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Mastering the judgmental switch

Wednesday 27 September 2023, 12:12pm

The brain has developed mental processes to simplify our ways of thinking. But at what cost? Unfortunately, the stereotypical way of thinking lies in the unconscious and almost always impacts the most vulnerable.

It is probably comfortable not to talk about it, as when judgmental thinking comes into play, assumptions are simplified. 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 or feel overconfident and disregard the value of self-doubt. could this be 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 of the total body glucose.

No wonder mental performance fluctuates from task to task 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 high position in the awareness chart.

This is how attitudes gain momentum, engaging the mind in a meaning-making scenario. We need to describe ways we can 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 do opinions need to resonate with our actions? Judgmental attitudes don't only describe the living experience but also motivate 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 attitudes become relevant for both 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 would only choose 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 we lack what it takes, 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 will influence 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. 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, there is no need to be harsh on ourselves or others. The judgmental switch is a meaning-making 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.