It is part of the human condition to compare ourselves to others and make judgments. In fact, it is a part of the developmental process to become increasingly aware of others and think about how we measure up. Early on we learn who is the fastest runner, best at kick ball and in the highest reading group. These comparisons can be helpful and even motivational as they prompt us to try harder, which can be a very good thing. It is only when we continue to primarily rely on these judgments that we frequently run into trouble. We all can think about the many reasons this may not be a good idea but the one I want to focus on today relates to our thinking. It comes down to the simple fact that not every thought we have is accurate or helpful. We have many random, even goofy thoughts that require us to be aware of and filter them out. When we do not catch these moments and recognize them for what they are and are not, we often internalize them and they become part of our story.
Many times, when we accept messages and thoughts about ourselves, they are often negative. Comparing ourselves to others often makes us feel unhappy. In response to these negative self-messages, we tend to react by judging others more harshly, which makes us feel better. When we are honest with ourselves, we know that we have all had moments in which we compared ourselves to someone else and took comfort in knowing we were not as ‘bad’ as them. We want to feel good about ourselves and often times we seek it through observing others’ struggles. Obviously, wanting to feel good about ourselves is worthwhile however, learning to do it for ourselves takes awareness and effort. This mindset requires us to make a shift in how we think about ourselves and others.
Steps to building a more positive, less judgmental self:
- A first step in building a stronger, more positive, less judgmental self takes a desire to do so and a willingness to make a few changes. The desire comes from within us and if this topic resonates with you, you are half way there.
- The second step requires us to ‘catch’ moments when we find ourselves looking with judgment at ourselves or others. It can be a parent struggling to calm their child in the grocery store or we hear a neighbor making an unkind comment about another neighbor. When we catch these moments, we need to take a breath and choose to contemplate what might be going on in that person’s life. Practice choosing kindness and compassion in that moment versus focusing on the automatic negative thoughts. Work to let go of the judgmental thinking of the past and let your mind rest on the more positive thoughts about the situation.
- The last step simply requires us to stop talking negatively about others. One of my first group rules when working with kiddos is that we do not speak about others when they are not in the room to defend themselves. This not only works well in group but it is a solid life rule. I also talk with kiddos about taking notice of friends who talk about others behind their backs. You can bet those same kids will talk about you behind your back one day. Choose your friends wisely and practice being a good friend to others.
Learning new habits and ways of thinking about ourselves and others takes practice. When we are able to do this more consistently, we feel more accepting and even happier. Be kind to yourself as changing automatic ways of thinking and reacting takes time. Start slowly and acknowledge your efforts to shift to becoming a more positive and self-aware person.