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Mastering the judgmental switch

Sunday 27 September 2020, 12:12pm

The brain has developed mental processes to simplify our ways of thinking. But at what cost? Stereotypes may harm those who are part of a social minority. Unfortunatly, the stereotypical way of thinking lies in the unconscious.

It is probably comfortable not to talk about it, as when judgmental thinking comes into play, assumptions are simplified and we spend less mental energy assessing similarities. But if stereotypes are assumptions based on faulty reasoning, then perhaps you would like to know that jumping to conclusion is a mental pattern seen in those who don't hold much information and can't develop a reasonable level of self-doubt. Is this you?

Even though reasoning is meant to be an effortless experience, the brain takes up about twenty percent, or 300 of a resting body's 1300 calories a day, requires a calorie and a half per minute while neurons need twenty-five percent, sometimes more, of the total body glucose.

No wonder mental performance changes through out tasks and physical effort, or sleep deprivation has a direct effect on our ability to concentrate. Suddenly, when feeling under stress, the mental switch triggers a demanding mindset, at which point reasoning turns into a judgmental way of thinking.

Not so fast

Stress is perhaps the number one factor meant to keep our mental energy in motion, creating relevant mental reactions. We know that its impact is not as gentle as this paragraph may suggest, but the link to attitudes towards oneself and others justifies its rank in the awareness chart.

This is how attitudes gain momentum, engaging the mind in a meaning-making scenario, to describe the way we should relate to our own experience. Positive attitudes are the green light for acceptance, whereas negative attitudes paint rejection in bright red. Understanding the triggers for distress or well-being helps prevent unwanted reactions and allows to better relate to your state of mind.

Time to make a change

How do feelings get a voice and why are all opinions resonate with our actions? Judgmental attitudes don't only describe the living experience but also motivate the need to take action.

If there was one perfect mental process to sum up what we are going through, then probably attitudes would do the best job. Research shows that life attitudes become relevant for life‐enhancing and life‐threatening behaviours, while positive attitudes have been associated with successful ageing in late life.

At work, unfavorable attitudes lead to higher stress levels, and as you know already, stress impacts organisational commitment, leading to a challenging work environment. At this point, the need for change becomes more obvious and most organisations decide to develop psychological interventions in line with their culture. Same is true for disease prevention, as we are most likely to engage in lifestyle changes when feeling threatened by a physical diagnosis.

Left with no options?

Distress does not only require change, but it may also cause rejection. When a proactive way of coping cannot be pursued, then the problem is more likely to be avoided by engaging in maladaptive behaviours such as substance abuse.

All that our mind needs is relevant resources for accurate judgments, as when mental or physiological resources are not available, we start feeling hopeless, a vulnerable mental state for suicide ideation.

Personal exhaustion is one of the reasons why judgmental thinking is worth reviewing, as a demanding mindset requires a change which is beyond your control. Navigating with high standards will only subject you to the curse of irrational thinking, as supply should meet demand in our mind as well.

However, judgments become less threatening with an open mind, and focusing on the process and not on the source of our distress may help accept and commit to a plan for action.

Who is there to blame?

We see our own mistakes as being situational but someone else's mistakes as personal and so we attribute their mistakes to their own traits and abilities which, to our own benefit, are less likely to change. And we do it with no guilt, as judgment should always be on our side. However, better mind your ambitions, as struggling to change others will end up changing yourself.

Thinking goes beyond meaning, and it is meant to exert influence over the way we feel and act. Unfortunately, the more we think about a given topic, the more convinced we are of the importance of our beliefs. The power of thought is most persuasive for the person who is doing the thinking. For example, abilities, prospects and chances of success are some of the factors overestimated by most CEOs due to the overconfidence bias.

No matter how much we trust, agree or fight for our beliefs, we are not meant to be harsh on ourselves or others. The judgmental switch is a distressing crossroad, which reminds you to be at peace with yourself and stay humble along the journey. As Thomas Merton says, pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.