What does it mean to practice non-judgment?
And is non-judgmental thinking even possible?
I mean, if you pay attention to your thoughts for even a few minutes, you’ll notice your mind is constantly judging things as either good, bad, or neutral.
In some cases, that quick judgment can be helpful.
It can even save your life.
But when it’s working overtime, it takes a toll on everything in your life.
So, what can you do about it?
What is Non-Judgment?
Non-judgment isn’t about stopping judgmental thoughts before they come to mind. You might as well try and stop time. It doesn’t work. Thoughts come and go as they please; you can’t stop them from popping up, but you can decide how you react to them.
Mindfulness is about paying attention to what’s happening in the present moment without judging it or wanting it to be different.
That goes for internal experiences as well as external ones.
So what does non-judgmental mindfulness look like?
- Acknowledging each random thought without judging it as bad or good;
- Practicing non-judgmental acceptance of the thoughts you’re used to judging;
- Allowing yourself to have random thoughts without taking them to heart;
- Consciously turning off your judgment engine to just sit with your thoughts;
- Deciding not to judge yourself if you catch yourself judging your thoughts.
It happens. A lot. And becoming a more mindful, nonjudgmental person doesn’t happen quickly. Be patient with yourself, and keep practicing.
We’ve got some ideas on how to make that easier.
How to Practice Non-Judgment: 9 Ways to Help You Build Your Practice
So, what is non-judgmental thinking, and how do you do more of that? It’s all about what you do daily to become more mindful and less judgmental in your thinking. And if you’re willing to put in the effort, it will change your life.
1. Start a mindfulness meditation habit.
The more time you spend in mindful awareness of your surroundings, body, or mind, the more you can practice observing without judging what you observe.
For starters, try setting a timer for five minutes and just sitting in a comfortable position.
- Inhale deeply through the nose for four seconds and exhale for seven or eight.
- You can also pause for a few seconds between each inhale and exhale.
- Pay attention to how your nose, throat, and lungs feel as you inhale, hold, exhale, and pause.
The longer you do this, the more likely you’ll have random thoughts passing through your head. Allow yourself to notice those thoughts without judging them as good, bad, or even neutral. They just are.
2. Spend time developing the skill of observation.
You don’t have to be alone to practice mindfulness. You can hone your observational skills in a variety of ways:
- People-watching (discreetly)
- Conducting your own experiments — alone or with others
- Spending time in nature
- Attending a public concert or cultural event
- Trying on clothes in a department store
- Learning and practicing some new dance moves
- Working out at a local fitness center
- Browsing in a public library or bookstore
You can probably think of other ideas. The main thing is to do something that allows you to observe something or someone and notice the thoughts that come to mind involuntarily.
3. Acknowledge the thoughts that come without judging them.
Whenever you get a chance to just sit with your thoughts, take a few deep breaths and allow the thoughts to come and go. Remind yourself those random thoughts are not you. They’re the product of your experiences and of what you’re feeling in the present moment.
Listen to them. Be aware of them without judging any single thought (or all of them collectively) as good or bad in themselves. They’re just thoughts.
They’re not about who you are — your character or your personality. The thoughts you hold onto for a while longer could be more closely related to one of those, but even those don’t define you. And you’re not alone in having them.
4. Observe your self-talk and its effect on you.
What you tell yourself — about your thoughts, past actions, emotions, mistakes, and everything you think about — has a much more powerful effect on you than the random thoughts that come to your mind.
How you react to those thoughts and your experiences and what you tell yourself about them is more important than what others tell you about yourself, let alone what any random thoughts might suggest.
If you’re in the habit of judging yourself as “bad” — not just criticizing your actions but shaming or condemning yourself — that’s the lens through which you see everything and everyone else. It’s a lens that uses everything in your experience to hurt you.
The good news? Self-talk is something you can change.
5. Choose and repeat helpful affirmations for non-judgmental thinking.
Find some affirmations that remind you you’re the one in control of your self-talk and of how you judge your thoughts, your experiences, and everything else. Ultimately it’s your responsibility to choose how you react to the world — inside and outside.
You decide whether every new experience confirms the negative self-talk or helps you change it. You decide what you believe about yourself and other people.
You decide whether any unbidden thought is worth dwelling on or not, whether it has any meaning worth reflecting on, and whether it has anything to do with who you are.
Choose affirmations that reflect the person you want to be. Repeat as needed.
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6. Step outside your comfort zone and pay attention to your thoughts.
The more you step outside your comfort zone, the more often you have to face things that make you want to recoil in fear, disgust, or shame. And the more you face those things, the more you can practice asking yourself why you react to them the way you do.
Pay attention to the thoughts and feelings that come when you face something that challenges your idea of what’s real or unreal, good or bad or neutral, and what you want or don’t want in your life.
An immune system you never challenge never grows stronger. Practice exposing yourself to uncomfortable things. And listen, without judging, to the thoughts that come.
Most of them are just telling you what you’re used to thinking. Listen for the outliers.
7. Assess the results of your efforts without judging them.
Your mind will seize upon familiar scraps in every new experience, every new conversation, every new lesson.
It uses what it “knows” to try and make sense — i.e., judge — what it doesn’t.
It hops from one solid piece to another, skirting the rush of unfamiliar ideas and sensations, trying to carry you past it all, away from what it can’t explain.
While you’re struggling to make sense of every new challenge to your beliefs and self-talk, you must remember something: judging, in itself, doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t make you “basic” or less worth knowing or less anything.
You’re a human trying to make sense of something. Your brain does this all the time because sometimes that “rush to judgment” is exactly what you need to survive.
8. Write about what you’ve noticed.
Just noticing those thoughts flitting through your mind is one thing. You can let them come and go and decide not to pass judgment on them.
But when you write them down, you take it a step further. You make it impossible for your brain to pretend those thoughts never happened. You force yourself to pay closer attention while acknowledging and accepting those thoughts without judgment.
It’s a faster way to get yourself used to this new way of thinking.
9. Practice reviewing your day honestly and without judgment.
Take a moment at the end of each day to review the things you remember most:
- Things you’re proud of,
- Things that make you cringe,
- Things that happened or,
- Things you made happen.
Take stock of the experiences that dominated that day and why they were important. Pay attention to your automatic responses to specific occurrences and the thoughts and feelings you attach to them.
Write down any thoughts you’re struggling not to judge. If you feel compelled to judge them as good or bad, ask yourself why.
Pay special attention to any thoughts that seem to confirm any negative self-talk you still believe. Your brain will try to return to a way of being that feels more familiar, even if it’s toxic. Challenge it instead.
Now that you’ve looked through all nine ways to practice non-judgment and make it your new normal, spend at least five minutes today being aware of your thoughts without judging them.
The only thing you stand to lose is the idea that the automatic judgments you make, however harsh or divisive, are rooted in the truth. Reality is way more interesting.