Shifting from Judgement to Curiosity


Let’s talk about why moving away from judgement and shifting into a place of curiosity with difficult emotions is an important step to take.  

One of the things I really like to play around with is how to take abstract ideas and distill them down to concrete actions you can take in your daily life.  What hidden bridges to do we need to cross to transform an insight into a behavior?

Oftentimes these behaviors come in the form of a coping strategy of some sort.  Various coping strategies are everywhere we look right now. So what’s the problem?

Here’s something many people miss: You can implement the best coping strategy in existence but if your foundation is built upon judgement and shame, these strategies tend to fall flat.  

Let me explain. Let’s say, you often experience stress and anxiety in the workplace.  You’re in a meeting with your boss and you misspeak. Your boss swiftly corrects you in front of everyone at the meeting.  Your heart starts beating fast in your chest and you feel your face flush. You think to yourself, “I am a total idiot. I’m sure everyone here thinks I’m a loser.  I wish I could disappear right now.” Then, you proceed to try some breathing techniques, a coping strategy you are aware of, to calm your beating heart.

If you approach breathing from a place of judgement, it might go something like this:

“Okay, I feel like I am going to lose it.  Okay, okay, think...what can I do to calm down?  BREATHING! Yes, focusing on my breathing is supposed to help.  Inhale...2..3..4..Exhale..2..3..4.. (pause) Umm, that totally did not work.  Breathing is crap. Breathing does not work. Or maybe breathing works for some people but there’s clearly something wrong with me. It works for everyone but not me.  Now what? I hate this. I suck.”

Judgement is closing off, shutting down and protecting.  It is outer focused. Judgement likes to say, “I am________. Your scared brain will fill in the blank with: an idiot, an imposter, a jerk, a loser, a terrible mom, dumb, boring, etc.  Judgement is all about Good/Bad, Right/Wrong, Winner/Loser.

Judgement is a bait and switch scheme.  The tricky part with judgement is that it can be a believable vehicle for change. You believe that judgement and shame might be just the thing to finally motivate you.  Instead it jacks you up and holds you hostage. It paralyzes.

Let me put it this way.  Judgement is like a Red Bull.  It ramps you up and threatens to kick your butt. Judgement leaves your nervous system buzzing. It may temporarily move you out of intense discomfort, but it’s short lived.  You end up feeling worse.

If Judgement is a Red Bull, then Curiosity is a green drink.  

Curiosity nourishes you from the inside out.  It may take a little getting to, but after you’ve acquired a taste for it, you really start to see some results.  

When you shift into a state of curiosity you open up, you expand.  Curiosity creates a spark. It looks for patterns. It embraces all of the feelings and experiences, uncomfortable AND joyful.  When curiosity encounters an issue it says, “Mmmm, that’s interesting,” or “I wonder what is going on here?” or “I feel________, I think I need___________.”  It draws you in and opens you up at the same time.

If we take that same work situation from a stance of curiosity, it might look something like this:

“Okay, I feel like I am going to lose it.  Okay, okay, think...what can I do about this?  BREATHING! Yes, focusing on my breathing is supposed to help.  I wonder if it will help me in this situation.  Inhale...2..3..4..Exhale..2..3..4..  (pause) Mmm, I don’t notice any difference.  But maybe I need to do a few rounds.  I feel like I remember something about that.  This feeling of panic is pretty strong in my chest.  Wow, I am not sure if it has ever been this bad before.  Okay, let me try 3 more rounds and see if anything shifts at all.

3 rounds later:  So, I actually sort of feel this tingling sensation in my fingers now.  I feel just a little bit calmer, maybe a 5/10 where I was a 8/10 when I started.  I think this helps a bit, but I still feel like maybe I am missing some aspect of this.  I need to check in with___________ (that great book I read, my therapist, a friend) to check that out.  Right now, I bet it would be helpful to get a change of scenery. I’ll got get a drink of water down the hall.”

Can you see the difference?  The impact of the coping strategy changes based on your foundational choice of judgement or curiosity.  

Now, let me be clear, it’s totally normal for us all to sit in judgement sometimes.  And yet, the more you can experiment with shifting into curiosity, I believe the healthier and happier you will become.  

Here’s how you can identify when Judgement is showing up in your life:

  1. Judgement is good/bad, right/wrong, winner/loser

  2. Judgement feels like shutting down and closing up.

  3. Judgement is fast and furious.  It often leaves you feeling worn out and exhausted.

Here’s some easy ways to shift into Curiosity:

  1. Start paying attention to what comes up for you.  What does it feel like, judgement or curiosity?

  2. Ask “I wonder…”

  3. Notice how you are feeling. Try to guess what you might need  “I am feeling____________. I need _________.”

  4. Look for patterns:  Where is it showing up in your body?  Has this happened before? What tends to help?  What makes it worse?

  5. Let whatever is showing up be there.  Remember that we all experience difficult emotions. You are not alone.


Would you like to learn more about how to shift into curiosity?  Fill out a contact form. I’d love to talk with you or set up an appointment.

**The above video was recorded via Instagram Live.