I used to have a habit of correcting people's grammar. Friends, boyfriends, strangers — if their verb and adverb didn't agree, they'd hear about it! This was likely very irritating for most people who spoke with me, although I'm sure somewhere during a job interview an ex-boyfriend is thanking me ...
But my criticism didn't stop at "wells" and "goods." I experienced my being and my world through uber-judgmental glasses. I could find a flaw faster than I could find my left hand.
I thought the Mona Lisa, and, well, the rest of Europe, were really underwhelming. I thought I was disgusting every time I looked in a mirror. I had unrealistically high expectations for everyone and everything. Always judging made me miserable to be around, and, well, miserable.
I was miserable because judgment is at the root of all our pain: Judging ourselves causes depression; judging others puts a wedge between our relationships; judging our experiences or future experiences causes frustration and disappointment. Judging our feelings causes shame.
Often, what's at the root of our pain is self-criticism. We judge ourselves, we judge others. We judge experiences. We judge feelings. In response, we feel disappointment, frustration, discouragement, anger, and anxiety. In fact, studies have shown self-criticism is linked to depression, anxiety, and eating disorders, among other ailments.
Although I've significantly changed my relationships to the world and myself over the past few years, I'm human and of course still catch myself judging. Like when I check out my boyfriend's selfie-filled Instagram feed of super-babes. Or I catch my reflection in a window when I'm in a particularly self-loathing frame of mind. Or I lose my debit card for the 4th time in a month.
Those are times when I notice that critical, judgmental voice. Of course, then I judge myself for judging (Megan, you hypocrite! You're supposed to be compassionate and nonjudgmental!)
But then I become aware of judging myself for judging, and empathize with my experience. After all, judgement is deeply imbedded into us. We are taught from a young age to develop strong critical thinking skills. To be rational. Independent. Self-sufficient. to analyze and criticize. Thus, trying to detach from judgment can be very challenging.
I of course still catch myself judging, but here are six steps I've found have liberated me from the shackles of perpetual (self) criticism:
1. Notice yourself judging.
The first step to change is awareness, so focus on that for now. This can be challenging for those of us with high expectations for ourselves, as we tend to want to see results immediately.
However, like many of our unserving thoughts, judgment can become so automatic we don't even notice we're doing it — like breathing. So, your first task in becoming less (self) critical is to notice when you're judging.
2. Be curious. You can't be judgmental and curious at the same time.
Try to perceive your world with a beginner's mind, an open mind. Replace criticism with wonder; replace judgement with curiosity. Here are a few examples: