How I Stopped Judging Myself

Recently, an old friend posted a couple pictures of me on Facebook taken after my sophomore year in college. I’m always unnerved when somebody tags pics of me with no warning (the difference between selfies and tagged photos is REAL, y’all), but photos from that era of my life? Oof. I’ve always defined that season by the extra pounds I’d gained. Ya know the ‘freshman 15’? Yeah, I did the ‘sophomore 17’ instead. I spent that second year of college hiding in baggy clothes, beating myself up for never following through on diet or exercise, and—in hindsight, probably battling a low-grade depression (‘cause the process of growing up can suck). Ever since, my relationship with ‘sophomore year me’ has been strained; I blamed her for messing up part of my college experience.

But all that changed when I looked at myself in those pictures recently.

Instead of seeing a chunky girl who made me feel ashamed, I saw someone I really like and care about. She wasn’t fat, for gosh sakes; she was pretty cute and just needed some clothes that fit better. Most of all, I felt great compassion for her. Behind the silly smile, I know she was battling self-loathing and inner turmoil. I know she put way too much stock in what size clothes she was wearing and suffered greatly by comparing herself to others—including herself before the 17 pounds.

I’m thankful that ‘me now’ no longer judges—and really loves—‘sophomore year me.’ Ditto that for ‘stayed in that relationship too long me’ and ‘shopped instead of saved me’…and ‘got scared and didn’t go for it me’…and…well, you get the picture.

The immediate compassion I felt toward my younger self in those pictures—and the absence of judgement I have for all versions of me—exemplifies a really significant personal evolution. I’m done judging myself. Honestly—done.

There wasn’t a moment when I intentionally decided to stop judging myself. There was no formal decree. I’d always known that self-judgement does no good, but that hadn’t stopped me from doing it. Instead, dropping the self-judgement came about naturally as a result of changes I did intentionally make based on new lessons learned. Today, I don’t judge myself because I’ve also learned more about the humans including myself—not in some existential, ethereal way—but in a practical way that allows me to observe myself with curiosity and make changes objectively.

Oh—and here’s another cool, unexpected outcome of nixing self-judgement: I am less prone to give myself free passes and, instead, expect more of me in a healthy way. Before, to avoid the very undesirable feeling of self-judgement, I would dole out the “aw, you’re just human; nobody’s perfect” passes. Who wouldn’t opt for a pat on the head over an emotional lashing? Of course, making myself totally exempt in order to escape from feeling bad was no more helpful than judging and beating myself up. Without self-judgement, I don’t err toward either extreme. It’s just real talk with grownup me.

How did I arrive at this place? Let me share five actions that I’ve integrated into the operating system of my life. I came to each of these naturally over time, and each had its own positive impact straight away. But, in combination, they are incredibly effective and transformative. They improve my interactions with others, as well as myself. I’m hoping you can learn and borrow from what I share to nix the judgement in your own life.

I operate on a “what does love require of me?” approach to life. That means that, in any situation for which I must determine how to respond to people, I ask myself that question. I chose this approach because I found it more tangible and actionable than just trying to not judge people. When I start with “what does love require of me?,” I immediately veer away from judgement, preconceived notions, and biases and remember that everyone is worthy just because they are here and they are human.

At first introduction, “what does love require of me?” might seem lofty or lovey-dovey for certain scenarios, but it’s not; it’s real and it’s practical. For biz stuff, friendship stuff, passing moments with people I’ll never see again, whatever, “what does love require of me?” serves as a really helpful GPS, guiding me to interact with everyone more authentically, soberly, and kindly. And I use the words “authentically,” “soberly,” and “kindly” quite deliberately. Approaching life with “what does love require of me?” does not mean anything gushy, gooey, or placating. It does not involve self-deprecation or being a doormat. It’s all about being honest and real, saying what needs to be said from a place of understanding and care—or maybe just not saying anything at all. This is kind of love is not fueled by guilt or bursts of surface-level emotion; it’s mature, measured, forthright, strong, unhurried.

I neutralize situations and interactions so that I can assess and respond thoughtfully and intelligently. Even in circumstances that evoke immediate, intense emotions and reactions, I am in the practice of hitting pause so that my brain’s executive functions have the chance to override the tendency to snap and spiral. Of course, many situations truly merit the initial emotions that they evoke, but we are always better served when we allow the all-important breath between stimulus and response. The ability to distill situations to just the facts—minus implicit, emotional interpretations and deeply seated biases—and then respond is truly one of our uniquely human superpowers.

I apply what I’ve learned about our amazing brains and nervous systems in my daily life. A neuroscientist I am not…but I don’t have to know everything to know enough to make a difference. With foundational knowledge, I am informed enough to identify my own thoughts and behaviors, understand why they might be bubbling up, and then make changes for the better. I am informed enough to understand what’s going on with others who’re acting out or struggling, too. And all this comes with zero judgement, zero frustration—because it’s science; it’s neurotransmitters transmitting and synapses firing. It’s a shared human reality that we can all learn about and..thanks to our amazing brains…grow beyond. When we know better, we can do better….but until then (or when we trip up even after we know better): no judgement.

I prioritize all of this for myself first. I have to put this in practice in my own life—for my own self—before I can effectively extend any of it to others. Honestly, it took some real maturity to fully admit it’s got to be me first. The younger me (and by younger me, I mean me from just a few years ago) would sometimes roll her eyes when people talked about “loving and not judging yourself.” First of all, the ‘love yourself’ thing can sound so cheesy, like a cringey song lyric. At times, I minimized this concept to be trivial or vain, like, “love yourself: get the pedicure, buy the dress, take the bubble bath.” Other times, I struggled with the concept as a moral issue, a “shouldn’t I be putting others first?” line of thought. Thankfully, I really received teaching and wisdom that helped me put this in its rightful place. I mean, Jesus said to love others as you love yourself—which means that loving oneself, presumably well, is the essential foundation of the equation. No judgement, and “what does love require of me” not only applies to, but starts with, ME. From there, I have much more to give to everyone else.

I constantly recalibrate—because I’m a human who’s navigating the realities of a challenging world and can sometimes divert to my former default settings that are much less loving and way more judgey. Just a couple clicks on the mental dial, and I can go from striving to reach my potential to beating myself up for getting stuck. I can go from honestly assessing and handling a situation to judging all the people who don’t act in kind.

I keep a calendar alert that pops up on my devices each morning to remind me of a few key things; that list concludes with “what does love require of me?” and “everyone is worthy.”

Though the need to recalibrate and have pop-up calendar alerts will never end, I am moving in the right direction. I trust that our amazing brains can set new defaults. Heck—just look at the innate and immediate response I had upon seeing “sophomore year me.” Last time I saw those photos years ago, I shuddered and tucked them fast as I could back in a file folder that went to the bottom of a box of memorabilia. This time, I paused and took in those images with compassion and love. The entire memory is reframed, and my relationship with “sophomore year me” is restored. I’m so grateful for the life experiences and learning that brought me here.


Related Quotes:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Maya Angelou

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Viktor Frankl

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

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