One of the goals I have in my life is to be the master of my thoughts: to be able to foster my positive thoughts and to contain my negative ones. As much as I like reading about how to think and act positively in life, it's also important to deal with negative thoughts to i) understand where they come from ii) see in what forms and shapes they can occur and most importantly, iii) learn how to master them.
As I was trying to learn more about what constitutes negative thoughts, I came across an interesting chapter in Shirzad Chamine's book "Positive Intelligence" (see here my previous post about Positive Intelligence). Shirzad talks about how we have these Saboteur-profiles in us. He differentiates among 10 different Saboteurs like for example the Judge or the Hyper-achiever (you can see the list of 10 Saboteurs here and take a 5-minute assessment here).
The argument is that we all have at the very least the Saboteur called "The Judge", your mind's enemy number one. While most of us are completely unaware of this Saboteur in us, it is the strongest force in us against our well-being, happiness, and success. The power of the Judge lies in its ability to have us constantly find faults in three specific areas of our lives: 1) ourselves 2) others and 3) our circumstances. It's a mental force that is well hidden and often in disguise of being rational – if not even helpful. Therefore, discovering the Judge and its negative influence on us is tremendously important. In this post, I'd like to raise more awareness of its destructive powers and help you identify it.
The voice that tells you that you are falling short of whatever ideals you have foreseen for yourself is the Judge talking to you. If you think you that you don't look good, it's the Judge whispering into your ears. If you have a good job but still think you are a failure, then it's the Judge making you down. That last time you felt you couldn't get that girl – guess what – it's the Judge at work.
All the insecurities you have, the voices that tell you that you won't make it or that you are not good enough for someone or something – it's the destructive power of the Judge taking you down. Sounds familiar? Then you'd be surprised that anyone in this world has these voices. It's not just you who has them, it's literally anyone in this world. You can go into a group of highly successful CEOs and ask them to anonymously submit a secret they haven't shared with anyone yet due to fear of losing respect, authority and credibility. You will hear things like feeling inadequate, unworthy of love, fear of being rather lucky than competent, etc. Fact is that no matter how much money or success you will have in your life, you won't be able to turn off the Judge. Remember that one person who looks like he/she has it all? Yes, that person has the Judge wearing him down, too. The Judge will always be there, but the important question is how you are going to deal with him!
The most important thing to know about the Judge is that it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. You need to understand that his power is to push you into action through threats, fear, shame or guilt. The more you let the Judge do its damage, the more his words will become reality.
Another way the Judge sabotages us is by judging the people around us. The next time you think that your manager is an idiot, your colleague is not skilled enough to do the job or your partner has a fear-based controlling behavior, then it's your Judge at work.
I like to mention the partner's fear-based controlling behavior, because that behavior in itself is the work of one of the other Saboteurs, called "The Controller". If you think of relationships, they all start super happy and positive. People are in love and in complete "discovery mode". But turns out, the Saboteurs aren't hiding too far from these honeymoon feelings. Over time, certain Saboteur-driven behaviors in your partner will trigger your own Saboteurs. If your Partner is a control-freak, you might respond with your own Saboteur which could be "The Avoider" or "The Victim". It's important to note that one Saboteur can strengthen and enforce the Saboteur in the other person. Yes, relationships (both at work and at home) have ups and downs, but if you find yourself in an energy-consuming drag-out fight with your colleague, friend or partner, chances are that the Judge in you is busy judging the other person and vice versa – especially when you think you are 100% right and the whole situation is to blame on the other person.
This is the third way the Judge sabotages us. One of it's most widespread lies is the idea that "you will be happy when...". The on average unhappiest age of a male person is 45. Why do you think this is? The answer is fairly simply. In our 20s and 30s we are constantly being pushed to pursue ambitious goals. We compare ourselves with others and are in the constant pursuit of the goals we have set for ourselves. That promotion, that girl, that watch, that number on the bank account, what have you. We devote the energy and flexibility of our most valuable years to drive the highway with full-speed. Once we then reach our mid-forties, some sort of mid-life crisis will set in. We look back on all the goals we have achieved and realize that they didn't bring the happiness we had hoped they would. Yes, we drove through our 20s and 30s with full speed, but we start to wonder if we drove into the right direction. That elusive peace and never-ending happiness never came and we start to wonder what we did wrong all the time. Reality is that the path we went down was guided by the Judge and it's biggest lie: "You will be happy when...".
In fact, there are two lies at once. The first lie is that you can't be happy with your current situation and circumstances. That your current position, your current salary, your current set of achievements is not enough to make you happy. The second lie lies in the fact that it makes your goals a moving target. It places a "when" condition on your eventual happiness. The "when" gets a round of renegotiation every time you reach what you had in mind. I am the best example for this. I always thought that moving to the US would make me eternally happy. When I moved to San Francisco, I was indeed happy in the beginning, but then soon started to set myself more ambitious goals as a stronger sense of unhappiness grew on me. Moving to the US wasn't that final happiness goal anymore as other "I will be happy when..."-lies entered my life.
Interestingly enough, these goals are set often as a result of comparing ourselves with others. You look at what other people have achieved and you start to have the same expectations for yourself. Just look at all the things in your own life that you thought would make you eternally happy. How often did that happiness last before the Judge in you renegotiated that "when"? Think of what you currently think will make you happy – your current "when". Would you be willing to reconsider this goal and the dependency you have established between your happiness and the achievement of that goal? Fact is that the great peace and happiness you are searching won't come once you achieve that goal, but is available to you in your life right now.
How to Deal With the Judge
I hope you have not fallen into a despaired state of mind after all that Judge-talk. Quite the opposite, I hope this article has helped you understand the negative streams of thought that accompany you (and anyone else in this world) on a daily basis. It's important to be able to recognize and label them. The next time you hear the Judge talking to you, just identify him accordingly and label him. You will see that this has a profound impact on the credibility it has. Instead of saying "I won't be able to finish this", just say that "my Judge tells me that I won't be able to finish this". Don't say "I know he won't get this right" but say "my Judge thinks he won't get this right". It's hard to deny that by applying this technique, the Judge's voice loses authenticity. Actually, I sometimes even feel challenged when I think about the Judge telling me that I couldn't do sometimes: "you think I can't do this? Now watch this!!!". Observe him and call him out – you'll be surprised by how often he is at work and what impact it has to recognize him as an uninvited intruder.