One of the most important methods of improving ourselves is to actually decide how we want to be. This may seem obvious, but many people coast through life without actually making decisions about what they value or how they feel they should behave, think, or feel. Many people go through life leaving everything up to chance-up to how their external surroundings dictate how they should exist.
The problem with this is, as humans, we are always going to default to the easiest option. Unless we decide otherwise, we will always go with what requires the least amount of effort or self-sacrifice. This makes sense because we have limited capacities, and our brains need to preserve what they can. Without conscious effort, it is easy to move through life just existing and surviving. I would venture to say that most of us want more from life than just mere survival. This is what separates us from other forms of life. In order to avoid mere survival, we have to actually make decisions about who we would like to be. In fact, the more strongly you feel about how you would like to act in a certain situation, the more likely you are to follow through with it.
Frances is a professional dancer and client of mine who is about to welcome her first child into the world. When I asked her how her pregnancy was going, she smiled to herself before responding. She told me that she had "talked a big game about only putting on the weight needed to have a healthy pregnancy" when she was newly pregnant, and that allowed her to be "incredibly successful at staying healthy and active through her pregnancy."
Frances said, "I knew what I wanted to avoid from hearing stories from other women, and I knew that I wanted to stay active and only put on weight that was needed for a having healthy baby." She went on to say, "People would ask me about the notorious 'pregnancy cravings,' and I would laugh and say, 'Of course I have cravings, and of course there are times when I want to do nothing but eat ice cream, french fries and cake. Everyone wants cake! But that doesn't mean that I eat it just because I am pregnant.' On those days when I really did want to sit around and indulge, I made better choices because I didn't want to be hypocritical."
Frances credits making conscious decisions about controlling what she could control in the beginning of her pregnancy for making a huge difference in feeling great through the end of her pregnancy.
While I cannot speak to the challenges of pregnancy, Frances provides a great example of how making decisions based on what behaviors of others we would like to emulate or avoid gives us a set of criteria for our own actions. Yes, certain negative forms of judgement are nothing to be celebrated, but judging and assessing others' actions does not need to have a negative connotation when done using the following guidelines of FOCUS and FOLLOW-THROUGH:
Focus on yourself, not the other person. It is incredibly beneficial to form opinions on how you, yourself, want to behave based on how others act. We can and should learn a lot from other people's examples. What is not beneficial, however, is focusing on how that other person should have behaved differently. Frankly, it is not your concern, and it takes your focus away from your own self-improvement. Our thoughts/opinions and actions do not like to be misaligned. If we have strong opinions about something, we are either going to act in accordance to those opinions or change them. The stronger the opinion, the less likely we are to change it. Decide on your opinions wisely.
Here is the hard part. You actually have to follow through with how you decide you want to behave. Once you've established how you want to behave, have a clear plan for how you will follow through with it. Throughout her pregnancy, Frances decided that she would drink 100 ounces of water per day, exercise for at least 30 minutes 5 days per week, and not allow herself more than one cheat meal per week. She was very clear about what she expected of herself, giving herself the best chance for follow-through. She used her assessment of others to formulate a plan for herself. This focus on herself is the key difference between positive judgment and negative judgment.
We learn from our surroundings, and other people's actions, behaviors, and results can serve as prime learning material. As long as we maintain a positive focus on ourselves and a plan for follow-through, judgment is an important method of self-improvement.