If I asked you to identify three characteristics of some of your closest friends, social acquaintances, and/or work colleagues, what adjectives come to mind? Are they positive (outgoing, intelligent, funny, caring) or negative (jealous, ignorant, petty, socially awkward)? According to Dustin Wood, assistant professor of psychology at Wake Forest University, “[y]our perceptions of others reveal so much about your own personality.”
Wood led a research study in which participants were asked to rate positive and negative characteristics of other people. The study found that a person’s tendency to describe others in positive terms is an important indicator of the positivity of the person’s own personality traits. Wood and his fellow researchers discovered particularly strong associations between positively judging others and how enthusiastic, happy, kind-hearted, courteous, emotionally stable and capable the person describes oneself and is described by others. “Seeing others positively reveals our own positive traits,” Wood says.
The study also found that how positively you see other people shows how satisfied you are with your own life, and how much you are liked by others.
In contrast, negative perceptions of others are linked to higher levels of narcissism and antisocial behavior. “A huge suite of negative personality traits are associated with viewing others negatively,” Wood says. “The simple tendency to see people negatively indicates a greater likelihood of depression and various personality disorders.” This research suggests that when you ask someone to rate the personality of someone they know — a co-worker or acquaintance, for example — you may learn as much about the rater as the person they are describing. The level of negativity the rater uses in describing the other person may indeed indicate that the other person has negative characteristics. BUT, it may also indicate that the rater is unhappy, disagreeable, neurotic . . . (you get the idea).
So here’s my takeaway from this study: if you want to feel happier, more joyful, and more creative every day, take a good look at how you perceive and talk about other people. If your modus operandi defaults to judging and criticizing others, you may be creating a lot of unnecessary suffering for yourself. In fact, the high costs of living a “Judger-centric” life are well-documented and include the following:
- Judger thinking adversely affects our brains. In one of my previous blogs (“How to Wire Your Brain For Happiness,” https://wordpress.com/post/karenmcguirecoaching.wordpress.com/617 ), I discussed the fact that negative, limiting thinking affects us at the neurochemical level. That’s because the brain changes throughout our lives (it’s not a static organ as previously thought), and we can play an active role in how it changes and develops (a concept known as “neuroplasticity”). Which brings me to the next three points …
- Judger thinking impedes self-confidence, self-compassion and self-appreciation. We end up with a lot of internal conflict, and that takes a negative toll on our relationship with ourselves. That, in turn, interferes with our ability to self-correct, learn, and grow.
- Judger thinking makes it hard to receive any acknowledgment, caring, or positivity that comes our way. Even when we’re actually yearning for love and connection, we may not notice when they’re genuinely offered. Naturally, this hurts our current relationships and also interferes with the possibility of creating new, fulfilling ones in the future. It’s only when we stop judging that we can see, understand, and appreciate others.
- Judger thinking inhibits our ability to see new possibilities and solutions; it blocks our freedom and creativity. Research on the impact of emotions in our lives (See Positivity by Barbara Frederickson) shows that negative emotions (like those associated with Judger) literally narrow our thinking, give us “tunnel vision,” and limit our ability to see options and possibilities. By contrast, positive emotions (like those associated with Learner) open our thinking and peripheral vision, thus allowing us to envision new possibilities and create new futures for ourselves.
When we are in Judger mindset, we usually end up in some kind of conflict either with ourselves or with others. For example, if we focus Judger thinking on ourselves (e.g., “Why am I such a failure?”), we hurt our self-confidence, feel depressed, and often engage in self-sabotaging behavior. When we focus our Judger mindset on others (e.g., “Why is everyone around me so stupid and frustrating?”), we tend to get angry, resentful, and hostile. Either way, when Judger takes control it’s impossible to find genuine connection or resolution with others, or any sense of inner peace and happiness.
Slipping into the Judger mindset from time to time is a natural part of being human, so it’s unrealistic to completely eradicate Judger thinking. But Judger thinking CAN be managed. It starts with self-awareness. When you recognize that you are slipping into Judger mode, stop, breathe, and make the conscious choice to shift your mindset. Stop judging and choose instead to be curious, kind, compassionate, forgiving, and understanding. It takes discipline and practice, but isn’t a happier you worth it?