You are kind and generous most of the time. But occasionally you judge, label and disapprove of people — sometimes silently in your mind, sometimes aloud, sometimes for significant reasons, sometimes for petty reasons. Judging people causes an underlying resentment that puts you in a bad mood and makes you tired. And it strains your relationships with people. The stresses from different sources in your life accumulate, and this is a source you can do without.
And no matter how you do it or what the circumstances, when you pass judgement on someone, you are very likely making an error — usually committing at least one of these three forms of what cognitive scientists call distorted thinking:
1. Jumping to conclusions. We rarely know the motives or full story behind the actions a person takes, and yet we come to conclusions quickly and easily that “he’s a jerk” or “she’s a fool” or “how rude” or “what a freak.” We condemn people far too easily.
2. Overgeneralization. A judgment normally involves summing up a complex human being in simple terms based on a few or even one instance. That’s poor science and faulty thinking.
3. Overconfidence in one’s own assessment. You don’t really know why other people do things. And yet you hold your judgments with excessive confidence. We all do it. Overconfidence in our conclusions is a fallibility of human nature.
These thought mistakes can be corrected with practice. The technique is simple: Pay attention to your assessments of other people, and then question and criticize your judgments. Are you jumping to conclusions? Are you overgeneralizing? Do you have enough knowledge to be able to make such an assessment?
Think about it rationally. Maybe you’re being too hasty. Maybe you’re being unnecessarily harsh. Haven’t you yourself done something similar? Sure you have. But there were extenuating circumstances that at least partially excused you, weren’t there? Maybe this person has reasons too, but you don’t know about them. It’s not only possible, it’s very likely.
Question your judgments and you’ll find that many of them aren’t worth much, and you’ll stop holding them.
And what will happen? You’ll feel less stress. You’ll find your relationships gently blossoming in a new way. You’ll be able to talk to the person more freely. You’ll be more relaxed. Conflicts will be easier to resolve because you’ll be able to communicate without anger (no judgement, no anger) and without making the other person defensive (when you’re not judging, people don’t feel attacked, so they don’t get defensive). And in the long run, less stress, anger, and frustration adds up to better health too.
Once you start paying attention to it, you may find out you’re in the habit of judging people a lot. Does this make you bad and wrong? No. Only human. Judging yourself is faulty thinking too.
Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.