How to be non-judgmental in a world where social media lets us in everybody’s business? It feels impossible. Seriously, it’s so much easier to criticize and ridicule others, and it even makes you feel good about yourself sometimes.
But if you can’t look in the mirror without judging yourself – your eyes zeroing in on the ear that sticks out or on your stomach - then, it’s not doing you any good, right?
So, let’s talk about how to be the opposite of judgmental.
It’s human nature to notice and be alert to what’s happening around you. That’s how our ancestors survived.
Our instincts – quick judgments of people and situations – keep us safe. Observing others around you is also a great way to learn. This is why a kid can watch their parents do something and copy it even without specific instructions.
Being mindful and interested in what others are doing and how they’re doing it also helps you grow and evolve. For instance, you use a person you admire as an example or inspiration to achieve a goal you set for yourself.
Judgments are also productive when we use them to call out harmful behaviors that can negatively impact the community.
Why we judge
When we strip all the layers, we find that judgments come out when we don’t feel safe. That’s why psychologists say that our judgments are either a deflection or a projection.
We judge to avoid feeling the emotions that our society deems as negative like disappointment, sadness, jealousy, envy, and anger.
It’s unfortunate that we were taught that having these emotions make us “bad” people instead of normalizing them as part of being human.
So, in our attempt to bury these uncomfortable feelings, they spill over as judgments.
Furthermore, the things we criticize about others are the things we hate about ourselves. This is because it’s easier to look at others and judge than sit with ourselves and accept that we do the very same thing that we dislike.
Benefits of being the opposite of judgmental
We understand that not all judgments are bad. However, most judgments are negative and that’s when it becomes harmful to our well-being.
It can be difficult to feel joy when your days are littered with negative things you think or say about others and yourself. So, what can you gain if you learn how to be non-judgmental?
Being non-judgmental makes you healthier
If you don't judge that means you’re not easily disturbed by what others say or do. In doing so, your nervous system doesn’t get activated constantly during the day.
When people feel strong emotions, such as frustration, anger, or anxiety, they experience physical and mental effects. For instance, anger releases cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream, which over time, can block the body’s ability to heal.
In addition, anger can cause headaches, high blood pressure, and exhaustion which can weaken a person’s immune system.
Being the opposite of judgmental enriches your life
When you’re non-judgmental, you take everybody at face value. You don’t make assumptions about them – you get to know them before passing judgments. And doing this benefits you too!
Learning how to be non-judgmental can help you have better relationships. How so? Well, it can be challenging to be in a relationship with someone who’s always critical of you, right?
But if you don't judge, then your friends and family know that they’re safe to be vulnerable with you. They can share intimate details of their mistakes and bad decisions without being ridiculed, which leads to deeper, closer relationships.
Furthermore, being the opposite of judgmental helps you be open to new experiences. It makes it easier to meet new people or visit a place you’ve never been to before.
Setting your judgments aside will let you immerse yourself in these new experiences. And by going in without any assumptions or expectations, you may find them more exciting and enjoyable.
Tips on how to be non-judgmental
Being judgmental is a habit that can be unlearned. Although it would take quite a bit of reflection and observation, you’ll be the first recipient of the rewards. So, there’s really nothing to lose and everything to gain in learning how to be non-judgmental.
Here are some ways to do this:
Understand where your judgment is coming from
Awareness is an important stage of learning how to be non-judgmental. So, when you catch yourself assuming something negative or mean about someone, examine it.
As discussed above, most of our judgments are things we hate about ourselves. Or we’re using them to block an unwanted emotion such as envy or disappointment.
Don’t judge yourself for saying it or thinking it. Instead, use your judgments to get to know yourself better.
I used to judge my friends and other people online who share perfectly staged photos as shallow and fake. When I explored why I feel this way, I realized it’s because I want to do the same.
My thought process went like this: “I’ll call you shallow and fake because I’m scared to do what you’re doing. I don’t really want to put myself out there and bear the criticism of anyone who’ll think the same of me.” It was all an attempt to protect myself.
Be honest with yourself
Unfortunately, making an effort not to judge requires a lot of honesty. It can be uncomfortable to meet the “angry, envious, or whiny” version of yourself.
But it’s a deeply fulfilling endeavor that could really transform your relationship with yourself and with others.
Work on self-acceptance
The journey of learning how to be non-judgmental begins with self-acceptance. Because, ultimately, you can only give to others what you give yourself.
It means you can’t fully accept other people as they are if you’re so critical of yourself. When you really think about it, where would the love and acceptance of others come from if you can’t give it to yourself first?
When you learn to accept and love yourself – as you are today, not when you are “the best version of yourself,” then, you open yourself to give and receive love on so many levels. That's when it becomes easier to be non-judgmental.
For many of us, this work can be difficult to achieve without professional help – aka therapy. But reading books is a great place to start.
I also suggest following the work of Dr. Nicole LePera. One of Dr. LePera's newer books, How to Do the Work, also includes practical practices on meditation and mindfulness.
In addition, some other excellent reads for self-reflection and acceptance are Oprah's The Wisdom of Sundays and More Than Enough by Elaine Welteroth.
Expand your circle
The work of exercising how to be non-judgmental is both internal and external. One good way to practice is to expand your circle. This includes trying to get to know people you don’t typically hang out with or those who have different beliefs than you.
If you’re an introvert who dislikes how loud others can be, this is an invitation to engage and befriend someone who’s the opposite of you.
Be curious about other people’s cultures, what they eat, and how they live, as well. You may find that you have more in common with someone who grew up in a different country or part of the world than you think.
Lead with empathy
Not judging means not labeling people as good or bad. And you don’t have to understand why someone lives the way they do to accept them as they are.
When you lead with empathy, you see people as humans capable of making mistakes and doing great things. You understand that we are all simply trying to do our best with what we have and what we know.
This is not to say that you should excuse bad behavior. Sometimes, other people’s best is just not good enough.
But when you practice being the opposite of judgmental, you’re not weighed down trying to figure out why people are how they are. You just accept it.
But you can still choose not to engage or be friends with someone who doesn’t treat you right.
Keep calm and be non-judgmental
Learning how to be non-judgmental forces us to reflect and get to know ourselves better. It also calls for us to open ourselves to new experiences as well as be curious about others.
Being non-judgmental is a constant practice of reminding ourselves that most people are doing the best they can. And they falter and fail as any human would.
Lastly, remember that in all these, the person who reaps most of the benefits is you. Remember to keep learning and be kind to yourself and others.