Changing my thoughts to be less critical of myself and others

Other people would often describe me as a very quiet person. I’ve always enjoyed silent observation and getting lost in my thoughts. Sometimes I also sit in silence when I feel uncomfortable, don’t know what to say, or lack the confidence to say it. Inside my head has always been my safe space (even though sometimes my thoughts of myself are unkind).

At some point, around when I was in my late teens or early twenties, I realized that my silence and whatever my resting face was doing, came across to a lot of people as my being judgmental. The saying goes that if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all. It seemed people also believed the corollary that if you don’t say anything at all, you must have nothing nice to say. This really frustrated me because I didn’t believe I had many judgmental thoughts except of myself, but also, I perceived many other equally quiet people as having an easier time making friends than I did and I could not figure out why.

After becoming a parent, I started a whole new wave of personal self-reflection with particular focus on my childhood. Through that, I realized that I frequently do have judgmental thoughts, and while most of those were about myself, I was certainly not above judging others. Sometimes judging others is a deflection I use to temporarily stop judging myself. If I can find something to criticize in another person, then I must at least be better than that person in that one regard, right? But, I decided this isn’t a helpful way of thinking and it’s not a pattern I want to continue.

Changing my thoughts is way easier said than done. I’ve had over 30 years of practice thinking this way; I’m very good at it. So good, in fact, that apparently a lot of these judgmental thoughts had been flying under the radar for nearly 20 of those years. But, I’ve also come to believe that nearly everything is a skill that can be honed with practice, so too can I learn and practice thoughts that are better aligned with my values.

Many child development experts will tell you that modeling the behavior you want to see is one of the most effective ways to instill that behavior in your child. I assume the same holds true for adults. If I surround myself with people who think aloud the way I want to think, then over time, those thoughts may become familiar enough that they start coming more naturally to me. Additionally, I began tuning in my purposely to my thoughts every now and again to try to ‘catch’ the thoughts I didn’t want to have and come up with a new thought to replace it with.

Today, on my way home from dropping off my pre-schooler, I saw a white car on the other side of the intersection with long eyelashes on top of each head light. Seeing this, I thought to myself, I wonder what kind of person that is who would put eyelashes on their car like that? Perhaps they have a big sense of humor and they put eyelashes on their car to show their funny side. Or maybe they are a cosmetologist and the eyelashes are a light-hearted nod to their passion or profession? In any case, it seems like a person who likes to have fun.

When I got home, a few minutes later, I realized that an older version of me would have thought, Who puts eyelashes on their car? That’s stupid. It looks ridiculous. But, instead of immediately jumping to negative judgment, I reacted more with curiosity. I’m really proud of myself for these new thoughts and I think it’s worth this little blog pat on the back. It takes time and perseverance and by no means am I ‘done’ working on this. I’m not ready to think it’s ok that maybe that person really thought the eyelashes on the car looked good, but my new line of thinking shows quite a bit of progress and it just goes to show that one can change their thought patterns.

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