One of the side effects of judgment is that it reduces your ability to change.
When you judge someone else, you are in effect deciding that their approach or method is wrong, and therefore also usually deciding that how you do it is right.
As you continue to judge, you become more and more entrenched in your side.
If you’re at a concert and you’re poking fun at the people around you for acting excited at a level that seems unfitting for the circumstance, then even if later on you start to feel some of that excitement too, you are more likely to hold yourself back from joining them in jumping up and down.
If you constantly judge others, even if you never say those judgments out loud, you can start to feel like changing your mind and going over to their side would be letting them “win.”
So you don’t change, even if you have the urge to.
In the end, those judgments you’ve been making against others – the judgments that at least for a bit can make you feel superior – can cause you to be the one who misses out.
One of the powerful effects of developing a new habit is that it makes you feel in control.
The fact that through sheer will and choice you can take a daily vitamin or hit the gym a few times a week or eat at least one serving of veggies a day doesn’t just make you feel better because those habits in and of themselves are healthy, it makes you feel better because those habits give you a strong sense of your own agency – your ability to make things happen.
Regaining a sense that your actions lead to impact gives you renewed confidence, and that renewed confidence gives you the fuel you need to tackle things much bigger than popping a vitamin.
So many people feel like they can’t teach, or lead, or write because they don’t think they have anything of value to share.
At least not compared to other people.
Other people are bigger experts or more experienced or more successful.
And if someone else is always a rung above them, then why is it worth sharing anything?
But that’s that a cop out.
We all have something to share.
We all have an amazing personal repository of experiential wisdom.
Sure it can take some practice to share those stories in a way that resonates and inspires, but that’s different than saying you’ve got no wisdom to offer the world.
We often think about how the lens of our experience colors our own story, but we can forget how much we use that same lens to apply stories to others.
If you spend years working for a boss who pays you poorly and at the same time seems to be burning through the company’s money, spending it on wasteful or selfish purchases, the story that you tell yourself is that the person is self-centered, unfair, and maybe even unintelligent. When you change jobs and have a new boss, that story often doesn’t stay behind. It comes with you, and even if you are being paid well and your boss is unselfish, there is a a high likelihood that you will scrutinize their purchases the same way you did with your old boss.
The story is a short cut, but it’s a short cut that leads you to potentially judge something new through an old lens, and causes you to extend a negative experience from the past into the present.
In moments of judgment, it can be helpful to check in and get some clarity around which lens you are choosing to see the situation through.
If it’s an old, dirty lens with a lot history on it, give it a quick clean, and try looking at the situation again.
In the midst of a conversation with a friend recently, I had used the word “purposeful” a few times when they stopped me and said that the word didn’t resonate with them, that it didn’t signify something positive. To them, it signified limitations, having to choose this instead of that.
But to me, that is the whole point.
When we have no limits, we aren’t forced to choose, and when don’t have to make any choices, we start to lose touch with our ability to understand what brings us the most joy, the most satisfaction, the most strength.
Limitless resources can leave us surrounded by things that don’t add anything to our lives and then cause the things that are actually important get drown out by everything that is not.
Having to choose gives us the opportunity to stay more aligned with what gives us the most meaning.
I recently decided to sketch out what I would focus on and what experiences I would want to have if I didn’t have any constraints of money or fear.
When I was done mapping all of these potential activities, I held up my sheet of paper and surveyed it.
I expected almost all of it to be currently inaccessible, to be things I could only get to with significantly more resources or with significantly less fear.
What I found instead that was that 90% of what I wrote down was completely accessible. Right now. Or at least in the near future. What I wrote down wouldn’t take a million dollars to accomplish. They weren’t things I needed to put on some far off bucket list to accomplish when the rest of my life duties were done. They were right there. Just waiting for me to make them a priority.
Even when things are important to us, it’s easy for them to take a backseat. It’s easy to believe that we can’t spend the time that we want to on taking care of our physical well-being or traveling to visit friends or quenching our curiosity by taking that art class we’ve been dreaming of.
There’s maybe something safer, a bit less disruptive, about keeping those things on the “I’ll do that when…” list.
But if those the items on that list are truly important, and it’s not a lack of resources that is holding you back, then why aren’t those things happening? What is the fear?
Andrew Solomon’s recent talk on depression at TEDx MET is remarkable. It’s remarkable for the fact that he found the clearest words I’ve ever heard to describe what depression feels like, and the fact that his insight provided moments of new illumination on a subject that has been extensively written about and talked about for decades and decades.
In discussing treatment for depression, this commentary of Solomon’s stood out especially:
“If you have brain cancer, and you say that standing on your head for 20 minutes every morning makes you feel better, it may make you feel better, but you still have brain cancer, and you’ll still probably die from it. But if you say that you have depression, and standing on your head for 20 minutes every day makes you feel better, then it’s worked, because depression is an illness of how you feel, and if you feel better, then you are effectively not depressed anymore.”
If you feel better, then it’s worked…
In a world where we so often look to other people to tell us what will make us feel better, we often forget that we are our own best test subjects.
The experience of others can give us a starting point, but when it comes to what makes us feel good, feel happy, feel fulfilled, feel healthy – we can only discover the best answers for us by testing the potential answers on ourselves.
It is easy to get caught up in the story we have running in our heads at any moment, especially when we are tired or overwhelmed.
You can quickly go from simply feeling a bit of exhaustion to feeling that you can’t go on, can’t get anything done, and are doomed to never reach your full potential.
It is a downward spiral of inference that leads to a sense that you might as well just throw up your hands and quit.
But if you can catch yourself and pause, even just for a second, you can stop the story.
By pausing you take the oxygen away from the fire and give yourself the chance to ask whether the story you are telling is true and whether it’s the story you want to live.
In that pause you get the power back to make your story anything you want.
When we set out to make a list of life goals, what are we really looking for?
Are we looking to collect checked boxes, gathering them and storing them as proof that we’ve accomplished something? That we are valuable?
Do we think that each of the checked boxes holds within it the opportunity to bring us closer to happiness?
For some people, that checked box itself or that ongoing search for happiness might be the sole reasons for crafting bucket lists and long lists of life goals, but I think for many people there is something deeper, something not quite as simple as checking off the final box standing in the way of happiness.
I think that what we are often seeking is a feeling. We want to know what it feels like to stand on the stage and give a talk at TED, or we want to know what it feels like train hard for a race and finally cross the finish line. We want to know what it feels like to have our words get published and show up on a bookstore shelf, or we want to know what it feels like to fall deeply in love.
We crave experiences because experiences lead to feelings – feelings of flow, of love, of joy, of wonder, of triumph.
I used to be against creating lists of life goals because to me they felt too oriented towards accomplishment, towards the checked boxes.
I’ve changed my mind though, as long as it involves a different type of list: a list of desired life experiences, of feelings. A list that is oriented toward experiencing the full realm of emotions that the human spirit has to offer.
Each day when we get up we have a new opportunity to make choices…and a chance to get ourselves wrapped up in a minute-by-minute micro-analysis of each one.
You chose to eat whole grain cereal, but with the Facebook post you just saw about how eggs are actually good for us, you start to wonder if you should have had an egg instead. Each bite of cereal then ends with a question mark about your choice.
You decide it’s a good day to clean out your pantry and refrigerator and throw away expired food, but as you’re doing it you think of the long list of other things you wanted to get done or everything you think you should be doing and then you see a friend Tweet a picture of the great mind map they just drew of what they accomplish this year and you wonder if you should have done that instead. Each item thrown away and each shelf cleaned becomes a lamentation that maybe you’re doing this wrong.
All of this comparative micro-analyzing leaves you in a place where whatever you are doing in the moment never feels like the right thing, which then guarantees that you won’t enjoy it.
Yes, there is something to be said about the fact that we only get to live this life once and our decisions matter, but what matters more is that we allow ourselves to live in our decisions long enough to give ourselves the opportunity for enjoyment, whether it ends up showing or not.