The problem with self-judgement

Your mind will always judge you. It’s what a normal mind does. It’s more important to look at your actions, learn from them and let those judgemental thoughts just drift by.

 

The problem with self-judgement

photo credit: oliochelle via photopin cc

‘When he was a small boy Nilssen had stolen a precious button from his cousin’s treasure chest. It was a cuff button from a military jacket, brass in colour, and engraved with the lithe body of a fox, running forward with its jaws parted and its ears cocked back. The button was domed, and greyer on one side than on the other, as if the wearer had tended to caress its edge with his finger, and over time had worn the shine away. Cousin Magnus had rickets and a bandy-legged gait: he would die soon, so he did not have to share his toys. But Nilssen’s longing for the button became so great that one night when Magnus was sleeping he crept in, unlatched the chest, and stole it; he walked about the darkened nursery for a while, fingering the thing, testing its weight, running his finger over the body of the fox, feeling the brass take on the warmth of his hand—until something overcame him, not remorse exactly, but a dawning fatigue, an emptiness, and he returned the button to the place where he had found it. Cousin Magnus never knew. Nobody knew. But for months and years and even decades afterwards, long after Cousin Magnus was dead, that theft was as a splinter in his heart. He saw the moonlit nursery every time he spoke his cousin’s name; he blushed at nothing; he sometimes pinched himself, or uttered an oath, at the memory. For although a man is judged by his actions, by what he has said and done, a man judges himself by what he is willing to do, by what he might have said, or might have done—a judgment that is necessarily hampered, not only by the scope and limits of his imagination, but by the ever-changing measure of his doubt and self-esteem.’

 

Eleanor Catton. The Luminaries.

 

When we make a mistake, or things go wrong, it’s important to assess our actions; to reflect on what we did and what the results were. This is step 3 of the Confidence Cycle: ‘assess the results’. We want to take a good, honest look at what we did, and assess it in terms of ‘workability’. Workability refers to this question: Is what you are doing working to give you a rich and fulfilling life?) But this is very different to judging ourselves. Assessing our actions is workable. Judging ourselves is not. Here’s an example to draw out the difference.

 

Assessing my actions:
‘When I got caught up in worrying about the shot, and lost my focus on the ball, I threw poorly and missed the basket.’

Judging myself:
‘I am such a lousy basketball player.’

 

So self-acceptance does not mean that we pay no attention to the way we behave and the impact of our actions; it simply means we let go of blanket self-judgements. Why would we do this? Because judging ourselves does not help us in any way; it does not work to make our life richer and fuller.’

 

Russ Harris. The Confidence Gap.

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