Friday, April 23, 2010

Judging Ourselves

Jack Kornfield once said that we have a judge in our heads that would not be allowed to sit on any court in the world. Indeed, our judgments about ourselves are almost always much more harsh than the judgments others might make about us. We allow our minds to say things to us that we would never let any other human say without a fight. So why do we just lay there and let the mind run roughshod over us day after day?

I have an acquaintance who is intolerant of making mistakes. Her entire day can be ruined if she feels like she did just one thing wrong, and she completely forgets all of the countless other things she did that were not mistakes. I once asked her, if someone you know, a friend or co-worker perhaps, made that mistake and then treated themselves very harshly because of it, what would you say to them? Without hesitation she replied that she would probably tell them that it didn't matter and that they should not be so hard on themselves. Then she paused and said, "I guess I should say that to myself, huh?"

Apparently, humans have what is now called a "negative cognitive bias." This bias means that we forget all of the times when things have gone the way we wanted them to go, and tend to remember only the times when things didn't go so well. "This always happens to me" is a thought that might occur when the negative bias is activated. 

As we saw when examining choice points in yesterday's blog, many of these negative thoughts occur automatically and often unconsciously. The judging thoughts can come the same way. Before we are aware of it, we are beating ourselves up over nothing. Obviously, bringing more mindfulness to bear on our daily lives would allow us to see these automatic thoughts more clearly, and once they are seen and acknowledged, we can make a choice as to how we proceed. 

One way to deal with these thoughts when we become aware of them is to remember that these are just thoughts, they are not facts. We can disengage from these thoughts quite effectively, however, if we return to a fact. When you experience these shrill, judgmental thoughts, turn your attention to a present moment sensory reality, such as the feeling of the breath. The judging thought will lose its power and you have created a space in which you can make other choices. You can get a more accurate perspective on the situation as well, and realize that whatever it is that the mind is judging you for is probably not that big a deal.


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