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How to Stop Judging (and Start Thriving)

Image by Noah Silliman

Your instant judgment of something or someone as good, bad, or anything in between; is based on a past experience. This can get tricky because experiences are never exactly the same, even though there might be some similarities.

For example, if you have the exact same situation today that you’ve been through two years ago; what is different today is YOU. The very fact that you had the same experience two years ago makes it different. Because two years ago you were experiencing this for the first time, today is not the case. Time is different and something in YOU has changed since then.


When you judge, your view of the situation / person is influenced by past experiences. It’s of a reactive nature, and could be misleading. To make the best out of experiences and relationships, you have an alternative: Discernment.

Today, more than ever, you need to act purposefully and intentionally using your creative thinking and ability to discern to rise to the increasing challenges life brings your way.


When you discern, you listen well and observe well, you recognize patterns and assess situations, you are able to define multiple path options and finally choose one that works best for you. You are no longer in a reactive mode. You have enough clarity, and inner stability to choose wisely and effectively.


Here’s a little process to bridge the gap between judgment and discernment, (step #2 can be used based on the complexity of the situation):

1. Filter Your Thoughts

The voice in your head is not always telling you the truth. For your own wellbeing, do not believe everything it says to you. Make the distinction between:

  • Facts: What’s actually happening

  • Your Perception of the Facts

They're not the same thing!


Example: A driver cutting someone off on the road (FACT), that someone reading this as an insult (Perception of the Fact) and reacting by speeding up or tailgating.

2. Elicit Information

Now that you know what the facts are, you may realize that you do not know enough and you decide to collect information. Remember when you ask for information and opinions, to explore those that are different from yours. Yes it feels good when others validate your thoughts, but this doesn’t add much to you, it doesn’t help you explore different angles or bring a new perspective.


When you ask your questions from a place of genuine curiosity and a desire to understand, listen carefully to the answers. Listening is an art, and it requires an open-heart and an open-mind as well as the willingness to be vulnerable.


Example: To encourage others to talk, use open, short, and simple questions. It is key to remember to ask with an attitude of curiosity and vulnerability. Otherwise, people might feel manipulated. Here are some examples:

  • What are your thoughts around this?

  • What’s important to you here?

  • What’s a better way of doing this?

  • What do you mean exactly?

  • How can we do this?

3. Define Your Priority

Ask yourself the following:

  • What matters the most now?

  • Would that matter a week from now? A month? A year?

  • What is my priority here?

Example: Here’s an excerpt from the book 'Attitude is Everything' by Keith Harrell, notice Keith’s priority and how he decides to honor it:


I woke up and realized I was running late. I had to get to the airport to catch a flight. I drove seventy-five to eighty miles per hour to Hartsfield International. I ran up to the ticket counter and told the clerk I was running late: “Quick, I’ve got to catch the plane to San Francisco. Tell me the gate number.”


“You're going out of Concourse D. You’ve only got fifteen minutes,” he said. “I don’t think you're going to make it.”


I'm not going to make it talking to you, so would you please give me my ticket!

I snatched that ticket and started running. I got through security. In the Atlanta airport, there’s a train you have to catch to get to the concourse. I was running so fast I didn’t have to catch the train.


I wasn’t just running, I was talking to myself too. Come on, you’ve got to go. You can’t miss this flight. You’ve got to get there. I was moving. I hit the escalator and never stopped running. My inner voice said, Boy, you’re out of shape. You’d better start working out.


When I finally approached the gate, I noticed that the plane was still there. An airline agent was at the gate.


“Excuse me, ma’am,” I said. “I ran all the way from the ticket counter. Did I make it?”


“We just got a phone call, the plane’s going to be two hours delayed.”


I looked at her and I said, “That’s OK. I'm positive and proactive.” She said, “I don’t care what you call yourself. We’re not leaving for two hours.”


As I started to walk away, I saw another gentleman come up behind me and approach the counter. He appeared to be a top-level executive. He said, “Excuse me, ma’am, is the flight leaving on time?” she told him they were having mechanical difficulties and that the flight would be leaving in two hours.

He became angry. “Mechanical difficulties! Do you know who you’re talking to? I'm a million miler, flying colonel. I know the CEO personally. I want to speak to your supervisor right now.”


A supervisor in a nice red jacket appeared. This guy argued with her for thirty-five minutes.


Can you guess what time the plane left?

Two hours later.


I thought about the positive things I could do. How could I reframe this situation? I went and got something to eat –a grilled chicken sandwich and a large orange juice. I went to the bookstore and bought a book, Norman Vincent Peale’s Enthusiasm Makes the Difference. Read chapter one right in the airport. Then I did something special. I believe that any time you're going through something, you’ve always got to go inward to find out what little things you can do to bring joy to your life. I love popcorn. If you ever see me in an airport, you’ll always find me looking for the popcorn. I went and bought a box of popcorn.


Then I did something extra special. I called my grandma. Before my grandma passed away, she was the one I called whenever I needed a pick-me-up. After a fifteen-minutes conversation with her that day, I forgot about the flight being late. It didn’t even matter.


I was just sitting there eating my popcorn, minding my own business. The man sitting next to me looked at me and asked, “Why are you so happy? Don’t you know we’ve been here for an hour and a half? We’ve got another thirty minutes to go.”


I responded, “I have a choice and choosing to be positive.”

He said, “Positive about what?”


I looked at him and stated, “Let me give you three reasons. This flight is delayed either because there is something wrong with the plane, something wrong with the weather, or something wrong with the pilot. In case any of those three scenarios are true, I’m happy to be sitting here talking to you. I’d rather be here wishing I was up there than to be up there wishing I was here.”


He looked at me, smiled, and said, “You’ve got a point. So how about sharing some of that popcorn?

4. Engage or Disengage

Moving to action is an important skill, and sometimes letting go is as important a skill. Only when action is serving a clear purpose, that it could lead to a desired outcome. Without that clarity, actions become random REactions with unintended consequences.


Example: Consider the choice of the angry executive with the airline agent in the story above (engage/argue), compared with Keith Harrell choice (disengage/surrender):


The Angry Executive:

Priority : Boarding the flight on time.

Action : Argue.

Outcome : Flight left 2 hours late. Frustration.


Keith Harrell:

Priority : Boarding the flight – Positivity – Joy – Proactivity – Popcorn

Action : Find little things to bring him joy.

Outcome : Having a good time and a great story to tell.

Imagine growing that discerning muscle in a way that frees you, not just from your own judgments, but also from any situation or relationship. Your freedom comes from the inside out, because your mind is free to filter voices, absorb new information, focus on what’s important, and choose whether to act or let go.

Judgment is the product of the ego. While discernment is the function of the sage.

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