How to Increase Positive Emotions by Reducing Judgments

By: Jacquelyn Buffo M.S., L.P.C., C.A.A.D.C.

Judgment is a Far Too Common Practice

We’ve all been there; judging the person in the grocery store, interpreting someone else’s motives and intentions and predicting the outcome of a future event. I admit that, through my teenage years especially, I judged all the time. I guess that was my way of coping with my self-identity issues. If I was judging others I didn’t have to look in the mirror and work on myself. Judging provided a great distraction for me. What it also did was increase my experience of negative emotions such as anger and depression and I wasted a lot of my time focusing on things that had zero relevance to my life.

Judging means interpreting or labeling something as good or bad. When we label and judge we actually make ourselves more vulnerable to our negative emotions. Through judgment we open ourselves up to feeling angry, frustrated and annoyed more frequently and more intensely. Think about it, if I am cut off by somebody on my way to work and I label that person as a horrible driver I am generating a negative thought which generates negative emotions. My mild frustration can easily become intense anger or even rage, especially if I go on to personalize that person’s behavior. This can look like “clearly he didn’t care if he hit me or not”.

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Judging has a place in life but I would venture to say that as a society we judge far more often than what is healthy. If I open up the gallon of milk in the fridge and it smells foul, it is healthy and appropriate to judge it as bad and to refrain from drinking it. If my husband walks away while I am talking, it is more beneficial for me if I work on interpreting that action in a factual way rather than in a judgmental one. For example, saying to myself “my husband walked away while I was speaking” is going to be healthier than “he’s such a jerk and clearly he doesn’t care what I have to say”. The first interpretation will allow me to address the issue in a rational way where the second interpretation is certainly going to make me more prone to reacting in emotion and probably not expressing myself as effectively as I could.

Using the above example, it would be real easy for my mind to latch onto the thought that my husband is a jerk and doesn’t care about me and continue down that path of thinking. Additional internal dialogue can include “he always does this”, “he’s so disrespectful”, “I don’t even want to talk to him” and so on. This dialogue is going to intensify my frustration, hurt and anger and can negatively impact my present functioning as well as future encounters with my husband.

A more effective thing for me to do would be to identify my emotion (disrespected, hurt) and combine that with a factual statement. Telling my husband that I felt disrespected when he walked away while I was talking is going to provide me an opportunity to resolve the issue with him. Judging him as a selfish jerk (in real life he’s a very respectful man) and acting on my emotional urge to yell “you are so disrespectful why do I even try!” is eliminating any opportunity to resolve the issue and address my feelings in an effective way.

It is a lot easier to be effective when we are factual observers than when we are judgers, interpreters and mind-readers.

Many times when I ask patient’s how they are feeling they reply “good” or “bad”. I have to remind them that good and bad are not emotions, they are judgments. After a couple sessions most of my patients are able to immediately catch themselves and replace their judgments with actual emotions. When we can accurately identify and name our emotions we can then work through them work on letting them go or changing them. We are also developing self-awareness and an increased ability to effectively express ourselves when we can name emotions and experiences.

The words we use out loud and in our minds generate emotions and further internal dialogue. This dialogue can be thought of as food for our minds. If we allow our minds to run free without paying attention to what we are thinking or saying it’s like allowing our bodies to eat whatever we want whenever we want. That is counterintuitive to getting in the best physical and mental shape possible so we can create lives we love to live.

Are You Judgmental of Yourself?

Not only do we judge others far too often but we judge ourselves too. Has anyone ever told you that you’re too hard on yourself or to cut yourself some slack? If so, you are probably hypercritical and judgmental of yourself. When our outcome doesn’t match our intention it is easy to judge ourselves as “bad” or as a “failure”. When the truth is that failure is a result of a behavior, not a personal characterization.

“Remember that failure is an event, not a person.”- Zig Ziglar

Furthermore, failure is proof that you are trying to achieve something.

“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”- Theodore Roosevelt.

Judging ourselves can deprive us of motivation, happiness, self-esteem and self-respect. It can also deplete motivation for change and growth. Anytime you categorize yourself in a bad way you are self-judging. You are not dumb, stupid, fat, ugly etc…Each time we self-judge we generate believes and emotions about ourselves which contributes to our choices and behaviors. If I have a thought that I am dumb after I make a mistake, I will make choices that reflect that way of thinking.

“Where the mind goes energy flows.”-Ernest Holmes

If I instead recognize that I made a mistake, I am able to act differently next time which can result in success and growth. I am leaving no room for growth or change if I label myself in a negative way.

How Do I Change My Judgmental Thinking into Healthier Ways of Thinking?

If you are about to cross the street of a busy road and see a bus barreling towards you at 60 miles an hour, judge away! Recognizing that your decision to cross the road is probably not a very good one is most likely going to keep you safe. If you go out to eat with a friend and don’t particularly care for the food you ordered, labeling it as horrible is most likely going to deprive you of positive emotions and set a negative tone for your experience. Identifying the facts of what you didn’t like in the meal puts you in an objective position which can make you less likely to personalize and interpret. This can reduce your vulnerability to experiencing negative emotions.

Checking the facts is an emotional regulation skill presented by Marsha Linehan. Checking the facts means you describe the facts of a situation, person or event rather than use interpretations and judgments to fund your perspective. Checking the facts can limit, minimize and change unwanted, painful and negative emotions.1 A lot of hate, anger and rage is funded by judgments and interpretation, just look at the political landscape of this country!

To shift your perspective from judgmental to observational try to:

  • Use your 5 senses as a guide. What you can see, hear, taste, touch and smell are descriptions.
  • Use “I feel” or “I think” statements as opposed to “he should’ve” or “he could’ve” statements.
  • Stay away from negative labels and name calling.
  • Remember times where you felt judged or misunderstood.
  • Recognize that we can’t definitively assert another’s intention or motive.
  • Understand that everyone makes mistakes despite our best intentions and best effort.
  • Reframe your judgements into observations when you notice yourself judging.
  • Not judge yourself for being judgmental.
  • Remember that being nonjudgmental is a practice and a skill that takes repeated effort and intention.
  • Recognize that judgment is not the same as having a personal preference.

Being Nonjudgmental is a Mindfulness Skill

If you’re familiar with mindfulness you know that a nonjudgmental stance is a major component of how to effectively practice mindfulness. If you want to learn more about mindfulness check out my post on mindfulness and my mindfulness page. Mindfulness is essentially intentional attention and nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment.1 Our judgments influence our emotions which can negatively influence the way we interpret many things in our lives.

Since learning about mindfulness and dialectical behavioral therapy in February 2017, I have been intentionally trying to be less judgmental. Some days are a lot harder than others and I catch myself daily engaging in internal and external judgments. When I do catch myself, I try to reframe it in a more factual way so I can reduce my vulnerability to anger, frustration and resentment. I have found that it has been very effective in reducing those emotions and allowing me to let go of negative emotions a lot faster.

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Practice, Practice, Practice

Below are some judgments that you can use to try to generate more factual interpretations. The only way to get better at being more factual is to practice it. I have done a couple for you to give you a general idea of the intention of this exercise.

Judgment: She is so annoying, all she does is talk and she never listens.

Observation: I notice she talks a lot and I’m feeling frustrated because I feel like I rarely have an opportunity to speak.

Judgment: That pasta was awful! It was too spicy and the vegetables were raw!

Observation: I’m not a fan of that pasta dish. I don’t like spicy food and I prefer my vegetables to be well done.

Judgment: Sally was late again. She clearly doesn’t respect me or my time, she’s so rude.

Observation: This is the 2nd time in a month that she has been over 15 minutes late. I am feeling frustrated and I think we need to have a conversation about what is holding her up and how it is affecting me.

Judgment: My son failed another test. I am a horrible mother and must be doing something wrong.


Judgment: The trip was horrible. All it did was rain and there were so many lines.


Judgment: Today sucked! Traffic was ridiculous and I was late to my daughter’s volleyball game.


Judgment: I ate way too much, I’m such a pig.


Reducing judgments can generate more positive emotions and reduce our vulnerability to negative ones. With intention, patience and practice you can reduce your judging and experience more feelings of happiness, satisfaction and joy. Give it a try!


  1. Rathus, J.H. & Miller, A.L. (2015). DBT Skills Manual for Adolescents. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

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