We make judgments all the time. You go out to lunch with your family. Your sister is late, monopolizes the conversation, and leaves you with the bill. You make a judgment, "she is really selfish". You took some observations you made (her lateness, her dominating the conversation, and her leaving you to pay the bill) and made a judgment. Or maybe you look out the window, see rain and wind, and make the judgment that the weather is bad.
These negative judgments are often unconscious and unproductive. They often stem from cognitive biases and distorted thinking patterns. These biases can cause us to perceive situations, others, or ourselves in a negative light. Negative judgments often make us feel bad and make us less effective at managing the situation.
In this exercise we are going to be more mindful of when we are making negative judgments and how they make us feel.
The purpose of this exercise is to become more aware of how unwanted negative judgements are becoming part of your automatic thoughts. (In the next exercise, we will practice letting go of these negative judgments).
To begin, print the worksheet provided in Section 3 below.
In this exercise we are going to note down when we have negative judgments over the course of the day.
In this column you will briefly describe the situation that triggered your negative judgment. Write down where you were, and when in the day this happened. For example, maybe you are sitting in your office doing a dull task. Maybe you are out with a friend drinking coffee in the afternoon and she says something unpleasant.
Write down what you were thinking about. Write down the exact words that crossed your mind. For example, maybe you thought: "I hate my monotonous job, I wish I was working on something more exciting and not stuck in an office.". Or, if you were out with your friend, maybe you were thinking "She never accepts my decisions and she always has to give me advice that I didn't ask for. What a jerk!"
3. Resulting Emotion
Here you should write down how you felt when you were judging the situation. Negative judgments generally result in negative emotions. If left unnoticed, these negative emotions produce more judgments which cause more negative emotions... (it's a vicious cycle). Example: "I feel sad and depressed", or "I feel angry and annoyed".
What did you do after the situation? Did you achieve what you wanted to? Or were you feeling too angry, annoyed, sad (or something else) and you didn't take the action you planned? For example, in the office situation, maybe you got quiet and you weren't doing your job as well as before. Or, said something snide to your friend and ignored her for a week.
Do this exercise every day for a week. Then move on to the next exercise where we work on letting go of negative judgments.
Below are some examples that will introduce you to the worksheet you will be writing in:
|Reading a book at home, and it's too loud in the house
|"My family is so inconsiderate! They are being so selfish!"
|Anger, feeling irritated
|I stopped reading, had an argument with my family, got even angrier
|Taking a walk in the park by myself
|"Of course I am walking by myself, nobody wants to hang out with me."
|Sadness, feeling depressed and lonely
|I didn't have a good time, went home and ate a lot.
|Watching a movie in the theater with my girlfriend who laughs loudly
|"Why does she always have to laugh so loudly! It's so embarrassing."
|Feeling annoyed and embarrassed
|I made a snarky comment, and we had an argument.
|Reading about a friend of mine that is now famous
|"Ugh, he wasn't even that smart, how did he become so successful!"
|Feeling envious and insecure
|I got depressed, and I didn't feel like doing anything.
|My boss asked me to prepare budgets for next year.
|"This is so boring and is going to take forever."
|Frustration, dread, feeling depressed
|I didn't say anything to her - but now I resent her. I procrastinated on doing the work.
Print out the worksheet below, and when you find yourself having a negative judgment note down the following four things, as described above:
What if I can't find enough time during the day to do this exercise?
Although it is best if you tried to do this exercise throughout the whole day so that you won't forget the situations and what exactly happened, if you can't find the time for it, you can do it at the end of the day. During the day try to be mindful of the situations that will trigger your negative judgments so that you will have a better memory of them at the end of the day.
Do negative judgments always cause negative emotions?
There are some negative judgments that do not necessarily cause emotional pain (like, the weather is cold today). There are neutral and positive judgments as well (for example, my daughter always gets excellent grades at school) which can be the basis for negatively judging a situation that doesn't meet our expectations (my daughter always gets excellent grades at school, so how come she messed up this exam?). In this exercise though, we are just going to focus on the negative judgments, since they are the ones that cause the most unproductive (negative) emotions.
Should I completely try to avoid judging things?
The point of this exercise is not to completely get rid of judgments, because sometimes judgments are necessary: you consider whether or not a certain situation is good or bad for you, whether it's safe for you or not, you assess your work performance so that you know whether or not you should change something in the way you work.
However, negative judgments are often not useful, because even if there is something that you think should be changed or is negative, there is probably a clearer and more productive way of thinking about it. Saying "This job is really bad for me" doesn't really say a lot or produce a positive outcome. What exactly do you mean? Is the environment stressful? Do you find the work activities unfulfilling? Negative judgments are often just a shortened label that prevents us having a more in depth and productive understanding of the situation.
If you have any behavioral health questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare or mental healthcare provider. This article is supported by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from behavioral health societies and governmental agencies. However, it is not a substitute for professional behavioral health advice, diagnosis, or treatment.