I was one of the fiercest judges I knew, meaning my inner critic was relentless and to be honest, mean. When I realized I would not keep a friend who spoke to me the way I spoke to myself inside my own head, I was ready to be done with this. With the steps below, I found my way completely out of the eternal loop of self-judgment. I knew I had arrived when, one day as a professional singer giving a faculty recital, I had a major memory slip. I stood awkwardly on the stage in my own little panic bubble while my collaborative pianist played on. I looked over at her, desperately thinking, “Throw me a bone!” hoping she might mouth the words I was supposed to be singing. But she just stole bewildered glances from the keyboard that said, “You’re supposed to be singing. Why aren’t you singing!?” Eventually something clicked into place in my head and I burst out in the middle of a phrase. It was awkward, but at least I was back on track. And you know what? The very first thought out of my head was, “You’re so amazing. I love you.” The part of me that was used to be berated (and if I’m honest, verbally abused by my thoughts) tentatively answered back, “Really?” “Yes. I love you” came the reply. “Oh!” the little part thought happily. And on I went.
I knew when this happened that that old track of criticism that used to run on a repeating loop had finally played its last song. I knew if I could do it, anyone could. So I’m sharing it with you today.
11 Steps to Freedom from Judgment
1. Notice. Notice when you judge. Notice when you are critical or mean to yourself (or another) in your head. Simply notice. Success for this step is that you noticed, not whether or not you judged. And success is counted as 100% whether you noticed after 1 thought or 1000, whether you just barely started feeling bad, or spent the last 2 hours berating yourself. You noticed! That is success. Once you notice, you’ll notice more, because now your reflexive judgmental response to your life has your awareness. And when we see something, it changes.
2. Refrain. Refrain from judging that you were judgmental in that moment you noticed. I mean, you are welcome to, but it seems the point is not to heap more mud into the mudpie. Just notice you made a pie. No judgment for judging.
3. Reframe. This one is powerful. Reframe your judgmental thoughts by taking out the perspective of whether or not they are “true” and simply see them as energy. Notice the quality of the energy of judgment. Does it bring joy? Peace? Freedom? In this reframing, you begin to become objective rather than personal. You realize judgmental thoughts are dense and heavy, which gives you a choice. Is that experience of your liking? If not, you can begin to choose not to take on the density, like setting down a heavy pack you’ve been carrying. You aren’t deciding if the pack is a good pack or a bad pack, you’re just noticing it’s heavy, and that you can set it down. Until you knew you had this choice, you really didn’t have one. We only have choices when we are aware that they exist.
4. Love. Give you (or another if your judgment was directed at them) a dose of love. This is where the phrases “fake it until you make it” or “act as if” are very helpful. Just put on loving like a role. Pretend. If it’s difficult for you to offer love to yourself, imagine how you would be with a beloved, friend or child if they were struggling with the same. Likely you would encourage them. You would be compassionate. You would listen, without judging. 🙂 You might want to repeat this step a lot, this magic #4.
5. Practice Awareness. Begin to notice that something in you is noticing your judgmental thoughts. This is your presence, your awareness. Presence is neutral, without opinion, while opinion is a function of the mind and ego (which to me are like subsets within the whole, and we’re going for the most spacious whole here). Your full presence is unconditional love. It observes without agenda or commentary. It simply witnesses. So in this witnessing, you are beginning to get in touch with your higher self, your transcendent presence. This is the part that then takes over the task of loving in step #4. Presence loves the parts of us that don’t know how.
6. Choose. Ask yourself, “If I were given every choice in the world about how to think about myself (or others), would this be my choice? Would I choose to be mean to myself, to be harsh, to be unloving?” Likely the answer is no, 100% of the time. If you think you would choose it, I would suggest that belief is just the conditioned part of yourself that is used to judging. It’s not really you. How do we know this? See #7.
7. Recognize your Innocence. You were not born judging yourself or others. Ask yourself this: When you were a baby and you cried because you were wet, hungry, tired, or scared, did you tell yourself, “I am such a bad baby for crying!”? No, no one did. We learned judgment when we got here. And since we didn’t come in with it, it is not quintessential to our nature. It isn’t ours (i.e. native to our truest Self), which means it’s optional and not required.
8. Acknowledge the Purity of Your Motives. Realize that you judge yourself to try to be a better person. You are trying to not make the same mistakes again, or hurt others. You are trying to “do the right thing,” or not appear stupid, etc. etc. etc. But here is the rub: If judgment were going to work, it would have worked by now. Because I’m guessing you are like I was: you have judged yourself at every opportunity, all the way through. You’ve earned a gold star in judgment, straight “A”s, with100% effort and commitment! You know that definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result? Logic alone says it’s time to try something new.
9. See Judgment for What It Is. When you judge yourself, are you then more loving, peaceful, kind or generous? Is there more love or less? Have you made others better by judging them? Judgment doesn’t create more love. Quite the opposite. It is heavy, remember? It increases the load, not lightens it. Density wears us down. Love is light, and it builds us up.
10. Know that Judgment is Everywhere. Many of the judgmental thoughts you have aren’t even yours. You are simply picking up on a ubiquitous signal around you. Judgment is in the air, like wifi or radio signals. You can’t see the waves, but when your dial or server is tuned to them, they come through loud and clear. It’s the same with judgment. When you are tuned to its frequencies, you pick up everyone else’s. And believe me, it is pervasive. It is the operating system that is installed on everyone’s hard drive shortly after they arrive on the planet. It just runs. Until we uninstall it.
11. Uninstall judgment. Here’s how: Use the steps above, which ultimately heals the relationship that is broken within you. This is done with connection between your Presence and your small self that has been unloved. You can do this by looking in the mirror into one of your eyes saying, “I love you” or “I’m sorry.” (the Hawaiian practice of Ho’opono’pono is great for this as well). You can do it by dialoguing with the part of you that has felt judged. I offer a whole process of rewiring your relationship with yourself to one of love instead of abuse. And there are tons of resources out there on cultivating self-love.
12. To heal our relationship with ourselves, we reroute our thoughts, which are outgrowths of our beliefs. This means we are fundamentally changing the assumptions our lives are founded on (that we aren’t good enough, worthy, etc.). Just like water that has flowed in particular channels for a long time, our thoughts will continue to flow that way until we give them a new path. We form these new channels one choice at a time, celebrating when we remember, not judging when we forget. I know it can be done, because I’ve done it. The freedom on the other side is pure gold, because what we gain in it is a life of presence (i.e. unconditional love) lived through our transcendent Selves.
All Love –