Living Without Judgmental Thoughts
Several years ago, I spent the day with a friend from high school and her class of second graders. For physical education we went to the grass field and played a modified game of baseball. For a ball we used a tennis ball that was more fun and less dangerous to play with. The batters used a racquetball racket so that it was easier to hit. There was lots of hits and running around bases. Plenty of kids involved. We all had a lot of fun.
Four innings into the action, I was behind the backstop with the rest of the team cheering our hitters up at bat. It occurred to me in the middle of having so much fun that I didn’t know the score. I asked little David next to me what the score was. David gave a quick glance my way, said, “I don’t know” and put his attention back on his teammates. I asked Ginny, to my right. She also didn’t know, and didn’t even bother to give me a glance. Her attention didn’t waver from the game. A quick query to several other of the kids revealed that nobody knew the score. What was more interesting was that none of them cared. Those kids were genuine and authentic and they didn’t even know it. They were having fun, fully engaged, and giving it their all.
I don’t know at exactly what age we began adopting the habit of keeping score, comparing our self to other people, trying to be a winner in order to feel “good enough”, and afraid of being a loser, but I’m pretty sure it was after the second grade. What is certain is that comparing ourselves to others, being judgmental, criticizing our self and others, is something we learned by conditioning. It is not something we were born with. It is not out natural state of mind. It is not part of our natural authentic self. What was obvious that afternoon was the freedom, the natural way of living without judgment. It completely contrasted the world in my head, and the adult world I’d been immersed in for years.
I remember playing baseball in my teen age years. They often put me in the outfield. It’s where those of us that weren’t very good were sent. It’s a disconnected place being in the outfield knowing you aren’t as good as the other players. But out there you can daydream other worlds. You don’t get any better doing this. You don’t pay attention, and you don’t want to practice. You don’t even want to play after a while.
There are many that would claim that the competitive spirit is what creates excellence, productivity, and has great benefits. From a certain perspective, mainly from those that became the “winners” this appears true. However, the natural enthusiasm, excitement for the game, intensity with which every second grader on the field was going after every play was not motivated by anything competitive. The people on the field were competently engaged, trying their best and going after it every play, It was happening without a personal self-image belief of winner/loser, better than, or less than self-judgment issue. With that much engagement, everyone was quickly getting better. A few years later they would “learn” to check out or not want to play. Nobody wants to not do well, so their solution is to not engage. You can really only be that engaged when you are present. You can really only be that present when you don’t judge your self.
There is the potential to accomplish more in this spirit of enthusiasm. Without spending energy judging, comparing, and keeping score, we have more energy to be present and focus on what we are doing. With no one feeling alienated, no one worrying about how they looked, how they performed, or what others thought of them, people have a great deal more attention and energy to focus on doing their best.
To most adults, the idea that we can live in this way is naive, and that would be correct. Children are naïve in that they lack a larger awareness of the world. We can’t go back to being naïve. However, we can grow beyond our judgmental mind and become wise and compassionate. Having critical judgments and making mental comparisons isn’t what makes a responsible successful adult. Nor does taking it to an extreme of being cynical to the point of hopelessness make us more responsible, productive, or happy. Being judgmental is more likely to make us emotionally depressed. So perhaps there is a clarity to be found in making clear assessments about our self and the world, without having judgmental beliefs. This is a way to have common sense wisdom of the world and have a mind free of judgmental thoughts. I’m not going to make my dream of playing in the NBA, but that doesn’t mean I feel any less about myself.
What if we could live in the world of adults, with our responsibilities, but without the critical voices in our head that judge ourselves, and others. What if we didn’t “score” ourselves against others? What if we could eliminate the incessant chatter of internal dialog that continually compares, condemns, rants, and causes us to live in continual worry that we, or other people we care about, will not measure up? What if we cleaned up the negative chatter of internal dialog from our mind? What if? It wasn’t there before when we were young.
The result would be that we could have a quiet and joyful mind like a child, but without the naïve innocence that children have. We would be aware of the nature of the world, how people are, and take care of our responsibilities. We would be able to enjoy everything so much more the way a child does before they learn to judge and reject through so much conditioning of keeping score.
Consider holding in your imagination such an inner world for as long as you can, and just invest a little faith that it might be possible. Perhaps the idea is condemned and criticized by a voice in your head. Consider not believing such a thought. Consider that there are options other than the doubtful voice claims. It was true before. It can be true for you again. If you put faith in this criticism, then your doubts about the possibility of such a way of living will grow. However, for those that believe that living without a criticizing inner voice is possible, then another state of mind has a chance. The belief that grows will be the one in which you invest the most faith.
Whenever I propose living without self-criticism, or judgment I usually get a rebuttal from someone. They claim that the self-criticism makes them better. They wouldn’t be as good at what they do because it was a force that drove them to success. I saw kids on the playground working hard and getting better without out any criticism. As adults they had probably forgotten about days like that. They could only remember their recent experience of what getting better is like, the experience that included a berating tone in their thoughts.
To think that the only way to get better, or excel at something is to be motivated by criticism, or the fear of it is a pretty limited outlook. It assumes that the more criticism you have, the more you will be motivated, and the better you will be. It implies that a person who really excels at something must have been really hard on themselves emotionally, and still is in order to stay good at it. If this is the case, then succeeding would feel emotionally miserable. In my experience, criticism looks like a motivator but only in the short term. If it keeps up, people get tired of it emotionally, it becomes demotivating, they rebel, and people quit. They also expend so much energy worried about being criticized that they don’t have as much attention on what they are doing so they could never optimize their performance.
This idea that our harsh judgments are needed in order to get better at something also implies that there aren’t other kinds of motivation. Enjoyment isn’t considered. Isn’t the pleasure of doing something well, or producing something of quality an option? The appreciation of the quality of something artfully done is a real thing. It’s motivating and keeps someone engaged in an activity long after criticism dies away.
People become great at things because they love doing those things. You might get better in the short term with a kick, but a carrot of praise, encouragement, understanding, or love for what you do will get more done in the long run. And when you find something that brings you intrinsic joy in the doing of it, you will keep doing it and probably become great at it. It won’t be a struggling effort to become great at it either. It will be a pleasure becoming great at something you don’t spend time judging your self about.
At this point it is not a matter of knowing how to eliminate those judgmental thoughts in your head. How to do that will get covered in the Self Mastery sessions. The first step is believing that it is possible.1