by Marc Chernoff
During my competitive cross-country running days it wasn’t uncommon for me to run five miles at five o’clock in the morning and another nine miles at nine o’clock at night, five days a week. I was competitive. I wanted to win races. And I was smart enough to know that if I dedicated myself to extra training, while my opponents were lounging or socializing, I would often be one step ahead of them when we crossed the finish line.
When I first started these early-morning and late-night runs, the experience was pretty overwhelming. My body didn’t want to cooperate-it ached and cramped up. My mind resisted-it came up with a laundry list of excuses. And I found that the only way to consistently endure the extra training was to disassociate my mind from my body, putting my mind somewhere else while my body ran.
Over time, I became quite proficient at doing this. I got so good at it, in fact, that I actually looked forward to running. Because when I ran, my mind was clear, my body was in rhythm, and I was at peace with the world… especially when nobody else was around. In the midst of what appeared to be a strenuous workout, both my mind and body were in soothingly tranquil states of being… similar to that of a deep meditation.
I don’t compete in races anymore, but I still run a few miles almost every day. And even though I have a flexible work schedule now, I typically still run in the wee hours of the morning or fairly late at night. Since my friends and family know I have a flexible schedule, most of them say I’m "weird" for running at such odd hours. I’ve tried to explain to them why I do it, and how it soothes my mind and body. But they can’t relate. So, I’m still just a “weirdo” in their eyes.
Last night, after a long flight into San Diego to finalize some preparations for next month’s Think Better Live Better conference, I went running on the Pacific Beach boardwalk at 11:30 P.M. It was calm and quiet out-just the way I like it. I was about three miles into my run when a peculiar looking woman sitting on the boardwalk’s barrier wall shouted, "Hey, you!" and then waved me down. My first inclination was to just ignore her and continue running. But my curiosity got the best of me. So I stopped.
The woman was middle-aged with tan skin, long dirty blonde dreadlocks, several piercings in her ears and nose, tattoos on both arms, and a tie dye Grateful Dead t-shirt on. She was strumming an acoustic guitar and had a thick, white joint burning in a small ashtray beside her.
She stopped strumming her guitar and began to chuckle as soon as she saw me looking down at the joint. "Don’t worry," she said. "I’m legit. I have a medical prescription for it."
"It’s none of my business," I quickly replied.
"Anyway," she continued. "Perhaps you don’t realize this, but it’s pretty late to be out exercising. And I know I’ve seen you out here a few times before, running after midnight." She was right. Angel and I visit San Diego several times a year, and I often run the boardwalk late at night.
"So, what’s your point?" I asked.
"Well hundreds of people run on this boardwalk every single day, but you seem to be the only runner I see in the middle of the night. And it strikes me as being kind of weird. So, what’s your deal?"
I told her about my love for a quiet landscape, and the way in which running soothes my mind and body. "…like a deep mediation," I told her.
She smiled, strummed once on her guitar, and took a drag of her joint. "Well then, I’m doing the same thing as you right now," she replied. "Only in my own way-a way that works for me. Can you dig that?"
I stared at her for a moment and then laughed, because I knew she was right, again. "Yeah, I can dig that," I said. She winked and started strumming her guitar again. I winked back and started running again.
Why am I telling you this story?
Because it’s an important lesson, for all of us…
Some of us run in the middle of the night. Some of us strum acoustic guitars and smoke joints. And others do hot yoga. Or sip expensive wine. Or surf on dangerous waves. Or jump out of perfectly good airplanes. When we try to understand people by personally relating to the things they do, we usually can’t make any immediate sense of it. Because it’s easier to see weirdness in a sea of normality, than it is to decode the logical methods behind one’s madness.
But when we look just a little deeper, by making a noble effort to understand people by truly listening to why they do the things they do, they never seem quite as weird. Actually, they begin to seem…
Truth be told, every passing face on the street represents a story every bit as captivating, complicated and weird as yours. When you look at a person, any person, remember that everyone has a story. Everyone has gone through something that has inadvertently changed them and forced them to adapt and grow. Everyone you meet has struggled, and continues to struggle in some way, and to them, it’s just as significant and worthwhile as what you’re going through.
We are all different. We are all amazingly weird in our own way.
And when we take time to listen to each other, instead of judging each other, we learn and grow stronger, together.
How to Get Out of the Habit of Judging People
One of the most incredible changes Angel and I have made in our lives, which has undoubtedly made us happier people and better friends to everyone we meet, is learning to let go of our tendency to judge others.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that we don’t ever make snap judgments about people; we all have a tendency to do so by default-it’s an innate human instinct. I almost judged that woman on the boardwalk before I even spoke with her. So, Angel and I are not the exception here. But we have learned to catch ourselves.
And today, I challenge you to catch yourself, too.
First and foremost, you must bring awareness to the fact that you’re judging. Doing so takes practice, but there are two crystal-clear signs to look for in yourself:
>> You feel irritated, annoyed, angry or dismissive of someone
>> You’re complaining or gossiping about someone
After you catch yourself judging, pause and take a deep breath. Don’t berate yourself, but simply ask yourself a few questions:
>> Why are you judging this person right now?
>> What unnecessary or idealistic expectations do you have of this person?
>> What might this person be going through?
>> Can you learn more about their story?
>> What’s something you can appreciate about this person right now?
Once you’ve done that, offer your kindness and compassion. Perhaps they just need someone to hear them, someone to not judge them, someone to not control them, someone to be present without an agenda…
But in any case, remind yourself that you can’t help them at all from a position of judgment. And you can’t help yourself either-because judging people all the time is stressful.
Quotes to Change How You See & Treat People
Since Angel and I intellectually understand why we shouldn’t judge people, but sometimes still forget when we’re in the heat of the moment, we’ve implemented a simple strategy that continuously reminds us NOT to judge (and to ask ourselves the questions listed above instead).
Anytime we’re heading into a social setting where we feel the itch of judgment stirring inside us, we read the quotes listed below (compiled from our book and blog archive) to ourselves before we leave the house or office. Doing this on a regular basis over the years has gradually changed how we see and treat people from the get-go each day. We still have to practice, of course, but our default tendency to judge others is diminishing more and more with each passing year.
To help you practice, I recommend storing or bookmarking this article in your smart phone or tablet, and then reading (and re-reading) the following quotes and the questions above whenever you catch yourself in a judgmental state of mind…
01. Everybody you meet is afraid of something, loves something, and has lost something. Know this. You never know what someone has been through, or what they’re going through today. Don’t be lazy and make empty judgments about them. Be kind. Ask about their stories. Listen. Be humble. Be teachable. Be a good neighbor.
02. Some people build lots of walls in their lives and not enough bridges. Don’t be one of them. Open yourself up. Take small chances on people. Let them shift your perspective. We all take different roads seeking fulfillment, joy, and peace. Just because someone is traveling a different road, doesn’t mean they’re lost or going the wrong way.
03. No one has ever made themselves strong by showing how small someone else is. Remember this, and communicate accordingly.
04. The single greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. Too often we don’t listen to understand-we listen to reply. Bring awareness to this. And listen for what’s truly behind the words.
05. Be present. Be thoughtful. Compliment people. Magnify their strengths, not their weaknesses. This is how to make a real and lasting difference in your relationships, new and old.
06. Set an example. Treat everyone with respect, even those who are rude to you-not because they are nice, but because YOU are. And do your best to be thankful for the rude and difficult people too; they serve as great reminders of how not to be.
07. People will rarely think and act exactly the way you want them to. Hope for the best, but expect less. Agree to disagree when necessary. And be careful not to dehumanize those you disagree with. In our self-righteousness, we can easily become the very things we dislike in others.
08. People are much nicer when they’re happier, which says a lot about those who aren’t very nice to us. Sad, but true. The way we treat people we disagree with is a report card on what we’ve learned about love, compassion and kindness. Let’s just wish them well, and be on our way.
09. You can’t control how people receive your energy. And you can’t take things too personally, even if it seems personal. Rarely do people do things because of you. They do things because of them. There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to when you detach from other people’s behaviors. The way they treat you is their issue, how you respond is yours. (We discuss this in more detail in the "Relationships" chapter of our book.)
10. The wisest, most loving, and well-rounded people you have ever met are likely those who have been shattered by some kind of heartbreak. Yes, life often creates the best humans by breaking them first. Their destruction into pieces allows them to be fine-tuned and reconstructed into a masterpiece. Let this continue to remind you to be way kinder than necessary, every step of the way.
Afterthoughts on Dealing with Offensive People
Some of the quotes above (like numbers 6 through 9 for example) potentially require a willingness to cordially deal with people who yell at us, interrupt us, cut us off in traffic, talk about terribly distasteful things, and so forth.
These people violate the way we think people should behave. And sometimes their behavior deeply offends us.
But if we let these people get to us, again and again, we will be upset and offended far too often.
So, what can we do?
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but here are two strategies Angel and I often recommend to our course students:
>> Be bigger, think bigger. – Imagine a two-year-old who doesn’t get what she wants at the moment. She throws a temper tantrum! This small, momentary problem is enormous in her little mind because she lacks perspective on the situation. But as adults, we know better. We realize that there are dozens of other things this 2-year-old could do to be happier. Sure, that’s easy for us to say-we have a bigger perspective, right? But when someone offends us, we suddenly have a little perspective again-this small, momentary offense seems enormous, and it makes us want to scream. We throw the equivalent of a two-year-old’s temper tantrum. However, if we think bigger, we can see that this small thing matters very little in the grand scheme of things. It’s not worth our energy. So always remind yourself to be bigger, think bigger, and broaden your perspective.
>> Mentally hug them and wish them better days. – This little trick can positively change the way we see people who offend us. Let’s say someone has just said something unpleasant to us. How dare they! Who do they think they are? They have no consideration for our feelings! But of course, with a heated reaction like this, we’re not having any consideration for their feelings either-they may be suffering inside in unimaginable ways. By remembering this, we can try to show them empathy, and realize that their behavior is likely driven by some kind of inner pain. They are being unpleasant as a coping mechanism for their pain. And so, mentally, we can give them a hug. We can have compassion for this broken person, because we all have been broken and in pain at some point too. We’re the same in many ways. Sometimes we need a hug, some extra compassion, and a little unexpected love.
Try one of these strategies the next time someone offends you. And then smile in serenity, armed with the comforting knowledge that there’s no reason to let someone else’s behavior turn you into someone you aren’t.
(Note: Angel and I build “smarter communication” strategies and habits with our students in the “Love and Relationships” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
Yes, it’s your turn…
To instill more love into this world.
To love what you do, until you can do what you love.
To love where you are, until you can be where you love.
And, above all, to love the people you are with, until you can be with the people you love most.
Fewer judgments. Less resistance. More love.
Ultimately, this is the way we find happiness, opportunity, and peace in life.
Let’s practice, together.
Please share this post with others who you think may benefit from it, and also share your thoughts with us in the comments area below. If you’re up to it, I’d love it if you shared an additional quote or personal saying that reminds you to treat others kindly and with less judgement (for both their sake and yours).
January/February - 2018 Issue
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