Last year in 2016, I only set one new year's resolution.
It was to learn how to stop being judgmental.
Ditching that judgmental, negative energy was one of the best decisions I’ve made. And boy, was it freeeeeiiinnnngggg.
On a particular icky, judgment-filled day, it hit me that judgment is a choice and I could actively shut the door on it.
Honestly, I made critical remarks in my head ALL THE FREAKING TIME. I'm embarrassed to say it, but it was hella true. We’ve got up to 70,000 thoughts a day in our heads. And with all that craziness, we’re adding more junk to mentally process by critiquing others.
When you think about it, what difference does it really make to think poorly of folks? None. You’re just emitting bad vibes into the world and wasting precious mental energy on sh*t that doesn’t matter.
Ditching the judgment is not just about being a nicer human, it's about clearing out your own mind to make room for the good stuff. It's like The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but for your noggin.
So, I started by taming the biggest beast: my judgment towards other people's eating habits.
I figured this one would be the hardest since I did it the most. Eat the frog, ya know?
Food is like my religion. (I am not kidding you). Plant-based food healed my chronic digestive pain and I'm deeply thankful for my functional life now. So, yes - I am fully devoted to consuming organic, plant-based food and eating and shopping like an idealist. I also care deeply about our environment, sustainable agriculture, animal welfare, and the success of world-positive farming practices. So for me, my eating practices mean everything since they were instrumental in alieving pain.
But, it took me a long time to realize that plant-based food doesn't mean the world to everyone. Differentiation, people.
In my head, I’d usually say sh*t like this when people ate, bought, or ordered meals that were the opposite of my values:
- “Holy cow, you are actually buying that crap?”
- “Don’t you know how bad that is for you?”
- “I literally can’t believe you are eating that.”
- "Haven't you seen the documentaries?"
- “That's so bad for your body / the environment / the animals / our ozone / the groundwater.” Yadda yadda yadda.
You get the picture. Now, quitting that crappy inner self-dialogue was the hard part.
Here’s how I stopped being judgmental and got liberated:
#1: Understand that we all have different values.
Some people value their money, some people value organic, local, farmer's market fresh food. It's ok. We all think and act differently. And you certainly can’t inflict your values on other people. It took me a while to learn this. (And by "a while," I mean years). I’m embarrassed to admit how hard I tried to convert my pepperoni-stick-loving partner to go plant-based. You mean I don't have to educate everyone about food? Oh. Gotcha. It felt like a huge weight had been lifted. Figure out what your values are and realize that you are the only one that gets to live by those. Not your partner, not your best friend, not your parents. Just you.
#2: Start becoming aware of your thoughts.
Get conscious about your thoughts. Even if it's the “up down” to people on the street or wondering why your partner's parents still eat meat. I didn’t realize how many critical thoughts whizzed through my mind on a daily basis until I started becoming aware of them. Plus, we learn how to judge at any early age to understand how others are feeling, according to neuroscientist Rebecca Saxe in her TED talk. So, don’t be too hard on yourself when you realize how frequently it occurs. You learned it with good intentions decades ago.
#3: Wear an elastic band on your wrist for a day.
Flick it every time you say a mean comment in your head. Not only will this negative reinforcement make you feel uncomfortable, but you’ll be aware of how often you release negative energy into the world. The elastic band trick really works, people. I do this when my judgmental streak flares up and it shifts things into perspective quickly. But when you make it through a day and notice that you only flicked it a few times, you'll feel stellar.
#4: Let Go ASAP.
When you start to judge, tell yourself to drop it like it's hot. Literally, let that sh*t go. Acknowledge it and let it fade away. The key thing is that you don’t keep picking away at that person in your mind. For me, once I'm down the rabbit hole, it's easy to keep going. But, I just acknowledge it, realize what's happening, and move on to another thought quickly. I switch gears and ground myself in the present moment by looking at the sky, the paintings on the wall, or the flower arrangement in front of me. Don't beat yourself up about it, just shift to something else.
Honestly, the difference in my mindset is like night and day now. Once you reclaim that wasted energy, you’ll create space in your noggin for what really matters and have the energy to focus on what lights you up.
When I stopped being judgmental, I made space for so much more in my life.
My relationship with my partner improved drastically. Instead of being picky, and judgmental, and silently stewing away waiting until I could retaliate with some solid debate-worthy arguments, I genuinely listened to my partner speak. I’m talking REALLY listening, which meant stopping the flow of thoughts in my head and just hearing the other person out. Hard, but doable.
Really good things started to come to me. I had more brain power to think about what I truly wanted. I turned down my $60k-a-year-hella-corporate gig, moved to San Francisco to pursue my previous start-up, and collaborated on projects that really lighted me up like X PRIZE, YC's Startup School, and got accepted in Draper U on a full scholarship. The stars totally aligned and I credit this to clearing out the crap in my head so I could focus on what I really wanted in my life.
I am way more chill than when I started. Holy cow. It's like night and day according to my partner. I no longer feel inadequate or like I’m pinned in the corner in uncomfortable conversations. When people look at me funny for eating my own snacks at a restaurant or when I’m told that “I’m missing out” by not ordering a big ‘ol beef burger, I used to think: “Back off. Lemme tell you...” But, now I don’t nitpick or internalize it. I just accept that I can’t judge others for doin’ their own thang. I can only control myself. It's so effing enlightening. (And yes, that is a zen Buddhist word next to a swear word. Balance people, am I right?)
And don't forget, it's a continuous practice just like everything else.
Am I perfect and 100% judgment-free? No. Things still trigger me and piss me off. I'm human. But, I'm 95% better than when I started a year ago and still a work-in-progress.