About rating and not rating
How often do we go? really into a situation without judgment? Don't we always have certain ideas or prejudices? Maybe it's a good thing to be biased. But why then is non-judgmentalism one of the main pillars of mindfulness?
When we start observing our thoughts, we quickly notice that we are constantly evaluating and judging. “Do I want that?” "Is that good or bad?" “Does this benefit me?” “I really don’t think your behavior is cool right now…” It goes on like that all day long. That can be really frightening. The good news is that we all do this. And from a psychological point of view, it actually makes sense.
The filter in our brain
Thousands of pieces of information enter our brain every second. There these are processed and we experience them in the form of thoughts or feelings. But the brain cannot process all of this information in detail because our brain capacity is limited. That's why it filters the incoming information: important things are provided to us, unimportant things are hidden. This is a very sophisticated system and, for us, extremely efficient.
For example, our brain tells us “Be careful, a person is walking towards you”. This information is passed on to our muscles and we move away; for example, take a step to the left. What exactly this person looks like or what they are wearing is only partially processed - precisely because there are more important things going on at that moment. This representation is of course simplified. But it illustrates how we perceive things.
Each of us has this built-in “filter” in the brain. But what and how much information is filtered varies from person to person, at least to a certain point. What does all of this have to do with reviews?
How reviews help us
Reviews arise from experience. If I have driven a taxi three times in my life and have had a pleasant chat with all three taxi drivers, then I will most likely form the general opinion that taxi drivers are “nice people”. If you have had different experiences, different opinions arise. Our brain “categorizes” our impressions. Things that occur frequently together are also remembered more quickly together. So associations are formed. For example, if you think of a cow, you just as quickly think of “white”, “milk”, “meadow”, “calf” etc…
So basically our brain's evaluations just want to make our lives easier. If everything were analyzed and weighed up neutrally, everything would take much longer and we wouldn't be able to concentrate on the essentials. Stereotypes and prejudices make it easier for us to assess situations so that we can act effectively. That these reviews make us biased and less open-minded is another matter.
What constant evaluation does to us
We feel like we have an opinion about everything. And most of the time we are deeply convinced that our opinion is the right one. But not only explicit opinions (i.e. attitudes and values, for example) are evaluations. Implicit evaluations usually happen quickly and automatically without us really being aware of them. “The window seat is better than the seat at the table in the middle”, “The man in the suit looks really arrogant”, “That shirt is terrible, how can you wear that?”. These are all thoughts that we have, but usually don't really notice, because they go away so quickly and are triggered automatically.
We don’t even question most of our – explicit and implicit – assessments. They are part of our autopilot mode and we think them over and over again.
As a result, we become more closed, more convinced of ourselves and less open to other opinions. And this is exactly where mindfulness comes in.
How freedom from judgment helps us to be more mindful
Freedom from values in the context of mindfulness does not mean not evaluating at all. As you can probably imagine, that wouldn't be possible. In addition, our opinions, attitudes and values form part of our personality.
Here, freedom from values means much more not immediately falling prey to one's own evaluations. Not to give them the power, but to just let the situation be the situation, without any judgment of your own.
A little anecdote from my studies:
Once a seminar was about behavioral observation. Observation of behavior is useful and common in several psychological contexts, but especially in the context of diagnostics. As an exercise, we were asked to describe the behavior of a fellow student of ours. We quickly noticed how difficult it is to describe behavior objectively, without judgment. “He has a sad expression on his face. His body is hunched over and he looks very tired.”
The expression “sad” already contains a judgment. An objective observation would be to say that the corners of his mouth are drawn down, there are tears in his eyes, or that he is frowning. The statement “He seems very tired” is also not objective. “Work” implies an evaluation. What exactly does “very” mean? How do you determine that he is “tired”?
At that moment it really became clear to me that we walk around our entire lives and evaluate them almost without a break: things, people, circumstances, situations, events...
Back to mindfulness
As we all know, becoming aware of your own thoughts and evaluations is the first step. Because when we notice more often that we are evaluating something, it opens up a space in our heads.
We are more receptive and open. We can think more rationally and control our emotions and reactions more consciously. And lastly, we are more open-minded towards others and give everyone an equal chance. Maybe the person wearing the suit isn't arrogant at all, but just stressed? Okay, I don't like the shirt, but what does that matter? It seems to make the other person happy, so it's actually none of my business. Just because I just had a grumpy taxi driver doesn't mean all taxi drivers are like that...
The constant judging often leads to unreflective action. We react in autopilot mode without realizing that we can decide how the situation makes us feel or how we react to it. You have a choice: Do you let your feelings guide you or do you take a step back, look objectively at what happened and then decide for yourself how you want to behave?
Like all aspects of mindfulness, it is also a matter of practice. As I said, we think and evaluate most of the day. It's difficult to look at yourself and the situation objectively from now on. But an increased awareness of the fact that we are constantly evaluating is worth a lot. Little by little we are able to get out of the autopilot more and more often and take the steering wheel into our own hands again...
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