In the previous post, I briefly discussed how mindfulness involves being nonjudgmental. In a manner of speaking, this is impossible. We are constantly making judgements:
- What do I want to eat?
- What do I want to wear?
- What TV show do I want to watch?
- Which friend do I want to try to hang out with?
- Should I do the dishes or fold laundry first?
- Did I drink too much last night?
If we didn’t make such judgements, we’d never get out of bed in the morning. I’m not sure what the semantic subtleties are between “choice”, “judgement”, and “decision” – all involve some type of judging, and they are as necessary to our daily lives as breathing. I do know that one important type of being “nonjudgemental” that mindfulness points to is not judging the self.
For example, let’s say I was angry and made a hurtful comment to a friend. In such a situation, I think it is critical to examine the situation, the comment, my friend’s reaction, and “judge” my comment as hurtful and inappropriate. If I didn’t make such judgements, I’d be a horrible person! Oops! That’s the type of judgement we want to avoid. If I judge myself as being a bad person for making a hurtful comment to a friend, then I’m doing myself (and, in a sense, others around me) a disservice. Making mistakes, missteps, errors, poor decisions, etc., do not make us bad people. They make us human.
Making categorical judgements about the self (e.g., “I’m such a loser”) can ultimately lead to feelings of depression and, they aren’t even true to begin with! If making a mistake made a person “bad,” then all people would be bad since we all make mistakes. A goal in life isn’t to be mistake free – it is to learn from our mistakes and improve over time. Perfection is unattainable, but growth and improvement are always within our reach.
Being mindful, we don’t want to judge ourselves (or others) harshly – we want to “judge” the specific action, not the person. This prevents us from becoming depressed about ourselves (because we are “bad” people) or others (because they are “bad” people). It also allows room for growth. After all, if I’m a rotten person through and through, then what hope do I have for change?
Avoiding categorical, negative judgements about the self and others is a skill to develop through mindfulness. It can be a tricky thing though. For instance, if I catch a self-judgement, (“Ah, you are such an idiot!”) I might then judge myself negatively for judging myself (“Ah, you are such a loser because you keep judging yourself!”).
See if you can “evaluate” your actions rather than judging yourself as good or bad. Give it a test drive to see what happens. This will allow opportunities for positive growth while at the same time reducing negative (and often oppressive) feelings.