The 7-day judgment detox
We hear a lot about detoxes and cleanses these days (e.g., juice cleanses, diet detoxes for weight loss, etc.). The jury is still out on whether these extreme changes in diet are healthy or harmful to us, so instead, I embarked on a form of "mental detox" that is safer and that can help cleanse your mind of thoughts and emotions that have built up over time and no longer serve you. By releasing them, our minds to feel lighter and refreshed - similar to each breath you take - exhaling the stale energy and inhaling clean, fresh energy to continually renew ourselves.
One of the major toxins that pollute our mental health are judgments. I know for myself, especially under times of stress or when I'm feeling insecure, judgments run amok in my mind, bring down my mental energy, and block me from achieving my goals. So recently, I tried a 7-day judgement detox challenge and wanted to share my experience and what I learned with you.
What are judgments?
Imagine these thought bubbles over your head in these scenarios:
You're trying on an outfit in the dressing room and think, "That dress looks big on me. My thighs are huge!"
You're driving, someone cuts you off and you think, "What an idiot...How rude!"
You see someone you admire and think, "She's so beautiful, smart, and talented."
The person you're dating doesn't return your text and you think, "She thinks she's too good to talk to me."
Judgments are any kind of evaluation, whether positive ("awesome", "funny", "amazing", "cute") or negative ("gross", "dumb", "ugly", "terrible"), directed towards yourself or others. They are opinions, usually clouded by our previous experiences and pre-existing emotions. Judgments are often different from reality and out of touch with the present moment. They are the opposite of facts, which are more simply, "who, what, when where".
We have judgments for a reason
Our brains are wired to constantly form judgments - thousands of them a day! We make evaluations about things, events, other people and ourselves almost every waking moment of our existence. Why? Because they serve a purpose! Most of the time, they originate from anxiety. Judgments are formed in attempt to protect ourselves from danger, threat, or harm. Back in stone-age/caveman/woman times, when we were chased by a bear, we had to immediately think - Is this bear a dangerous predator? Is it big and strong enough to hurt me? Am I fast enough to run away from it? We had to make quick judgments to help us decide whether to fight, flight, or freeze.
Nowadays, we make a lot of judgments to protect ourselves from harm from others: "Is this person nice, trustworthy, reliable?" Or we make judgments about ourselves to protect ourselves from failure or rejection: "Is my presentation perfect?" Judgments are a survival mechanism and no doubt have kept us alive and safe in many dangerous situations. But not all people, things, or events are dangerous. When we have too many judgments, even in response to things that don't really do us any harm, it can actually create more unnecessary stress, anxiety and negativity.
Step 1 of judgment detoxing: Become aware
The first few days into my 7-day judgement detox, I was floored by just how many judgments I had - about everything - the to-do list, the traffic, my family, my appearance, my habits, the weather. Part of this initial process was just about catching myself having judgements in the first place. I found myself struggling to stop myself from having them, pushing them away, or judging my judgments.
Then I started to notice how they made me feel.
When I made judgements about others, it created feelings of separation and disconnection. Judgments about things I couldn't control, like the traffic and the weather, made me feel powerless. Judgments about myself made me feel deflated and incompetent. Positive judgments about other people made me compare myself to them, feel inadequate, and place unrealistic pressure or expectations on myself. In general, they intensified the emotions that I was already feeling, so making a judgment about something that I was angry about, made me feel angrier.
Step 2: Look for patterns and ask why
By day 4, patterns started to emerge.
I began to look behind the judgment and ask myself:
"What is the danger or threat?"
"What am trying to fight, run away from or control?"
"What am I trying to avoid?"
"What am I trying to protect?"
"What am I trying to prove?"
I noticed that the judgments took on similar, recurring themes, which had to do with my perceived fears and threats. Most of the time, they were a result of thinking errors like mind-reading, fortune-telling, and catastrophizing.
Step 3: Reframe or let go
On day 6, I started practicing reframing the judgments I had, focusing more on the facts and acknowledging my feelings. Some examples:
Judgment: This person is a terrible driver. What's wrong with him? (To person who was driving 20 mph in front of me on the freeway).
Non-judgment: I am worried that I will be late to work and this person, driving at 20 mph, is slowing me down.
Judgment: What is up with this gloomy weather? Isn't it supposed to be summer in San Diego already?
Non-judgment: There are some clouds in the sky with parts of sunshine peaking through. I am grateful to have a few more weeks of cooler temperature before it starts to heat up.
Judgment: This to-do list is overwhelming and I'll never get it done.
Non-judgment: I am feeling overwhelmed and worried that I won't be able to get it done. This to-do list has 15 items on it. I can get 3 of the items checked off today.
Other times, I felt so strongly about some judgments that I didn't have the motivation or energy to reframe them in the moment. I reattempted later when I was calmer or I just let them go, seeing them as just thoughts, rational or not. I began to separate myself from the thoughts and saw them from a distance. I didn't always have to get entangled in them or battle with them. I could just say, "Hey, I had a judgment!" and release it.
When I started changing the judgment to fact, acknowledging my feelings, or letting go of the judgements, I noticed a powerful shift. The intensity of the emotion behind the judgment whittled down, like letting the air out of a balloon. Once I wasn't so anxious, sad, frustrated, etc., I was able to think more clearly and make decisions or problem-solve based more on reality and what I needed in the present moment. I felt more empowered and in control. I focused more on my own actions and what I could do, rather than just complain. I was able to better accept what was outside of my control. I was kinder and more forgiving to myself and others.
Detoxing from judgments for 7 straight days certainly wasn't easy. It does take a lot of mental resources to notice all these thoughts and how they impact you. On the upside, it definitely got easier by the end of the week and I felt a major improvement in my mood. I also gained a lot of insight in this process about the kind of judgments I made and why. It was more than worth it to do this detox and one that I will certainly keep up.
Try it for yourself and see how you feel!