Being judgemental is a fact of life. We’re always judging other people, and quite frankly it’s making us all worse off.
That person in line at the grocery store, you know, the one with acrylic nails, yeah, she has terrible tastes. The driver who cut you off on the freeway, he must be a terrible driver. That friend who complains about her boyfriend, she must have a shitty home life; my life is most definitely not like hers.
But what’s worse than passing judgment on others? Who is the last person you should be judging? Well, you of course.
We judge ourselves harder than anyone else in the world. It’s us who has the acrylic nails, the terrible driving record, and the shitty home life. It’s us who don’t stack up against others, and it’s us doing the judging. Effectively, it’s us who determines that we aren’t worthy and that we should curl up into a little ball and die.
Too morbid? I think not, because I bet half of you reading are nodding in agreement. We all judge ourselves. There’s no denying it, and there’s no stopping it. Self-judgement is inevitable.
So then, if we can’t stop judging ourselves, how can we use it to our advantage? How can we flip the script and judge ourselves in a positive manner, rather than the default negative?
I’m glad you asked. They key is to judge yourself on effort rather than on output. Let me explain.
Why Do We Judge Ourselves and Other People?
Luckily, or maybe unluckily, judging ourselves is actually a normal response. Does that help you feel less alone? Misery loves company, right?
Ultimately, we judge ourselves and others due to two leading factors of evolutionary psychology:
- Our instinct for survival
- Our need for quick decision-making
Let’s take a look at each.
1. Our Instinct for Survival
According to Psychology Today, human beings have a natural instinct for survival, which makes our demeanor defensive, judgmental, and untrusting. Your desire to judge comes from an evolutionary advantage we evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. Thanks a lot, ancestors!
So the first reason we judge is because it’s a survival instinct. It’s a way for us to remain wary and alert when we meet certain people or find ourselves in certain situations. We’re a social species, and we evolved with an understanding that social dominance equals power.
So, when you judge other people, even though you might not realize it, you’re actively trying to find a chink in someone’s social armor and convince yourself that you have a social claim on dominance. You’re effectively tearing down someone in your own mind so you feel as if you’re a superior member of the tribe.
2. Our Need for Quick Decision-Making
However, our default desire to judge others doesn’t stop there. Another evolutionary trait of ours is that we have to make decisions fast. A poor decision made in the fertile valley way-back-when could spell death for our ancestors. But now, especially if you live in the western world, a poor decision typically results in nothing more than social shame or anxiety. These were deathly feelings when we relied on a tribe of 100 people, but hardly deathly today.
So, the second reason we judge is because it’s also a survival instinct, but a different one than the first. We need to assess situations and take action quickly in order to survive. Therefore, it’s not only quicker but actually more advantageous – from a survival perspective – to judge someone fast. We force people into boxes so we can understand them with more efficiency.
This is why we judge people; this is why stereotypes work. It’s safer to assume all gang members are murderers than to ask each-and-every one of them if they want to kill you.
But herein lies an inherent problem, because I’d like to think that not all gang members are murderers. I’m sure some have a good heart and maybe turned to the camaraderie of a gang because they didn’t have any support at home.
And yet our default is to judge everyone so that we feel socially superior and also feel like we’re going to live longer and with less danger.
Why is Self-Judgement Inevitable?
Ok, so we don’t have anyone to blame except for our ancestors, right? All the ill feelings we have towards people is due to a survival trait. Why then, if survival is positive, do we judge ourselves negatively? Seems counterintuitive.
Well, it is, but it doesn’t mean we’ll stop. We judge ourselves due to the same evolutionary survival traits, and for similar reasons.
1. Our Instinct for Survival
First, we’re constantly self-judging in relation to other people because we want to be socially better than them.
Think back to a time when your friend told you they got a huge raise. I’m sure you hugged them and congratulated them, but on the inside, you were jealous and maybe even a little hurt. “They don’t work as hard as me,” you might’ve said. “They aren’t as smart as me, where’s my raise!”
And yet because they now make more money than you, your natural default is to feel socially inferior. You look at them and judge yourself negatively for not being on their level. They’ve bested you in front of the tribe, and they are now the leader, not you. Damn them!
And so you lament and beat yourself up mentally and shut the blinds and call in sick and wonder how anyone even likes you. Great way to get that raise, am I right?
But the fact remains that whenever you feel socially inferior to someone else, you’ll naturally judge yourself negatively. And in today’s world where we’re forced to peer into the lives of celebrities a la the Kardashians, it’s pretty easy to always feel inferior and to always think of yourself negatively.
In fact, studies show that we now see celebrities so much that we subconsciously count them as part of our 100-person tribe, making it even easier to feel inferior. Damn you, Kardashians!
2. Our Need for Quick Decision-Making
And, of course, let’s not forget about the second survival trait.
It’s much easier for us humans to understand our environment if people fit into neat little boxes, of which we can judge them quickly. However, this survival trait bleeds over into our view of self, and we also naturally put ourselves in pre-defined boxes of our making. It’s a self-imprisonment of sorts.
So when we feel shitty about ourselves, it’s easy to wrap that feeling into our identity and assume that’s who we’ve always been and who we’ll always be. “I’m not a morning person,” “I’m not as beautiful as her,” and “he’s way smarter than me,” are all thoughts that further judge ourselves negatively and solidify the box around us.
This self-narrative, this self-judgement, in turn, causes us to become less successful. You might turn down that new job, for example, because “you’re not a smart person.” You might skip out on a fun night with friends because “you’re not the social type.”
What a load of horse shit. That’s a stupid narrative you tell yourself. Those are dumb judgments you pass on yourself, resulting in a box erroneously defines your identity. But this also means that you have direct control over the narrative in your head. It’s up to you whether or not you want to judge yourself negatively or positively.
This is How to Judge Yourself the Right Way
So, we’re always going to judge ourselves and our default is to judge ourselves negatively. What gives? What can we do about it? How are we going to go back on thousands of years of evolution?
Well, the key isn’t to stop judging ourselves, but to judge ourselves in a different way.
I’ve found that one of the most important things you can do is to judge yourself on effort rather than output.
Think about it. Every time you feel like shit, it’s because you’re mad at your output or at the results of your efforts. You look at that friend who just got a raise and judge yourself because your monetary output isn’t the same. But what about your effort?
Are you giving your job everything you’ve got? Are you working a job that you enjoy? Do you feel passionate and envigored when you complete on something you’re proud of? I hope the answers are yes. And if so, then who gives a fuck about the guy with the raise? You’re following your path to your version of success.
We need to start judging ourselves on our effort and not necessarily on the results. There are an infinite amount of variables in the world, of which you can control one: You. Some people work for years without achieving their goals while other people strike gold on their first attempt. But you can’t control all the circumstances that go into success because there are a ton of outside factors. But you can control your effort. You can always control your effort.
The Story of My Life
Let me explain with a quick story from my life.
I run a “solo-prenuer” content marketing consulting biz and have three large recurring clients. I also write novels and screenplays, work on business ideas, and write this damn blog. It’s a lot, and I have to be efficient with my time.
Two weeks ago I had one helluva week. I had a ton to do for all three clients, and I also wanted to progress with my new screenplay and my blog (new design, anyone?). So, I busted my ass and got everything done, but a lot of the work I completed for my clients was passed back, needing more revisions than usual.
Dammit, that felt shitty. Here I was thinking that completing my weekly to-do list would mean that I had a “successful week,” when in reality I harmed my client relationships because I focused on output rather than effort. I blew through my week’s tasks without wondering about the quality. So here I was judging myself negatively. I focused on output and I failed.
The following week I decided to do things differently. Rather than focusing on output, I was going to give maximum effort to each of my tasks. If I didn’t finish everything I wanted to throughout the week, then so be it. But one thing I would do was feel proud about each project I worked on. I wouldn’t mark a project complete until I felt figuratively on fire about it, as if I could run through walls. I’m sure you know the feeling.
So I did it; I focused on effort over output. And the result? I not only had the best week of the year but had the most productive and enjoyable work week in recent memory. I felt – no, I knew – that I was doing good work. And if a client bounced back some of my writing? No worries! I gave it my all, I left it all on the field, and I was proud of myself.
I judged myself and my life to be wildly positive on the fast track to success. And all it took was a conscious effort to judge myself on the right thing, effort, rather than the wrong thing, output.
I hope this makes you feel a bit better. You judge yourself, sure, but you aren’t alone. You have every human who ever lived on your side.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t use our judgmental evolutionary traits to our advantage. In fact, we need to use them to our advantage. So, rather than judging yourself on output, judge yourself on effort. It’s the only way you’ll ever be, nay, ever feel successful.
Evan Tarver is an author, nonfiction writer and editor, screenwriter, and small business owner with a background in finance and technology. Overall, the content he creates is meant to shift the way people think and encourage them to act. Some ideas explore the social environment on the macro level, some ideas explore the transformative power of personal growth on the micro-level, while most fall somewhere in between.