Are Judgments Keeping You Down?

Originally published December 15, 2018 on

How do you motivate yourself to do better? For years whenever I felt like I was falling short on something, I would call myself as a “Stupid B****.” For many of us, that’s just how we’ve learned to talk to ourselves. Those who shaped us (parents, teachers, coaches, etc…) used pointing out our failures and shortcomings as a way to get us to try harder. Over time we develop patterns of using those judgments on ourselves when we need a little motivation boost. 

A group exercise during my Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) training, opened my eyes to how a large percentage of our thoughts tend to be judgments and the negative emotional impact of relying too heavily on them. We define judgments as evaluative statements that do not include description of observable facts. This includes opinions, assumptions, beliefs, and guesses about other’s emotional state or thoughts. 

As human beings we use judgments all the time. They are quick shortcuts, and our brains are programed to like shortcuts. If I can put a person (or a behavior or group of people even) in certain box, then I don’t have to take the time to learn any further information about them. From an evolutionary standpoint this can be helpful. In situations regarding survival, it is beneficial to be able to make quick decisions without having to sort through all of the facts. 

There are consequences for relying too heavily on judgments though. They contribute to heighted emotional states by adding connotation. They can keep us looped in unproductive thought patterns. Also when we place judgments on ourselves, they tend to be global self-judgments. Thinking about yourself in this type of all encompassing way can leave you believing you are powerless to change things. 

If you think judgments are contributing to feelings of low self-esteem, you can use the DBT mindfulness skills to combat this thought process. The first step is to become aware of when you are using self-judgments. This means observing your thoughts and self-talk. When you catch a judgment, you want to rewrite it with a descriptive statement. For the description stick solely to observable facts – again this means letting go of assumptions, beliefs, and emotional labels. 

For example – you have trouble with procrastination and find yourself stressed about an upcoming deadline. When you feel the urge to throw out that “Stupid B,” instead describe the situation using only the facts. “I waited to begin my project the day it was due and now I am feeling stressed about it.” Substituting the judgment for a description of behaviors, then gives you space to see where there are actual changes you can make. And it opens you up for a whole slew of other behaviors that also contribute to self-esteem: problem solving unhelpful patterns, gaining mastery and a sense of competence, and increasing engagement in life. 

It takes time to make these changes. Remember you are working against patterns that were laid externally but have been internally reinforced since childhood. As you become more mindful of your thoughts, you may realize you relied upon judgments way more that you had initially thought. Be patient and keep rewriting the thoughts when they appear. It may seem overwhelming. Mindfulness is a skill, thus it requires deliberate practice to gain mastery. The more time you spend observing your thoughts, the more control you will gain over them. 

Put it into Practice: 

Step 1: Observe when you are using self-judgmental statements as motivators. It is likely you have a couple of go to ones. Practice being aware when those statements run through your mind. It may be way more often then you had originally thought. 

Step 2: Acknowledge the emotions behind your judgments. Usually when we are talking to ourselves in this way you can find one of these negative emotions  – anger, disappointment, shame or fear. By labeling the emotion, you are practicing self-validation and reducing emotional activation.

Step 3: Rewrite your judgment statement using a fact based description. Focus on behaviors. Once a behavior is identified you can move to problem solving to avoid the situation in the future.

Step 4: Repeat. Remember, we are often working against years of conditioned behavior. A statement we often share with clients is “avoid judging your judging.” These thoughts will likely resurface, continue to rewrite it each time you are aware. 

Jamie Schmidt, LPC

Houston, TX 

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Published by Jamie Schmidt, LPC

Just a human being on a journey of self discovery. Psychology + Spirit + Healing

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