S2E6 Understanding Judgments

The brain is hard wired to judge, so don’t judge the judging! In this episode, Dr. Pete and Dr. Rubin discuss both the evolutionary and biological function of judgments, as well as how mindfulness can help us to cultivate the ability to practice nonjudgmental stance in order to experience the world more accurately. While we can’t turn off this part of our brain, we can learn to interact it with in a more adaptive way. Tune in to learn how.



Pete: Our brains judge and thank you for the frontal lobe for that and how many clients we work with that are challenged by judging or non judgement Nikki?

Nikki: How many? 100%

Pete: Wow, how absolute in a non-absolute Psychological Science...

Nikki: It would be like how often does the sun rise and set, 100% of the days.

Pete: 100% of the days.

Nikki: That's a fact of reality there.

Pete: Even behind the clouds.

Nikki: Yep.

Pete: Yeah. So today, we're going to discuss judgments, the role of judgments and behavior and how judgments really can have pretty significant impacts on how we feel, what we do and how we behave. Yeah?

Nikki: Well, and what we're really aiming for is a nonjudgmental stance, which is a major tenant of mindfulness and a cognitive behavioral therapist.

Pete: You want to jump right into the science, there she goes. The teacher in her just can't help herself. I wanted to slowly ease anybody into what it might look like. So yeah, let's just dive right in so, you bring us some of the Western stuff in terms of behavioral science so we're aiming for non-judgmental. So, a listener just said, what the hell is that Nikki?

Nikki: Yeah, so being nonjudgmental, practicing nonjudgmental stance, obviously, that language comes from more of a mindfulness framework, though, cognitive behavioral therapies have always aimed for this, because we're really aiming to see the world as it is. So brains are, as you know, Pete was just saying, like, designed to judge things and distort reality, right? Like telling stories about reality and so, in behaviorism, we're really trying to target and we actually call it cognitive restructuring. So cognitively restructure our thinking so that we are able to basically see reality accurately, which is honestly a pretty hard thing to do for the human brain.

Pete: 100% of the clients I work with on non-judgment, then think that they no longer enjoy things or that they're taking away like the thrill. And I challenge them to look at it’s actually the opposite, that when we could take a nonjudgmental stance, you're actually going to experience things more fully. So maybe, what do you think, what do you think about that?

Nikki: Well there’s kind of some truth in that. Like when I'm working with people and their same thing, and they're like, that sounds boring to just see things as it is. I'm like, well, the truth is that like, judgments are colorful.

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: Like judgments are colorful and then we also know that when we engage in judgments and intensifies emotion, so it's not totally wrong when somebody says, Oh, no, but I just say it like, I want you to recognize what is the judgment and what is real.

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki:  So you have the option. So like, if you're writing a novel, yeah, you're going to use a lot of colorful language where there's opinions and judgments, and we're going to have preferences and opinions about things. Not try to take that away.

Pete: Right.

Nikki: But your opinion about something is not reality.

Pete: Yeah, well, and we like foods better than others. We judge foods.

Nikki: Sure.

Pete: We judge colors, you know.

Nikki: Yeah, it's like blue the best color, purple is the worst, man I don’t know.

Pete: [inaudible 3:28]. I like green. What’s your favorite color? Oh pink, obv.

Nikki: Not just pink.

Pete: Fluorescent pink

Nikki: Fluorescent pink. Anything in the near technically, like fluorescent, like coral, you said you saw the shoes I was wearing today.

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: The sneakers I’m wearing today.

Pete: They're pink.

Nikki: They're actually like, hot reddish, orange ish technically but yeah.

Pete: Yeah. Casual Friday over here

Nikki: Yeah casual Friday.

Pete: At When East Meets West. Yeah well I wrote about that, actually, that the Dalai Lama, somebody that people looks up to will like some foods better than others. And so that would be a judgment. And so it's not to say that we never judge, you want to get to a place of just describing what is because I find, as we learn, say, cognitive distortions, we realize that, like everything we think is distorted and some to some degree.

Nikki: Yeah. Because, well, this is the thing, again, I would say, humans as a species, like we're pretty narcissistic, right?

Pete: Yeah

Nikki: You know, we're a pretty messy species.

Pete: We are very messy.

Nikki: Yeah, we’re very messy and the way our brains are wired, it’s a filtration system that actually, you know, this is something really uncomfortable when they come to grips with this truth is that we're never actually totally experiencing the moment. It's almost like a delay, like, when you're watching TV and it's live. It's like, what's got to pass through the airwaves. When it gets to you, right, there's, like an imperceptible delay. The same goes for our brains, so our brains are taking in all these infinite stimuli, and then creating a picture and an experience and a story for you. And, we just kind of walk around assuming that what our brains are showing and telling us are real.

Pete: Yeah

Nikki: And what I love about understanding that judgments are like judging things which is like evaluating, just trying to determine what's good, what's bad, whatever, when that's a part of our biological experience, frankly, right?

Pete: Yeah

Nikki: It gives us power to say like, okay, if I know that to be true, I'm going to recognize that when my brain is saying something to me, I'm going to know like, it may or may not be accurate. I'm going to practice some curiosity to see if what my brain is saying, matching the data that's available to me or the facts, right?

Pete:  Dropping the mic.

Nikki: Dropping the mic.

Pete: Well, it's also another thing about not ever actually seeing yourself, right?

Nikki: Say more about that.

Pete: Well, because it's always like an image or reflection, or I don't know, I'm not that smart to remember this from biology, but like to have a brain reverse what you actually see and so when you're looking at yourself or a picture of yourself.

Nikki: Oh, yeah, like in the mirror? Yes that’s right.

Pete: Yeah. So you never actually see yourself, which is another so there is this philosophical aspect. And that's where the East comes in with a lot of this stuff is that Eastern philosophy, aka Buddhism in this regard, what is it is just that it's a philosophy, it's not a religion, technically speaking, when it was developed, it was developed to end suffering, the suffering wasn't related to religion, per say. And so I think that that's a lot of what this is, but, you know, I'm just thinking that I bet you there's a lot of readers that be like, you know, what, Dr. Rubin hates my brain, you know, because you're talking about the human brain and how it screws us up.

Nikki: Yeah. Well, I think I've said it here before is that, obviously, I actually, I love brains. I mean, I'm a psychologist, right? Like, I love brains. What I want to be really clear about, you know, with patients and with listeners on this podcast, is that our brains are just organs.

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: Right? Like, they're just organs. And we like, give them a pass all the time because we're like, I always like to say , our personalities share real estate in our skull with our brains, right? But our personalities, and the organ of the brain is not the same thing.

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: So just when people like brains are so cool, I'm like, yeah, brains are cool. But like, so are stomachs, so are hearts, like so is the pancreas, like, you know, it's not more cool than other organs. And it has effective functions and things that don't work as well, just like every other part of the body.

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: And if we don't accept and understand that, we get ourselves into a lot more trouble because we're interacting with our brains as if they're all knowing.

Pete: yeah, factual.

Nikki: Like omnipotent beings, you know, it's like, no, it's just tissue in there. It's like, you know?

Pete: Like Kleenex?

Nikki: Yeah. Like the tissue of your body.

Pete: I got you.

Nikki: Right? So it’s like,

Pete: Well, interestingly about the tissue of your body, the part of the brain, where personality is also where judgment occurs and so that links nicely to some of the western science of us understanding that the frontal lobe is really involved. And what you and I know, I may have even borrowed this from you, is that we've been doing heart surgery for over 100 years, and we've just been imaging the brain, you know, for the last 20 years or so.

Nikki: Yeah,

Pete: And so, we don't know shit [inaudible 8:37]

Nikki: That’s a little explicit mark on the science.

Pete: There we go again, edit it out. I think shit is okay. But anyway, I mean, the idea is that we are just this frontal lobe, whatever that means. I mean, we do know that that's the last part of the brain that evolves. Neuroplasticity indicates that the brain keeps evolving even until we die. You know, we've talked about that here.

Nikki: Yeah

Pete:  We know that the brain stops evolving and growing over time, but it doesn't. And so personality judgment, these are all parts of this tissue…

Nikki: Yes.

Pete: That needs to be exercised or need work, right? We do cardio for our heart, we eat well, for our stomach, we do other things, but what are we doing, to try and help judgment in this episode.

Nikki: And I think the point would be all roads lead to mindfulness is to practice mindfulness to experience things as they are or, you know, as is often used, like, a phrase used commonly in DBT is like, staying just the facts, like what are the facts? You know, I'm sure my patients want to wring my neck because I'm like, all over and over again. I'm always like, what are the facts?

Pete: You're like Julia Roberts and Erin Brockovich?

Nikki: Is that, I don't know. [inaudible 9:45]

Pete: Just claim her favorite movie.

Nikki: Yeah [inaudible 9:50]. No she’s like never heard of a podcast.

Pete: Yep. And will never listen to it, that’s ok.

Nikki: That's okay.

Pete: No. Well there's a large firm that comes in and Julia, there her character and Brockovich did a really good job building relationships with these families and that's what really got the data to then realize what was happening in the water.

Nikki: Yeah,

Pete: When the big firm came in, the lawyer with like, the suit on and the pearls were like, just give me the facts, Just give me the facts. And Julia's character was like, very like more emotionally [inaudible 10:21]. So you're like a blend of these two lawyers.

Nikki: Like a blend of the two, yes, dialectic

Pete: Dialectic. There it is.

Nikki: Well because you know with facts, what I love about facts is that are that like, I say this a lot to people, like facts are very grounding from an emotional standpoint. And what's really interesting is that, and this is very relevant to the current climate, like the political climate and cultural climate that we're in, right? where people are finding themselves down rabbit holes of information that just confirm their own opinions and judgments, right?

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: They'll say, like, facts are emotionally regulating their grounding, whether they're facts we like, or they're facts we don't like. for example, nobody likes the fact that we don't know the future. You know, our brains do a lot of work trying to assume, judge, something bed’s going to happen. I know this person isn't going to like me, or I definitely know I'm going to get this job. It's like, no, you don't ever know what the future is.

Pete:  That may or may not happen.

Nikki: Yeah, the only truth of the future is, it's uncertain it’s unknown and that's a fact.

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: That is more regulating, it's more grounding and brains, as we've also said, they don't want to connect with facts that they don't like,

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: Which pushes us back to judgments and we just say, you know, judge differently, like assumptions. Those are judgments, right?

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: Opinions, those are judgments.

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: It's basically anything that's not…

Pete: Fact,

Nikki: Real facts. Yeah.

Pete: And what we're trying to do is relinquish judgment. You know, and I think that's a neutral judgment that we described, because the relinquishing of judgment allows us to surrender to life's perfect process, right, and that is that the eastern teaching is that, it is all perfectly imperfect.

Nikki: Yes.

Pete: You know, it's all working the way that it's meant to work.  The suffering is a part of it. And actually, what we find is, there are some Eastern teachings that say that suffering can lead or be a gateway to consciousness, which I think is really profound for our listeners to sit with.

Nikki: Yeah because why would that be a gateway to consciousness?

Pete: Through suffering, we learn about both our strengths and our weaknesses and I think part of understanding how resilient we are. If we reflect back on, I mean, I was doing supervision this weekend, one of the supervisors, he was talking with the trauma of the client and how it was like, one after the other after the other.

Nikki: Yeah,

Pete: So I just asked him, What's your human response to that? And he was like, “Damn, she's resilient.” I'm like, exactly,

Nikki: Yeah,

Pete: And that is what he was worried about if he had to report anything, or like all the logistics of how some of our work ago and I said, and she felt comfortable to share this with you, and how beautiful to celebrate her resilience, because here she is being able to tell you about all of that.

Nikki: Yeah, that's a really lovely example, Pete, because it was interesting. A moment ago, when you said the word, you relinquish there.

Pete: Relinquish, yeah.

Nikki: Relinquish the judgment and immediately I thought, I bet that some people would hear that. And again, get attached to this notion of like that means I can't judge

Pete: Right.

Nikki: And then what you just said was, actually know it from an Eastern perspective. We're not actually trying to relinquish, we're trying to let go?

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: Right? Like recognize and let go, but not eliminate.

Pete: Not eliminate.

Nikki: Because as you're just describing, this is a part of our human experience as we walk this planet.

Pete: Yeah,

Nikki: And it sounds like in Buddhism, they're saying, that is an inroad into consciousness and perhaps connection?

Pete: I can't wait till we do that episode of consciousness. We have to do that, because I keep getting faced with it even this week with my Zen teacher, consciousness came up. And Zen doesn't really have a good, You know, this is where I think the West is critical to understanding some of these Eastern philosophies.

Nikki: Well, I was going to say the West doesn't really either, though.

Pete: Well maybe none of us do.

Nikki: I think Yeah, totally was going to.

Pete: But we’ve done it better. I think we have done a little better of a job of at least trying to study it.

Nikki: I mean, maybe I don't know [inaudible 14:24], sorry guys just forget I said it. Another episode but yeah, so do you ever have the experience though, of like, when you're trying to help someone become more aware of their judgments? identify them in the service of, you know, giving them the option of reorienting back to reality back to the fact that not only that people might think it's boring as you were saying before, but do you ever find that folks kind of maybe like, try to cling to their judgments or like argue

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: That's a better, quote unquote, way to be or I don't know, what are your thoughts on that?

Pete: Yeah, because with the distortion, there's at least one data point of when their distortion was true and that's what they hold on to because that's what we do and that's what our brains do. It latches on to that. So I think that there’s going to be something that will say that, you know, I think the other piece that I wanted to share was one of the Eastern authors [inaudible 15:23] who I've mentioned here, and I really like her writing so any listeners out there like…

Nikki: Yeah, she's very wise,

Pete: Very wise. Wise and accessible.

Nikki: Yes, yes.

Pete: Right. And so if we learn to open our hearts to anyone including the people who drive us crazy it can be our teacher. And that to me would encompasses this whole idea of judgment because what the alternative is with some of us driving me nuts, I'm just judging them for them driving me nuts, right? Some personality flaw, some precise disconnect between myself and them, whatever it is, versus this is a teachable moment. You know, and I think that drives some people nuts.

Nikki: Well, yeah, because I think we want to be mindful to validate that when somebody is saying something that we don't like, right?

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: Or we disagree with, not judging them, I don't know how to say it. It's not like taking the high road, so to speak. Or it’s not like this is a teachable moment. It's actually just letting go of the evaluation that it's bad that somebody is doing something or believe something.

Pete: Right.

Nikki: Or you're experiencing that is unpleasant. It's just like being with that as it is.

Pete: [ inaudible 16:45]. Well, that's a neutral stance.

Nikki: Right.

Pete: Yeah, yeah. And, what I want us to think about maybe in this season too is, shifting from all roads lead to mindfulness, you know, because we know that we're always going to plug that and it's worked. You know, there's a ton of evidence that proves it. And I have found that there are many people that are not ready for it yet, or it's really hard to get to.

Nikki: Sure, sure

Pete: And judgement is one of the one of those ones that is really challenging for a lot of folks.

Nikki: Yes, yes.

Pete: Almost bringing in some of the first or second wave Western stuff would be really kind of cool for us to even consider this upcoming season.

Nikki: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think you mean, sort of like it from a Segway perspective, like challenging, disruption and things like that.

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: Absolutely. And obviously, like I certainly challenge distortions though, I got to say, like, I still lean towards just helping people understand yes, we want to come back to facts. I mean, I'm talking about that a lot clinically with people.

Pete: Yeah

Nikki:  You know, all the time. I mean, if any patient is listening they're going to be like, “Yep, Nikki talks about that a lot. I'm always starting with just recognizing like, this is just what your brain does, there is a mindful saying like, don't judge the judging, right.

Pete: Yes,

Nikki: Like, anticipate that that's supposed to happen.

Pete: Yeah

Nikki: And I should mention, and I think I've actually mentioned this in a past episode, I can't remember which one that you know, the evolutionary function of judgment…

Pete: Absolutely.

Nikki: Which is relevant to say is that it's quick information.

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: So like that 40,000 years ago, where cave people were looking for berries. There's like a rustling in the bushes, and we don't know what it is. And there are saber toothed tigers that roam the land that were looking for lunch.

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: It was actually very adaptive to just assume that that rustling was being caused by a predator because that got us to run. It might not have been a predator. It might have been the wind causing it right. But our brains evolved to judge, right?

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: So we can't get rid of that. You know?

Pete:  It's adaptive learning to be with it. You and I could go on for probably four more episodes about this, maybe we will.

Nikki: Maybe we will.

Pete: But I love it, I think a good way of ending is don't judge the judger and really just embracing that we are a messy species. Allow your brain to filter and again, don't judge the judger. This has been When East Meets West. I'm Dr. Pete Economou.

Nikki: And I'm Dr. Nikki Rubin. Be present. Be brave.

Pete: This has been When East Meets West. All material is based on opinion and educational training of doctors Pete Economou and Nikki Rubin.

Nikki: Content is for informational and educational purposes only