Reserving Judgment…Of Ourselves

September 30, 2013

deep breath

By Amy Hackworth. Poster by Evajuliet on Etsy.

A few years ago I was working with a life coach who pointed out my tendency to notice a fact about my life and jump to a negative reaction about that fact. In the moment, I’d made a comment about how my house was a mess, and how annoyed I was by it. She helped me separate the fact (that my house was messy) from my strong negative reaction to it (that having a messy house was an annoying burden). A messy house isn’t inherently negative; the negativity was a judgment I chose that actually made the challenge seem greater than it was.

This was my introduction to the value of delaying judgment — of noticing first the fact or feeling or experience, and holding off on my propensity to immediately label it as good or bad. This non-judgmental approach is also a tenet of mindfulness, which is simply defined as “a state of active, open attention to the present.” If only it were simple to implement…

In her book called Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness (geared to classroom educators), Deborah Schoeberlein writes, “Purposefully taking a mental step back, in order to notice what happened without immediately engaging with intense emotions and reactions, provides a kind of protection against unconstructive responses and the self-criticism that can slip out and make a hard thing even harder.”

“Unconstructive responses” includes labeling ourselves bad mothers when we’re impatient with our children, or berating ourselves for feeling ungrateful when we’re less than appreciative for our good lives. These judgments and their negative feelings overshadow opportunities to learn about our ourselves and shortchange growth for frustration and irritation. When I untangle my self-judgment and instead notice what I’m experiencing, I’m more thoughtful, rational and definitely more effective when it comes to considering solutions.

Have you noticed that self-judgment makes “hard things even harder”? What helps you mentally step back before diving into emotional responses?

P.S. Some interesting research about how mindfulness can decrease burnout in medical professionals and interesting suggestions (pause, presence, proceed) that apply to more than just doctors here.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jo September 30, 2013 at 12:12 pm

This is such a profound thought, isn’t it?! I must be constantly reminded of this. There is a principle within a communication course that I used to train that totally change my life. The idea was that
1. you see or hear something.
2. you tell yourself a story about what you saw or heard.
3. you generate feelings based on that story. and
4. you act on those feelings.
The majority of those stories (or judgments, as you call them) are negative, and come from an instinctual protective impulse we have. But when we can learn to question our stories, we gain immense power in how we then feel and behave.
Thank you for the reminder. This was exactly what I needed to hear today.


2 Miggy September 30, 2013 at 1:14 pm

I love this topic. A good friend of mine taught me about how destructive our negative thoughts about ourself can actually be–they don’t really help us make positive changes, but rather hold us back from doing so. Your example of “I’m such a bad mom,” is perfect example …. who hasn’t thought that when losing our cool from time to time? So my friend taught me this little trick where you immediately replace a negative thought with it’s truthful, positive opposite. So yes, maybe you lost your temper with your child, but instead of telling yourself, “I’m such a bad mom.” You tell yourself, “I would do anything for my kids.” I’m still working on making this a habit, but in doing this for myself and even for other people (that I love, but sometimes focus too much on the negative) it has been a game changer in a lot of ways. Thanks for reminding me about this–I should definitely check out that book.


3 Kathryn September 30, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Thank you.


4 Melissa de la Fuente September 30, 2013 at 5:18 pm

I love this…..such an amazing reminder. I feel like I do that, too often. Though I try not to, it is so helpful to have a reminder & regroup. When I read a lot of Pema Chodron, years ago,it taught me so much. Maybe I will re-read some of her books.


5 Gia September 30, 2013 at 7:18 pm

I really needed this today, thanks.. Though, for me it’s reserving judgement about someone I love. At least, I’ll try to take some time alone before I make any moves.. Especially this week when I’m extra hormonal. First thing: turn off my ringer on my cell phone, then sit quietly and… Catch up on blog reading :)… Eat a little snack and then do some yoga. That is what I’m doing today at least. I’m not a big yogi, but either way, its alone time with my body.. And mind, which hopefully I can quiet, so I can get a clear mind.


6 michelle September 30, 2013 at 7:48 pm

Love that print!


7 Amy3 October 1, 2013 at 10:05 am

“When I untangle my self-judgment and instead notice what I’m experiencing, I’m more thoughtful, rational and definitely more effective when it comes to considering solutions.”

What an amazing, powerful statement. Yes, I’m definitely more effective when I delay judgment (of myself and others). When it’s self-judgment, my well-worn path is from guilt to anger – not a great combination for problem-solving.

Amy, I really love these pieces you write. Thank you so much!


8 Liz October 1, 2013 at 10:58 am

So what is your mindful thought process when you feel annoyed with a messy house? This thought/negativity crosses my mind almost everyday and I could definitely use your example! ;)


9 sarah page October 2, 2013 at 9:48 am

I have come to the conclusion in the last few years that the advice in the Bible “judge not lest ye be judged” has much more to do with me judging myself than it has to do with me judging others.


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