How to Stop Judgmental Thoughts in Their Tracks

I hate feeling like I’m being judged by others. Most of us do, right?

Even so, I’m surprised that even though I hate feeling judged, critical thoughts about others easily make their way into my mind. More often than not, I find myself taking issue with the way someone thinks or acts because it’s so different from my own way of living. I catch myself in the midst of these judgmental thoughts — “She not very patient with her kids” or “He is kind of a know-it-all” — and I feel embarrassed by  how harsh I can be.

It’s an easy habit to fall into, unfortunately. Lately, I’ve found myself wondering what is it that makes this type of thinking so hard to avoid. Here’s what I’ve learned about stopping judgmental thoughts in their tracks.

Practice self-awareness

I’m not a meditation expert, but I have spent a lot of time over the last few years writing about how I’ve used mindfulness to make positive changes in my life. Being more self-aware in a non-judgmental way, specifically by slowing down and noticing what I’m thinking or feeling in a certain situation,  actually helps me to change my habits.

Since thinking badly of others, like judging the way they parent or feeling put off by how they interact in social settings, is so often about what is going on inside our own hearts and minds, mindfulness can be used to become more aware of what is triggering the fear or insecurity that drives our criticism of others. There are different ways to practice mindfulness, but one of the most basic ways is to sit comfortably and pay attention to your breathing. When thoughts come into your mind, you take notice but you don’t judge them as good or bad. Then, you practice bringing your attention back to your breathing.

The thing about mindfulness is that it takes practice. I’ve noticed that the more I practice it in the quiet of my bedroom, the easier it is to use it out and about in the world to take notice of thought patterns and course-correct in the moment.

Spot the pattern

As I spend more time practicing being mindful, I become more aware of when I’m being judgmental. When I pay careful attention to my judgy thoughts, I can clearly see that there is a pattern emerging. Looking closely at the circumstances or triggers behind your own thoughts might help you notice the same thing.

For me, it’s so often about comparison. I’m feeling insecure or unsure about myself, and I start comparing myself to others. Instead of looking inward to address my own insecurities or fears, I start to measure myself against others by thinking about them judgmentally. For instance, I’ve become more aware that people who are boisterous and loud, grabbing much of the attention in social settings, make me uncomfortable because I’m more reserved and often feel overshadowed by stronger personalities. It’s easy for me to fall into a pattern of judging them as attention-seeking, instead of working on my own social skills until I feel more comfortable in social settings.

Noticing the pattern is the first step to turning our attention to what we can improve in our own hearts and minds, instead of spending our energy picking apart imperfections in others.

What puts you in a positive state of mind?

Accept imperfection while noticing the good

Sometimes, judgmental thinking is the result of having expectations that are simply too high — we want people to think and act the same way we do, or we want them to not be flawed. No one is perfect. The sooner we can accept that, the easier it becomes to accept others, and ourselves, exactly as we are. Understanding that people are flawed might actually enable us to love more unconditionally instead of basing our love of others on how they think, behave, or look.

Accepting people as they are doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also look for the good in them. It allows us to forgive their flaws and celebrate their gifts, instead. We should also be on the lookout for the best things about the people in our lives and focus on those — instead of their flaws.

As I work on letting go of judgement, I have become more satisfied in my relationships. When I can spot myself playing the comparison game and judging the people around me, I’m able to embrace more positive ways of thinking instead. My relationships flourish, my well-being improves, and I’m happier with what I see in the world around me.

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