She’s so opinionated.
He’s always selfish.
She’s just an argumentative person.
Nearly all of us have thoughts and judgments like these about people in our lives; they’re almost automatic reactions stemming from our perspective in the moment. Many times, too, we’re quick to share these knee-jerk judgments with someone else—a friend, family member, or coworker.
And even if there’s a kernel of truth to these thoughts, such overarching statements don’t typically reflect the full picture of who that person really is and why they’re behaving the way they are. Instead, we’re just giving a mindless response—similar to when we make retorts like, “You’re joking, right?” or “This is so annoying.” Simply put, you’re not really thinking things through.
Being mindful, however, allows you to see the bigger picture and consider other reasons why that person is saying and doing what they are. When you’re mindful, you’re non-judgmentally present and aware in that moment; therefore, you might be more open to another perspective and that may change how you feel about the situation, lessening those quick—and usually harsh—judgments.
Here are a few ways practicing mindfulness helps you express more thoughtful reactions:
It helps you focus. Being more aware during your interactions and conversations with other people lets your brain process what’s happening in that moment. That means you’re not distracted by a variety of thoughts or worries, which can hugely affect your response to an experience. Really being able to take in the words and feelings someone is trying to get across might allow you to see how passionate that person is about the topic rather than viewing him as argumentative. The focus that comes with mindfulness can also open your eyes in other situations where you might blurt out a thoughtless comment. For example, you might notice that the person holding up the grocery line looks especially tired and wonder if she’s had a rough morning or going through some personal struggle. With that awareness, a reaction like “this is so annoying” probably wouldn’t even cross your mind.
It helps you consider a person’s whole being. Being mindful makes it easier to remember that the person you’re interacting with is more than just the negative behavior or tone she’s exhibiting at the moment—especially because that behavior might actually stem from a good part of his or her personality. In fact, experts at the Langer Mindfulness Institute found that the traits people valued about themselves were positive versions of the ones they wanted to change. A friend who’s overly careful in her actions—maybe somewhat fussy and controlling—might also be the most thoughtful and able to pay attention to detail (remembering birthdays, asking about a concern you shared with her weeks ago) in her professional and personal life. So it’s worth considering the other, wonderful parts of who she is before casting judgment in a way that pigeonholes her personality.
It helps you improve a bad situation. Whether you’re frustrated while sitting in traffic or listening to your colleague complain about her workload for the umpteenth time, mindfulness can help turn things around. Instead of rolling your eyes and bitterly commenting, “We all have a lot of work to do,” you might offer her a hand with a specific task or ask if she’s up for a coffee break. Or rather than laying on the horn as the cars inch forward, you can notice what’s around you—the unusual shapes of the clouds, the lyrics of a song on the radio, the two dogs laying on the sidewalk while their owners chat—to help pass the time. It’s your awareness that allows you to avoid the automatic reactions that you may regret later, or simply wish you hadn’t wasted energy on.