When you’re first learning how to practice non-judgmental mindfulness, it can seem overwhelming. But there are a few simple steps you can take and questions you can ask yourself to determine if you’re coming from a place of non-judgment.
What is Non-Judgment?
Non-judgment is allowing ourselves to experience something without classifying it in our own brains as a threat or not. It means that we remove the lense of our own perspective (the judgment) and experience situations without feeling threatened by them or their potential consequences.
To understand non-judgment, we need to understand judgment.
It all has to do with our brains. Our brain, specifically, the “lizard brain”, or primitive part of our brain, is really good at finding potential threats to our lives. This is called the stress response, or fight/flight/freeze. This was an excellent skill to have when we were outrunning tigers or looking out for signs of flooding or other natural disasters. It helped us stay alive.
It also helped us stay together as a group. Because back in the day of cavemen, one thing that was not safe was to be by yourself.
So our brains have a handy little process that they like to go through that looks like this:
Sample Situation #1: The Tiger
You can see how this looks with the tiger situation above.
You’re in the woods and you notice the air get tense and thick like someone is watching you. You realize that you’re being hunted and the tiger is just beyond the trees to your right. You have only a few options to get out of there alive. Stress reaction starts. Your body starts to heighten your senses. Your heart is beating faster, pumping blood to your limbs and brain, and away from major organs. Finding a break, you start to run…
It’s pretty obvious that it was very important to judge that situation immediately to assess the threat and get out of there.
This stress response is called FLIGHT.
Sample Situation #2: The Fat Friend
But what about this?
It’s 1942 and you’re 19. You have been groomed from childhood to be the perfect woman and housewife to tempt a husband who can provide for you and elevate your social status. You meet to socialize with your best girlfriend since childhood and you notice that she has really put on some weight. You immediately fill with disgust. You start to sweat a little and wring your hands. If it was you putting on weight, you would take up smoking and lay off the sweets. And you don’t hesitate to tell her that, too…
Believe it or not, that situation isn’t chemically all that different from the tiger above. Seeing a friend who has put on weight fills you with a similar primitive fear. You worry for your friend that she will become ostracized or cast out from society, that she will never get a good husband. You know that if it was you, YOU could be ostracized and disappoint society too. Because you view this as a threat, you immediately go into judgment and decided to FIGHT it.
Most people in our society have been bombarded with messages that being fat is bad, therefore, it is not uncommon to feel a threat to our existence in that society when we hear that someone else, or worse, OURSELVES, are getting a little pudgy.
(To learn more about how this kind of social conditioning permeates our modern life as women, and how to get away from it, I recommend reading A Woman’s Guide to Power Unbound by Kasia Urbaniak.)
Sample Situation #3: The Puppy
Here’s another one, but it goes even deeper.
Your 20 year old daughter tells you she got a puppy. She asks you what you think.
That’s it. What happens?
Well, that depends on what you perceive as a threat.
If you immediately think of a puppy and how much time it will take to train the dog. She’s in college, is the dog going to take her away from her studies? Suddenly you are in full stress response just like you’re running away from the tiger! Except this time, you FREEZE, because you don’t want to hurt her feelings, but you don’t know how to accept the situation.
If you don’t see the dog as a threat to her studies, you will likely move away from judgment and allow the experience to happen.
Why Judgment Doesn’t Work in Our Society Today
We’re sitting pretty at the top of the food chain to the extent that we’re ruining our planet. The more we practice judgment and go into fight/flight/freeze mode, the more harm we will do.
Another problem with this kind of thinking is that our society has moved toward being so much more open and supportive of a diverse list of characteristics and traits. People can be gay, asexual, or pansexual, black, white, asian, or mixed, thin, athletic, average, or overweight, monogamous, polyamorous, a gamer, a rock-climber, a musician, or an accountant, and they are ALL VALID in today’s society.
Every single flavor of person out there is worthy of love, and we’re starting to realize that as a society! We don’t need to cast people out just to protect ourselves.
When viewed in a certain light or by a certain person, anything can be viewed as a threat, even good things. A man views his girlfriend’s closeness with her sister as a threat to their relationship, therefore, he constantly acts in judgment and strives to protect himself from this situation by restricting her contact with her sister. (This is a typical trait of narcissistic personality disorder.)
RELATED: We Become What We Think About
5 Benefits of Practicing Non-Judgmental Mindfulness
- Better Self-Confidence and Self-Love. Practicing non-judgment can help us stop judging ourselves as well, which leads to higher self-worth and greater self-esteem.
- Reduced “Victim Mindset”. When you practice non-judgment, you begin to see that when people are judgmental toward you, it’s because of their stress response and their feeling of being threatened. You begin to feel less like a victim and more in control of your life.
- Better Relationships. Relationships can feel fuller and more satisfying when we stop judging those we love. We’re able to approach differences in a much more objective way, which shortens arguments and leads to greater understanding.
- More Joyful Experiences. When we move away from feeling threatened by things that aren’t really threats to us in modern society, we enjoy our experiences more.
- Better Understanding of People’s Motivations. Understanding why people do certain things can be a huge relief, especially if we don’t actually get an apology from someone who has judged us or treated us poorly.
6 Exercises to Practice Non-Judgmental Mindfulness
When you’re learning how to practice non-judgmental mindfulness, your mind may resist. These 6 exercises on being non-judgmental can help you stop that stress response from happening to experiences which are not true threats. Let’s get started.
How to Practice Non-Judgmental Mindfulness #1: Observe Your Emotions
The key to our judgment lies in our emotions, because we don’t experience something and say, “I’m judging that”! We say, “This makes me feel angry!”
When we experience those negative emotions like anger, frustration, hatred, disappointment, or pain, it is because we’re in a place of judgment and feeling threatened. The first step is to notice whenever we feel those emotions.
Practicing mindfulness on any level, whether through meditation, journaling, or even psychotherapy or counseling, can raise our awareness of when we experience those emotions.
One easy way to do this is to reflect on past experiences in which you felt those darker emotions. Think back and remember those times you felt intense anger or stinging disappointment.
Non-Judgmental Mindfulness Exercise #2: Recognize Judgment
After we recognize our “negative” emotions, it’s time to examine what exactly we were judging or feeling threatened by.
If you felt angry at your coworker for taking the last of the coffee and not brewing a new pot, you were likely feeling threatened in several different ways. You may have felt a primal threat that your rightful access to food and resources in what should be a safe community/workspace was taken away. You may also feel threatened because it’s now a waste of your time to make a new pot yourself. Wasted time in the era of running from tigers could literally mean death, which is one reason we guard our time so fervently.
If you look closely enough, these “life or death” situations pop up everywhere in even the seemingly most innocuous of situations that we feel frustrated or hurt.
Don’t forget that being cast out from your community back in the caveman time could also mean death. So when you disappoint someone, hurt someone, or do something against “the norm” or “mainstream” culture, being ostracized is also a real threat.
Non-Judgmental Mindfulness Exercise #3: Explore Diversity
When we look at our own culture as being “the norm” or “mainstream”, we have a tendency to view anything different as “wrong”, or “strange”, or worthy of kicking someone out of our society. But when we look at other cultures and communities through the lense of non-judgment or objectivity, we can better understand that they are “the norm” in their culture, and perhaps we shouldn’t be so judgmental.
If you have a hard time looking at other cultures, you can always start with nature. Trees and flowers grow at different rates, have different types of leaves, and give different things to the ecosystem of the forest, but it doesn’t mean that either is any less important.
Stop to observe nature or people sometime. Just watch and think about what makes things in that community similar or different.
After a while, you may realize that different is beautiful, and when we learn about each other with objectivity and non-judgment, different doesn’t seem like a threat anymore. Here are some things that make people diverse, which people participate in that don’t hurt others:
- practicing different religions
- having a high sex drive/low sex drive
- tattoos or piercings
- wearing baggy pants
- speaking a different dialect than General American English
How to Practice Non-Judgmental Mindfulness #4: Understand Your Life’s Desires
The first three exercises were more broad and general, but now I want you to think about yourself and your own judgments. Understanding ourselves can help us understand why we judge certain things and not others.
Personally, I was always striving to make my parents happy. They were also judgmental toward others, and I was fearful that if I were to fail, that they would turn their judgment on me and disown me.
What do you feel are the greatest desires of your life? Are you always striving to earn more money? Are you a people pleaser who wants to make everyone happy? Are you climbing the corporate ladder for recognition? Do you want fame?
Any of these desires are things we can pursue to ward off potential threats to our lives.
READ MORE: Finding Peace of Mind in 6 Easy Steps
Non-Judgmental Mindfulness Exercise #5: Understand Your Judgment
Similar to #4, finding the things that you are judgmental about can help you learn about the things you view as a threat to your life.
For example, I was taught to be a prime student. I was told the experience of school and learning was of utmost importance, so I believed that when we, as children, did poorly in school, or WORSE, didn’t try, that we would be cast out, shunned, unloved. I looked down on fellow students who did poorly. I judged them. (Of course, I didn’t realize at the time that I happened to be one of the few students for which the traditional schooling set up WORKED.)
What kinds of things have you been judgmental about through your life?
Perhaps you judge people who are overweight? Do you look down on people who are in poverty and think they are lazy? Do you judge other cultures?
It is a prominent issue in our society today that many people have built in judgments about black culture. Black Lives Matter seeks to bring this judgment to light and help others understand that this social conditioning absolutely permeates our society. Do you look down on black culture?
It’s worth noting here that even bringing these issues to light can seem like a threat to you. But no one is accusing you of anything. So let me say this:
Having judgments like these doesn’t make you a bad person, it makes you human.
So take a step back and remember that you’re trying to objectively figure out what judgments you have toward others so that you can learn to practice non-judgment.
Non-Judgmental Mindfulness Exercise #6: Allow Experiences to Be
Now, when you’re alone and you’re thinking of experiences that you have had, when you start to get worked up, frustrated, or angry while ruminating, take a deep breath.
Let the experience be what it is. Go through these steps above and see if you can understand what your judgment is and what exactly about that situation you perceive as a threat. It is also possible that the other person reacted in a certain way because they perceived you or your behavior to be a threat. This in itself is a “threat” to you because it threatens your status as a group member. (This is exactly why we get defensive when presented with behavior like this, it’s the fight stress response.)
When we’re able to understand those situations and let them go, we’re able to move into a place of non-judgment.
Now that you have 6 exercises for how to practice non-judgmental mindfulness, the goal is to do them regularly.
Once you have mastered these tasks in a safe environment by yourself, then take them out into the real world in real time.
The ultimate goal of practicing non-judgmental mindfulness is that when you interact with others, you’re able to objectively view a situation, distinguish the true threats (the tiger) from perceived threats (the puppy), and act in a way that allows the experience to exist without judgment in the exact moment they happen.
Your life is going to blossom and grow in ways that you had no idea even existed, once you’re able to successfully practice non-judgmental mindfulness.