As the centers for disease control and prevention (CDC) loosens its standards, states and municipalities around the country start to re-open, and we are thrust into yet another highly uncertain time. Our lives were shaken up like snow globes when the novel coronavirus first reared its nasty head. Now, just as some of the snow is starting to settle and we are getting used to sheltering in place, things are being upended again. Only this time, the uncertainty seems to be met with heightened anger.
We’re trying our best to use the available information to predict the future so that we can make informed decisions about how best to proceed, and people have strong opinions on what the right course of action is now. The reality, though, is that no one knows for sure. Buzzwords like SARS COV-2, and Wuhan, China, are heard among feisty internet trolls, while talk of Covid-19 vaccinations and Covid-19 pandemic are heard through inter office chatter. The truth is, there is a lot going on and too much to pay attention to. Our focus should be on practicing mindfulness, and not getting wrapped up in the escalating tensions that this easing of restrictions brings.
While our opinions and, ultimately, decisions about how to move forward within our own lives may differ, we share one thing in common: we are afraid. Afraid of getting sick, of people dying, of a resurgence in cases that will extend stay home orders, of financial insecurity, of losing access to basic needs like food and shelter.
Bottom line: uncertainty breeds fear.
And fear can drive judgment and hostility, which I’m pretty sure won’t help any of us. Anger isn’t going to increase collaboration or productive problem-solving. It’s going to lead to blaming, defending, and a bunch of other unhelpful junk.
Which brings me to the point for today.
Watch out for Judgy McJudgerson.
Our brains are wired to judge. It’s one of those default, built in short cuts that helps them process information quickly. It’s also one of those default, built in short cuts that causes lots of problems.
Our little internal Judgys like to add their stamp of approval (or disapproval) to things and in doing so add fuel to the internal fires of anger (or sadness or guilt or shame or jealousy or whatever).
It’s important to understand, though, that those judgments, those declarations of “good” or “bad,” are a product of our mind and not an objective aspect of reality.
Let me say that another way. There’s a difference between a fact and an opinion, right? It’s the same difference as between an observation and a judgment.
Mindfulness to Combat Judgments
One powerful psychological strength tool at your disposal is mindfulness, which can be simply defined as focusing on the present moment without judgment. One way to use this tool is to differentiate between observations and judgments. Check your mind’s internal commentary for facts and opinions.
When you see someone handling things differently than you would, old Judgy is going to take over and say “That is different. Different = bad.” That’s a judgment, a short cut, an opinion.
Instead, an observation is “That is different.” End of story.
Judgments open the door for a host of other (often not so helpful) inner commentary to arise like, in this case, name calling and blaming. The result on you? Likely unnecessary anger or stress.
Now, I’m not advocating that we take a completely “You do you” approach to COVID. I am all for critically consuming information and deferring to the experts who have more knowledge and understanding about the factors at play here and trusting their guidance. What I am advocating for, though, is building psychological strength in the face of adversity. As we like to say at Peak Mind, “You are a human with a brain.” In this case, that also means you’re judgy. So am I. But we don’t have to live by default. We can actively shape the way our minds work and definitely how they influence us.
A Challenge for You
This week, I challenge you be on the look out for Judgey McJudgerson. It’s everywhere, and it can be sneaky. Catch your mind’s judgments and strive toward more factual observations. You’ll probably be shocked by just how prevalent judgments are in your thoughts. That’s ok. It’s natural but also changeable.
The importance of being mindful and combating judgments extends far beyond COVID, but why not start working on it now? You can build mindfulness and learn more effective yet simple strategies for reigning in Judgy inside our ASCEND program.