Psychology Tools: More Curiosity, Less Judgment
June 25, 2015
Iceland's Blue Lagoon - people looking relaxed, curious, non-judgmental in this unique environmentPhoto Credit: Moyan Brenn (Iceland’s Blue Lagoon)

The “More Curiosity, Less Judgment” psychology tool / exercise below integrates theory from both cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based psychology. Fostering curiosity – rather than judgment – can lead to a variety of benefits, including more inner peace, self-acceptance, kindness and healthier communication.

A judging mind (i.e., one that is overly critical or analytical) is often at the root of emotional malady. Low self-esteem, anxiety, irritability and depression are a few of its common manifestations. Unfortunately, negative evaluation of self and others is quite pervasive in our culture here in the United States; for many, it’s their default way of relating to the world. But, the good news is that, with some practice, it’s possible to shift thought patterns in a more positive and rational direction, by cultivating more curiosity, rather than judgment.

By “judging,” I’m not referring to being discerning, which is a good thing. Being thoughtful, reflective, and wise is an important part of healthy living. But, feeding a mind that’s always evaluating things as – black or white, good or bad, better or worse – is a recipe for emotional and behavioral discontent.  Life is more nuanced than that and requires a more “rainbow,” broad-minded approach.

A curious mind offers many benefits. First and foremost, it imparts clarity by providing a more balanced perspective.  Judgment (i.e., self and other criticism) on the other hand, tends to leave out some important details. Curiosity also helps us taps into a place of compassion or kindness – for oneself and others.  Needless to say, when we’re operating from a place of greater understanding + compassion, we’re smarter human beings that can take more skillful internal (self-talk) and external action.

Try the More Curiosity, Less Judgment exercise by first identifying your judgmental thoughts. Then, note a curious thought(s) in response to it. See the simple examples below. And, try not to judge yourself for being judgmental! We all have a lot of it and since it comes from negative conditioning/reinforcement, it can be unlearned with practice.

Example 1

Judgmental Thought: I’m not smart enough to do well on that exam.

Thoughts of Curiosity: Let’s see what actually happens when I take the test. I wonder what I’ll learn from preparing for this exam?  When do I feel most confident in my thinking? Maybe it would be good to talk to a friend about how they’ve had success with big exams?

Example 2

Judgmental Thought: He/She is just a bad person for doing that.

Thoughts of Curiosity: I wonder why he/she did that?  Was that the first time it happened or one of many?  Have I ever acted that way?  What circumstances would lead someone to act like that?

Example 3

Judgmental Thought: I’m terrible at sports.

Thoughts of Curiosity: I wonder why I think I’m terrible at sports? Where does this come from? Maybe I should try a different sport?  Which sports have I enjoyed playing, regardless of how I performed?

You can use the chart on the PDF document entitled: “More Curiosity, Less Judgment” to write out your thoughts.

Notice how you feel and think after doing this exercise. Note: it can be helpful to initially write down your thoughts, rather than just trying to sort them out in your head. Writing them down will provide more clarity and perspective. Once you get into the habit of doing this, you can then stop or decrease the amount of time you spending on the writing part.  And, if you’re having difficulty determining whether a thought is imbued with judgment or not, take a look at this list of “Cognitive Distortions” – which are common, biased ways of thinking that are filled with judgment (vs. broad minded curiosity).

Lastly, remember: constructive reflection is not a problem, but judgmental thinking is!

PS – Cultivating curiosity, rather than judgment is a major tenet of Buddhist psychology.  You can explore that philosophy more here: Buddhist Psychology Theory and Tools.

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