T:rusting your gut has long been considered imperfect and unreliable, a form of woo-woo pseudoscience that has no logical way to explain the concept of a sixth sense and the boundaries between intuition and judgment at best.
But in recent years, research has proven the very real effectiveness of gut instincts. Studies show that combining gut feelings with analytical thinking leads to faster and more accurate decisions. And scientists don’t just call the stomach the “second brain” because of anecdotal evidence. About 100 million neurons line the digestive tract, more than even the neural network surrounding the spinal cord.
Although this is certainly good news for those who believe in the power of intuition; successful CEOs and other senior executives claim to use it to overcome crises, and large organizations invest millions to help professionals hone intuitive skills; the guideline (and subsequent real-world applications) may have had an unintended side effect; the more we feel we can listen to and trust our guts, the more willing we are to become, well, judgmental idiots. But where does gut instinct end and quick judgment begin?
Understanding the difference between intuition and judgment
“Trusting your gut is often more of a feeling than a thought process,” says licensed psychologist Jessica Rabo, Ph.D. “We can feel uncomfortable on the edge, or something is off. In contrast, being judgmental means forming an opinion or drawing a conclusion about the other person or the situation, not how they are doing. you to feel.”
So while intuition might lead someone to say, The judgment “I have a bad feeling about this person” may lead to her literally saying, “this person is rude.”
Adia Gooden, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, adds that judgment is often an extra layer that people, especially women, tend to put on top of their intuition. “Being in tune with your inner wisdom and intuition is often thought of as more feminine and seen as emotional and irrational,” says Dr. Gooden. “We often look down on people for going out on their own intuition, so I think these people have learned to justify it. So if we went on a bad date, our gut was that it wasn’t right, but then we made judgments about it. “They showed up five minutes late, and the restaurant they chose was so plain, and the way they dressed…”
This often happens naturally, and subconsciously. You probably do this to your best friend when they keep dating someone you consider a bad match. You do this to your partner when they force a meeting that could have been an email. You do this to the person in front of you at the coffee shop as they place an overly complicated latte order to the barista and the stranger on the train wearing what you think is completely inappropriate for the weather. .
But just as its more emotional cousin, intuition, has generally and unfairly gotten a bad rap, so has judgmental behavior. “Judgments give us really rich information about our value system and what’s important to us,” says licensed therapist Mary Beth Somich. “We live in a complex world where we have to make hundreds of judgments every day. They are necessary, and they are not a bad thing in the first place. Dr. Rabon agrees. “Judgment can help us navigate through life, determine the friends we have, the relationships we get into, or the job we want to apply for.”
It’s what we do with that judgment, and how, according to Somich, “it’s presented, served, or executed,” that can become problematic. “Being overly judgmental can hold us back from things that can bring richness to our lives,” she says. “It can promote discrimination or hatred and can exacerbate or promote anxiety and fear that negatively affects the mental health and happiness of others and ourselves.”
Dr. Rabon says this last point is a big one. “When we judge others too much, when we’re too critical, we’re actually hurting ourselves,” she says. “Our brains become more attuned to finding the negative in others, thus causing us to find more negative in ourselves.” He has seen this lead to increased stress, anxiety and depression.
What to do when your judgments hurt more than they help
1. Pay attention to what triggers your judgmental behavior.
“The first step to being less judgmental is to increase your self-awareness about your judgments,” says Dr. Rabon. He recommends actively identifying when you’re making judgments and then taking inventory of what’s happening in that moment. “What was the actual stimulus that gave rise to the judgmental mind? What emotions did you feel before, during and after?”
By documenting these moments and spotting patterns, you may find that your judgment is heightened in certain environments or around certain people in your life. Or, you may become agitated when you feel a certain way, perhaps you have more critical thoughts when you are extremely tired and irritable.
2. Let go of self-judgment
People often judge themselves more than others, which is why Dr. Gooden encourages clients to try to find the root of the judgmental behavior. “Say you’re going to a party and you’re judging someone’s outfit,” she says. “Ask yourself why it set you on your way. Did you feel yourself in the way you were dressed? Have you been judging yourself on how your body looks?’
He also suggests catching people in their overt self-critical thoughts. “One way to practice that is through self-compassion,” she says. “When people are more compassionate toward themselves, they can be more compassionate toward other people.”
3. Click on your vocabulary
Do you often use words like? ok, bad, alwaysor never? If these are common characteristics (for example, “You’re unreliable because you’re always late,” Somich says you may be doing too much “all-or-nothing, black-and-white thinking.” “This is a general form of overjudgment factor,” he says. “Get caught up in this language and think about whether there are exceptions to that narrative.”
The solution he suggests is to add the word as well and: to black and white thoughts. “Try saying, ‘My neighbor can be really annoying. and: I appreciate when he shares fresh vegetables from his garden.”
4. Be curious and critical
It’s a subtle mental shift, but curiosity offers a more positive framework than criticism. “Be curious about why a person behaves in a certain way, and try to find alternative explanations for the behavior, rather than jumping to conclusions,” says Dr. Rabon.
If, for example, you see a mother looking at her phone while pushing her child on a playground swing, you might initially assume she’s a “bad” parent, but try to expand your curiosity and reconsider why. Maybe she’s starting work after a few days out with a sick baby, or maybe she’s sending an urgent text to her partner.
5. Accept an internship
Accepting other people or scenarios can be difficult, but Dr. Rabon says it’s the key to letting go of toxic judgment. “We can’t control other people’s behavior, only how we react to them,” he says. “When we realize that there’s a lot we can control, it makes it easier to accept people and situations as they are and for what they are, because we shift our focus from the outside to the inside.”
A vital way to engage in acceptance is to be exposed to different cultures and experiences, rather than “imposing behavior based on preconceived beliefs,” says Somich. “Ask yourself, ‘Is this judgment correct or useful?’ The more you can accept, the clearer the answer will be.
6. Stay connected to your gut
Judgments can, of course, be made without relying on intuition, but, Somich says, “The risk of being judgmental as a personality trait is losing touch with intuition versus judgment.” Try to tune in with your gut and your judgment when making decisions.
Dr. Gooden likes to “listen” to those inner thoughts to better determine if judgment is on track. “The way our gut sounds is usually calm and quiet,” she says. “We often know if a job interview went well or if we want a second date, and when we ask ourselves, we can usually hear it in our hearts. We can hear if it is loud and restless or calm and quiet. Let that inform you.’