I’m starting with a fundamental: the judgements we make about ourselves, about others, about what we do, about how we are.
I was reminded of this in a conversation with a friend recently: we were discussing what we had been up to since we last met, and both assessing ourselves as ‘failing’. It struck me that she had made some real progress, and then I realised that I had as well. Why didn’t our conversation reflect that?
We are taught from an early age to assess everything as good or bad, right or wrong, and every time we do, we are using a set of criteria with judgement built in, and a tendency towards failure or lack. Notice these criteria are very black and white – if it is not 100% good it goes into the ‘bad’ camp, not 100% right it goes into the ‘wrong’ camp. And we rarely hit 100%!
The reason that the judgements tend to be negative is cultural. We are not innately negative – no small child walks around condemning themselves and others, until they learn to, from the comments of others. Thank goodness! If they did, they would stunt their own development, giving up on learning because they didn’t get it ‘right’ quickly enough.
And now we are grown-ups, maybe we need to free ourselves of the shackles of judgement and allow ourselves to continue to learn and develop. After all, it is what we are biologically designed to do: to continually evolve and grow.
So how do we release these shackles?
There is a very simple change of language that helps a lot. Instead of judging things, events, behaviour, thoughts, as being good or bad, right or wrong, we start to ask ourselves if they are useful to us. This takes out the externally driven judgement, and asks us to assess on a personal basis.
For example, if someone is irritating you with their behaviour, is it useful to you to react with annoyance? How is it paying off for you, now and in the longer term? This makes you think about what you really want to achieve with them, and whether it is worth it to perpetuate or increase the negativity between you. Or, if you are thinking about what a bad day you are having, is this useful to you? You may decide it would be more useful to notice what is working in the day, or what would make it feel like a better day. And of course, in both instances, you may decide that it is useful to you to continue as you were, and that’s OK too!
I find that if I remind myself to ask whether my thought or behaviour is useful rather than right or wrong, good or bad, then it automatically makes me more likely to allow myself to make my life work better.
And by the way, next time you feel good about what you have done, remember to appreciate your own brilliance: as a small child, this attitude is what enabled you to develop – it could be useful now!
So why not experiment with it?
Next time you are criticising yourself, ask yourself:
- Is this useful to me?
- How is this paying off for me now or in the longer term?
- Would a different approach be more useful to me?
- What would that be?
And next time you feel good about what you have done, appreciate your own brilliance and give yourself a treat!