CURIOSITY V. JUDGMENT
Look to your left.
What do you see?
I see some flowers in a vase.
I have an opinion about those flowers.
“Those flowers need to be thrown out” and “Those flowers are dying” and “I shouldn’t keep dying flowers on my desk” are three thoughts that come to mind.
I’m doing more than just observing – I’m judging the world around me. I’m judging dying flowers, I’m judging myself for not throwing them away sooner, for not cleaning out the vase yet.
Are you judging the world around you, too?
By “judging,” I mean evaluating something and deciding whether it’s good or bad, whether you like it or not, or what you think about it.
Essentially, having an opinion about it.
You’re not alone.
Most of us do it.
Many of us (myself included before I discovered thought work) don’t even realize there’s an alternative.
How many times have you heard (or thought!) some of the following:
- This outfit is ugly
- I sounded dumb in that meeting
- This person is walking too slow (New Yorkers unite!)
- This person is driving too slow
- That’s beautiful
- I like that color
And on and on.
Brains love to judge.
Judgment helps our brains quickly evaluate and categorize the world. Judgment is a great shorthand for brains. Flowers = good (unless they are dying!), slow walkers = bad, reading = good, mistakes = bad, etc. Every time your brain encounters something you’ve already pre-judged, it can free itself up to scan its surroundings for predators or other threats.
Brains also love judgment because it reinforces our identities for us. Sharing our judgments with like-minded people can bond us with the thought “we have the same judgments!”
But the problem with judging everything, evaluating it, and having opinions about it, is that it becomes a habit that you can’t shut off – not even for yourself. Judgment is like a muscle; when you flex it on other people and the world around you, you’ll also use it constantly on yourself.
You’ll constantly evaluate yourself and form opinions about what is good or bad about you. And more often than not, those opinions will be negative.
You’ll even judge your own thoughts, feeling shame, frustration, or anxiety about what you’re thinking.
Let’s say you have a thought “I don’t want to work on this project.” You may think that thought means something about you – that you’re lazy, or a bad employee.
A lot of people want to use thought work to avoid tackling these judgmental thoughts about themselves. They hope that by changing the underlying thought (“I don’t want to work on this project”), they can avoid the judgmental thought altogether (“Having that thought means I’m lazy”). So they are in a rush to change the original thought, hoping to avoid ever dealing with the thought that judges them for having that first thought at all.
But it’s impossible to change a thought you’re judging yourself for having. Your judgment is like a little suit of armor that protects the underlying thought – and bruises you every time you whack up against it. You have to clean up the judgmental thoughts about your thoughts before you can tackle the underlying thoughts.
The good news is, there’s an antidote to all this judgment: And that’s CURIOSITY.
Curiosity doesn’t assume it knows the answer.
Curiosity doesn’t evaluate if something is good or bad.
Curiosity doesn’t have an opinion.
Curiosity pays attention.
If you’re curious, you’re interested. You aren’t evaluating, you’re listening.
When you approach your own mind with curiosity, you don’t assign a moral value to your thoughts or make them mean anything about you as a person.
You just observe your thoughts and are curious.
You don’t assume your feelings are a problem and resist them, or try to escape them by numbing them out.
You pay attention to your feelings as physical sensations in your body.
You are curious about where they’re coming from and why.
You ask yourself things like:
What does this feel like?
What thoughts are causing this feeling?
Where did this thought come from?
What assumptions do I have that led to these thoughts?
What logic did I use to get this answer?
This is where change happens. By observing yourself without judgment. By embracing the idea that your thoughts are morally neutral.
Your thoughts aren’t good or bad, and they don’t mean anything about you.
They’re just electrical signals in your brain.
What if you learned to be curious instead of assuming you know other people’s intentions, or thinking that they should be acting differently?
What if you accepted that your thoughts create your actions, and other people’s thoughts create their actions, and you can be curious about both without judgment?
Be curious with yourself, be curious with others, and your life will change.
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