I don’t like eating alone in a restaurant. I find it embarrassing.”
In the first scenario I am talking myself up with my judgments, increasing my stress, and getting more agitated by the minute. I blame Sue for how I feel. It’s her fault I’m embarrassed. I’m making assumptions about her without knowing all the facts.
In the second scenario, I still acknowledge my discomfort and annoyance, because I’m entitled to my feelings. I recognize that I don’t like sitting alone in restaurants, but I know this is about me and not everyone feels the same.
I focus on my reactions, not Sue’s perceived shortcomings. I validate my feelings. I stick to the facts and don’t make judgements and assumptions. I’m annoyed but I’m not furious. I am able to stay calm and rational.
Our Thoughts Determine Our Behaviour
Imagine Sue finally arrives. In the first scene I will be angry and might make a sarcastic comment. Even if she has a good reason for being late, I will probably stay in a bad mood for the rest of the lunch because it’s hard to get out of a bad mood once I’m in one.
In the second scenario, I’m annoyed, but since I’m not worked up, I’m open to hearing her explanation. If it is a valid reason, I empathize and let my annoyance go. We have a great lunch.
Let’s assume that I don’t consider Sue’s reason for being late a good one. She tells me that she’s late because she was talking to someone on the phone. In the first scenario, I will now be really angry and will likely give her a piece of my mind.
In the second scenario, I may simply tell her that I want her to be on time in the future because I’m uncomfortable sitting in a restaurant alone. I own my feelings without blaming her.
Take Responsibility for Your Behaviour
I might still be annoyed with Sue, but since I have told her how I feel and what I expect in the future, I’m quickly able to let it go.
If she keeps me waiting again in the future, I realize this is what I can expect from her. I decide whether I want to continue having lunch dates with her, given that I know she will likely keep me waiting.
I make no attempt to change Sue. I change my behaviour in light of what I can expect from her.
Sue is Actually Very Reliable
I am using Sue as an example only in fun, because she is always punctual. The only time she ever kept me waiting was when she arrived early and took a seat, and I arrived shortly after and took a seat, and we both waited 20 minutes alone in the restaurant. She finally called me on my cell to ask me where the hell I was. I looked up and there she was, talking on her cell, a few tables down from me.
DBT Skill: Nonjudgmental Stance
Taking a nonjudgmental stance is an important skill in mindfulness. When we take a nonjudgmental stance, we observe a situation without attaching any judgment to it. It allows us to see things more accurately, reduces our stress, and allows us to choose a more thoughtful course of action.
Not making a judgment doesn’t mean we like everything or aren’t allowed to have an opinion. I can say I didn’t like a book, and even explain why, without judging the book as bad. The same is true for people.
To learn more about understanding and managing emotions, check out the links and additional posts below. For specific DBT skills go to DBT Skills in the menu bar.
If you have an experience you’d like to share, add a comment at the bottom of the page. I’d love to hear from you.
The only devils in this world are those running around in our own hearts, and that is where all our battles should be fought.