Even if you don’t think of yourself as a judgmental person, you’ve definitely thrown shade at some point in your life.
Sure, rolling your eyes at a celebrity relationship isn’t really a big deal — you don’t know the couple personally, so your opinion isn't likely to affect them. But you’ve probably also judged someone you know — like, say, your BFF who continued dating someone you thought wasn’t right for her, or your coworker who wore an outfit you didn’t think was work-appropriate. That kind of judgment can really hurt other people, and it can also be exhausting for the person doing it. Why spend your time criticizing and picking apart other people’s choices when you could be focusing on your own growth instead?
“Judgment is a comparison of ourselves to others,” life coach Karin Ulik tells BuzzFeed. “Judging others helps us to feel as though we are secure. It’s a way we control our lives and surroundings, often subconsciously. Once we become consciously aware of this, we can take steps to change it.”
Casting judgment is natural — we all do it. But there are ways to change this habit and show others (and ourselves) compassion instead. If you’re ready to leave behind your judgmental ways, follow the advice of a few experts who revealed how to train yourself to be less judgmental and become more loving and empathetic instead.
1. Ask yourself why you felt the need to judge.
Real talk: The urge to judge is most often rooted in some deeply held insecurity of our own. We’re not really judging another person’s choice, we’re trying to make ourselves feel better about our own choices by putting other people down.
Life coach Esther Gonzalez Freeman tells BuzzFeed that one of the best ways to become less judgmental is to “redirect our thoughts toward curiosity” about ourselves to try to uncover the reason we felt the need to judge in the first place. She recommends asking, “‘What is about me?” or, “Why did that push my button?”
“The redirection towards curiosity and self-reflection helps us better understand why we felt the need to feel better in the first place,” she says.
2. Notice what triggers your judgmental thoughts.
A lot of times, casting judgment is a reflex, not a conscious action or a thing we necessarily want to do. Identifying when you’re at your most judgmental can help you to actively slow your critical thoughts in those moments. Emotional intelligence coach Karlyn Percil tells BuzzFeed that “open awareness” of our emotional habits is key to creating new mental pathways (i.e. becoming less judgmental).
“For example,” she says, “are we more judgmental when we're stressed? Around certain people? In the morning or evening?” Becoming aware of your judgment triggers can help you to cool those feelings when they start to arise.
3. Stop and consider the reason for someone’s behavior.
In most cases, you probably don’t know the reason why a person is doing something that you think is weird or off in some way. But think about it: You’ve probably done some things other people might find bizarre, but there was a reason for your actions, right? Extend the courtesy of that assumption to others, and think through the possible reasons they’re doing what they’re doing.
Raffi Bilek, therapist and director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, uses the example of a mom pushing her child on the swing while also using her smartphone. You might immediately think she should be paying more attention to her child, but instead of getting lost in those thoughts, ask yourself, “Why might she be doing that?”
“Maybe she is communicating with someone about an urgent situation,” Bilek says. “Maybe she has been in the hospital for a week and needs to catch up on work, but she has to entertain her child as well because the babysitter is off.”
4. If you’re judging yourself, use a breath-centric affirmation to calm your inner critic.
So far we’ve talked a lot about judging others, but one of the worst types of judgment has to be self-criticism. The next time you start chastising yourself over a thought, action, or behavior, take a pause and try this soothing affirmation, courtesy of body image recovery coach and dietitian Lisa Diers: On your inhale, internally recite “I am,” and on your exhale think “enough.” Repeat as needed. Says Diers, “When we attach a favorite quote or affirming mantra to our breath, we have the opportunity to embody it while simultaneously calm[ing] our nervous system.”
5. Write down your judgmental thoughts, then reframe them.
Life coach Ulik suggests that the next time you have a judgmental thought, write it down. Then, rewrite it as a positive affirmation.
“For instance, if you judge your friend’s sense of fashion as being in poor taste on a regular basis, the judgmental thought might be, Wow, Kathy has another ugly shirt today. What is she thinking?” he says. “Your positive/empathetic rewrite might be, Kathy seems to feel comfortable with herself no matter what she’s wearing. I’ll have to ask her what her secret is.”
This might feel bizarre at first, but Ulik says that by reframing our negative thoughts as positive ones, we can actually become better allies to our friends and also feel better about ourselves.
6. Take a whiff of an essential oil.
Getting riled up about another person’s words or actions can cause you to feel angry and out of control. To get back into your body, ground yourself, and shift your focus, social worker Rev. Sheri Heller suggests sniffing an essential oil. Grounding yourself helps to turn your thoughts away from angry judgment and refocus your energy on either resolving the conflict or acting more compassionately towards the person you’re judging.
“For those whose judging of others is fueled by anger, it’s critical to learn how to effectively harness aggression and identify its source so that instead of cutting others down, one can learn to effectively address relational concerns,” she tells BuzzFeed. “Taking the time to notice when one is viscerally riled up is critical to shifting into a more centered place so that one can focus less on retaliation and blaming and more on clarifying the offense (perceived or real) that sets off one’s aggression.”
7. Try the “five senses” mindfulness technique.
If you don’t have an essential oil on hand, social worker Madelyn Gallagher suggests using a mindfulness technique called “five senses” to ground yourself and shift your negative thinking to empathetic feelings. Here’s how it works: “You describe five things you can see in that moment, four things you can physically feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. This helps you be present in the moment and better able to consider the intentions behind actions and your judgments,” Gallagher tells BuzzFeed.
8. Offer yourself some compassion when you feel guilty for judging others.
What’s worse than judging someone? Judging yourself for casting judgment. That’s just a whole mess of bad feelings that you don’t need to experience. Instead, try extending some compassion to yourself when to start to feel critical of others.
“Remind yourself that all of us judge, that you're not a terrible person,” social worker Fara Tucker tells BuzzFeed. “Remind yourself that judgement is often a protective mechanism (e.g., we judge others first so they can't judge us; we judge when we're feeling vulnerable or scared). Offer care to the part of yourself that may be feeling the need to protect, that may be hurting in some way.”
Rev. Heller adds that an act of self-care can help to boost your self-esteem. “Attuning to one’s need for nurture establishes self-regard and lends itself to regarding others with greater respect,” she says. So try making yourself a delicious meal, going to a concert, film, art show or performance, getting a massage, taking a vacation or a mental-health day, or asking a friend for support.
9. Push yourself to interact more with new people, places, and ideas.
Our instinct to judge often results from a lack of experience with certain types of people, behaviors, or actions, and is informed by our own internal biases and the ideas and truths we grew up believing. To begin to break up some of those deeply held beliefs, psychologist Lucio Buffalmano suggests traveling. “The more you go out of your old shell with your customs and tradition, the more you will get used to ‘different stuff,’” he tells BuzzFeed. “And you will become less suspicious about anything you'd initially disapprove of.”
10. Remember that everyone is doing their best.
When all else fails, do what marriage and family therapist Sarah Epstein suggests and ask yourself this question: “What if the person is doing the best they can?” It will immediately conjure up more empathetic feelings and quell your negativity.
Says Epstein, “This question grounds me and lifts me out of judgment. If a person is doing the best they can with what they have, it's much harder to judge them. If we feel like they aren't trying, that's when we judge.”