Cultivating non-judgmental thinking is taught in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Skills Groups as a part of the Mindfulness Training. Mindfulness teaches individuals to observe and describe their own behavior, which is necessary when any new behavior is being learned, when there is some sort of problem, or a need for change.
In DBT mindfulness skills are intended to improve an individual’s abilities to observe and describe themselves and their environment non-judgmentally, which enhances the ability to participate in life effectively.
Judging is often a short hand way of stating a preference. In my recent post “Why Not Judge” I discuss judgmental thinking in greater detail and mention that “Judgments are spontaneous and often inaccurate interpretations of our environment that influence our thinking and behavior.”
For example, if we judge a piece of clothing as pretty or beautiful we are stating a preference for that thing. If we say it is ugly, then that is short hand for “I don’t prefer that.” The problem is that we sometimes forget that our judgments are not facts, but are only our own preferences and opinions based on our own experiences.
Forming judgments is a spontaneous process and there are times when we need to make judgments. However, in order to reduce emotional reactivity, it’s important to become aware of your own judgmental thinking and to develop the ability to think non-judgmentally.
Exercises in Cultivating a Non-judgmental stance
Focus on Language
Because it is so difficult to maintain a non-judgmental stance during times of stress and crisis, you may want to identify certain common judgmental words and phrases that trigger you to stop and observe your thinking. Frequently used judgmental words include: “right,” “wrong,” “fair,” “unfair,” “should,” “shouldn’t,” “stupid,” “lazy,” “wonderful,” “perfect,” “bad,” and “terrible.”
Identify your common self judgments. (I’m bad, stupid, lazy, weak, not worth it etc.).
Turn that self judgment into a nonjudgmental descriptive statement.
When X happens
(Describe the situation.)
I feel X.
(Use a feeling word)
examples: “When someone yells at me, I feel helpless and afraid.” Or “When I make a mistake, I feel anxious and ineffective.”
Focus on Breathing.
Bringing your focus to your breathing helps you calm, relax and slow down your thinking. It enables us to get in touch with the present moment and let go of all the thoughts and judgments about the past and future.
Notice Your Thoughts
Bring your attention to your thoughts and judgments when you are doing simple activities, like eating. Notice the thoughts you have about the food, as you eat it. Don’t try to counter your judgments, just notice that they are there.
Judgments tend to activate extreme emotions. If you want to live a less judgmental life, you must first become aware of your own automatic thoughts and judgments. Learning to think non-judgmentally takes practice. You have to be aware of when judgmental thinking occurs and practice bringing your attention to just the facts.
You can find more strategies to improve how you feel in my new book, The Stress Response.
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Last reviewed: 12 Apr 2012