“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

For so long, I wrestled with this statement, and couldn’t quite figure out why. I knew the heart of the message: don’t compare yourself to others, because comparison only leads to disappointment and self-inflicted pain. But what about those times we compare ourselves to someone we admire and are inspired to grow and evolve? Hmm... I didn’t have a definitive answer, but the heart behind the first interpretation made sense to me, so I acquiesced and put this concept aside for a while.

However, recently, I’ve noticed a common theme beneath all feelings of uneasiness and disconnection. What is it? Judgement.

Merriam-Webster defines judgement as the process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing. That’s great, but notice what comes to mind when you hear the word “judgement.” Maybe it’s the thought of your neighbor looking down on you for not washing your car, or a snarky remark about how you discipline your kids. The mere thought of this kind of judgement has a heaviness and confinement to it.

Why? Because in the context of people and relationships, it’s more often thought of as an evaluation of whether someone is better than or lesser than another.In this article, let’s laser in on this kind of judgement. The kind that evokes a superiority-inferiority contrast, guilt, inadequacy, and shame, leading to feelings of unworthiness. It's the issue beneath hatred and malice, creating the separation of "us" from “them."

Often times the the judgement we pass on others is in proportion to the judgement we pass on ourselves. We may feel judged by someone else as being inferior, because we’ve already judged ourselves for that very thing. One of the best ways to identify where we judge ourselves the most harshly is to notice where we judge or criticize others the most harshly.

Furthermore, when we notice unloving self-talk, that’s a cue to look within, acknowledge where we’re out of alignment with ourselves, and recommit to a behavior that’s in alignment with who we are. The challenge is what author Mark Manson calls the “feedback loop from hell,” where we judge ourselves for judging ourselves. But imagine the possibilities if we could circumvent the ugly self-judgement altogether, and land on self-compassion and re-commitment instinctually. How do we begin breaking out of the cycle of self-judgement?

1. Stop Should'ing on Yourself

When was the last time you beat yourself up for not doing something you should have done? Many of us spend far too much valuable energy “should’ing” on ourselves. The longer we spend dwelling on what we should do or should have done, the longer we’re not taking meaningful, decisive action. Moreover, we often feel the weight of the guilt and shame of not doing what we feel we should be doing. Decide what you must do, and acknowledge what you’re simply not willing to commit to. If something must be done, take some time to figure out when it will be done, and commit to seeing it through. When something becomes a must, there’s a sense of urgency and priority. When you catch yourself should’ing, clean that “should” up and truthfully acknowledge what you’re willing and unwilling to do.

2. Appreciate

When you find yourself in a negative tailspin of emotions or self-destructive thought pattern, appreciate the message you’re receiving, instead of ignoring it or stuffing it away for later. A burst of unpleasant emotion will not persist into a full-blown funk unless you feed it with your thoughts and energy. Paying attention to the feeling behind the emotion is a valuable gift to the kind of growth that will lead toward more self-acceptance and self-love, and less self-judgement. Appreciate that you are exactly where you are meant to be right now, and this moment is working out for you. If you’re in conflict or disagreement with someone else, again, appreciate. As Brene Brown invites us to do in her aforementioned book, instead of dehumanizing one another, come in closer. Appreciate the sameness and the humanness you both share, and appreciate that you have received a number of gifts that have contributed to where you are in your current state of self-awareness and love. Find something to simply appreciate, and build on that.

[Related: The Complex Nature of Employee Happiness]

3. Be Aware of Your Judgments & Criticisms

As mentioned, pay attention to when and where you criticize others. In what areas do you judge others the most harshly? In what situation do you feel the need to prove yourself to someone else? When do you feel a sense of being superior or inferior to others? These are all invitations to look within. This is where the gold is. Often, these are the very things we have yet to acknowledge in ourselves, and as long as we shy away from these parts of ourselves, they will own us and unexpectedly demand our attention at some of the most inconvenient times.

It’s clear to many of us today that shifting our judgements toward others (and ourselves) could truly be considered the centerpiece of happiness. Imagine a world full of people who truly knew, loved, and accepted themselves, feeling free to grow, take risks, and evolve without judgement. Imagine the connection and love such a thing would create. Are you willing to be a part of this shift?

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Luci Lampe is the Author of ACHIEVING SEXY and the Founder of Sexy Mama Movement, empowering every mom to live a life she loves in a body she loves.