Finding self acceptance isn’t easy to do, especially when you are constantly judging yourself. That’s why today I’m interviewing Suzanne Kingsbury. Suzanne is the founder of Gateless writing, a method of teaching the art and craft of writing that melds brain science, zen practice, and craft tools. Suzanne studied Buddhism and meditation on a Fulbright, and her award-winning work has been optioned for film and translated widely abroad. She’s also helped countless writers get their best work on the page and publish widely acclaimed books. A cornerstone of Suzanne’s teaching is “your best thinking and work is accessed by getting past the critical ego mind, which is also the source of all those judgments you secretly make about others and yourself”. That’s why I am so excited to talk with her today.
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Where does judgment come from? What’s it all about?
I think of judgment, Kate as kind of a trickster, right? Because some of it is actually really valid. Some judgment can be based on fact. If someone’s trying to harm you, your family or the environment (or anyone really), you’ll have a judgment against them. And that’s a discernment, if their actions have the potential to hurt you, or anyone else. But, a lot of judgment is there not to guard you against someone who’s dangerous, but someone who, for instance, you could be jealous of, you could have a little bit of competition with. In this case, the judgment has sort of the seeming to benefit you because it makes you feel better, right? There’s like this little uptick in cortisol whenever you feel judgment, and this just goes back to the workings of the reptilian brain. That that part of the brain called the amygdala, that when it perceives a threat, then it fires adrenaline, it fires a little bit of cortisol, and the cortisol raises your adrenals and you actually feel a little better which is like, “oh, he has more money than me, so I’m gonna judge him for how he spends it or how he earned it.” And then you get a little hit card as well and you feel a little better. So that kind of judgment, I think, can be really tricky. Then, there are judgements that are set into action when someone who’s actions are a little bit making us question our beliefs. So say you have a friend who had like an autoimmune disease, and they got better with an alternative medicine thing and you’re a nurse. Say you’re a nurse. So you might have a little bit of judgment against her using this alternative method because it really calls into question your belief system, your livelihood, right? And so you, you’re kinda guarding against it. It’s really tricky.
It is tricky. And it is tricky too because it does kind of, it feels sort of righteous, doesn’t it?
Exactly. Yeah, it feels good. That little hit of cortisol’s nice. And also sometimes we really wanna hang onto our beliefs because they have something, you know. They have something to do with our livelihood or the way we run our lives. So that makes sense too.
Right. Well, let’s look at this from the other angle. What about when we feel judged by other people, what does that do?
So the judgment from other people is hitting a place that makes us feel isolated. And really as humans, we are, we are herding animals. We wanna stay with the herd in order to feel safe. So like antelope, you know, or buffalo, like we’re all herding animals. And when we feel judged by someone else, or, you know, worse would be like a group of people, then it sends us into fight or flight. We immediately feel separated from the herd and therefore we feel at risk because anytime we’re separated From the herd as herding animals, we feel like, oh no, there’s the danger. We could be in danger. And when this happens, a bunch of systems actually shut down in the brain. Like you wouldn’t have, if you’re getting judged, it’s very subtle. But when they’ve neuroscientists have hooked people up to those machines where there are little dots all over your head and looking at what’s firing, what’s not firing. They realize that when we’re judged we actually don’t have access to things like long term memory, the imaginal mind, our powers of innovation and all of our ability to deactivate the stress response. So we feel at ease and comfortable. So that’s really when we’re judged why it can feel so uncomfortable.
I want to put a peg in that and come back to that in just a minute and talk about another kind of judgment that is the kind that we turn on ourselves, you know, especially when we’re trying to do something that’s maybe putting ourselves out there in some way, whether that could be like wearing some fancy new outfit or doing something creative or proposing something at work. What’s going on there and and why is that? How can we go about finding self acceptance?
Well, if we can think about judgment without judgment , we can think, if we can think about judgment more as almost like a guard at the door that’s trying to keep us safe. Like in the, in the example that we just talked about, wanting to keep you with the herd and instead of, you know, not with our, instead of isolated in this same way, if you wear a fun outfit that’s a little risky for you or you know, a little different judgment is almost always trying to keep you in stasis. So that means that it’s always gonna try to keep you from changing because change is considered dangerous to the judgmental mind. So even if you’re doing something really good, Kate, like you are doing your first book reading, or you got a Ted talk or you know, anything that’s different and new, they’ll, there’ll often be a little bit of self-judgment there or just a little bit of feeling of nervousness. I’m not enough for this, I don’t look good enough for this, I don’t have enough to say like, the imposter syndrome comes from that, that judgmental mind really trying to keep you safe, trying to keep you in the same place that you were yesterday. So that’s why that often will kick in.
Okay. So what are some tools we can use to get around that judgment mind in our daily lives and get go about finding self-acceptance?
That’s such a good question. I think part of it is really what you’re doing here, which is to look at judgment and then almost deconstruct it. You know, it’s just like when your daughter thinks there’s a monster <laugh> in her bedroom and then you turn on the light and you know, it’s just a jacket on the chair. So to really look at the way judgment works helps to demystify it. And we also wanna question a little bit of, you know, any time we have judgment, we wanna look at if there’s a belief that we’re trying to hold onto or a place that we’re trying to stay the same, if there’s any fear there. And to know that the judgment is trying to keep us in a place that feels more comfortable than what this change is, you know, representing for you. So, so demystifying it and then really allowing yourself to sort of go, go beyond the comfort zone and knowing that, you know, change, change is gonna happen anyway. So even if there’s judgment there, you don’t have to pay attention to it.
What’s, what’s it like when you get better at moving past judgment when you’ve, you know, you’ve, you’ve paid attention to it. You’re reminding yourself that change is gonna happen anyway. Right? So may as well be going after something that you really want. Like, I think a lot of people don’t necessarily even realize how many they’re making that are kind of keeping them in that stasis place. So sometimes we need a little help envisioning something that we’ve never experienced before. Right? Can you tell me like, what, what what becomes possible?
What becomes possible is really if, if we move past that addiction to the cortisol, to the feeling of being revved up by the judgment and that that includes judging ourselves, that cortisol gets released even when we judge ourselves. Mm. So it kind of frees us up to be in a situation where we’re not feeling like we need that hit all the time. As soon as you let yourself move past it once, you’ll begin to move past it again. And when you do that, other neurotransmitters can fire in the brain. It’s really all about brain science judgment. And that that’s sort of relaxing to know that it’s not just personality or it, it really is something happening in the brain. And when we can move past the judgment, don’t, don’t take the, the quote unquote cortisol drink <laugh> and just realize that’s a judgment, I’m not gonna believe it.
Then other neurotransmitters begin to fire like serotonin, oxytocin, gaba. And ultimately these aren’t as addictive as that cortisol hit of judgment you get when you judge someone else or when you judge yourself. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. And these can settle the nervous system and make our lives run smoother. But also we have access to so much more in the brain if we don’t take that hit of judgment if we don’t believe it. And that means that places in the brain that are responsible for the innovation, responsible for creativity, responsible for long term memory get freed up. So we have a lot more possibility in terms of how we’re moving around, what we’re capable
Well you help people get past judgment, right? I’m just curious, could you share an example of maybe something that’s happened, it could be from your own life or in one of your clients when people have kind of learned how to circumvent that, that old tired path of like making the judgment and getting the cortisol?
Yeah, that’s such a good question. I mean, I think when we isolate we, you know, we’re weaker, right? Anytime we collaborate, we’re stronger and judgment doesn’t let us collaborate. But I recently had a writer who just lost her literary agent, which is, you know, a big deal for writers. And, um, she was in a real place of depression and, uh, jealousy. Jealousy of other writers who seem to be doing really well. And one writer in particular, which often happens with judgment. She just, this, this, this writer that she was jealous of just seemed to have it all. Mm-hmm <affirmative> the books and the big house and the husband and the connections. And my writer was just, she was having a lot of judgment about how she wrote and what she was writing and how she was marketing and everything. But when we went to build her platform to kind of try to get a new agent for her, which platform can be really important for getting the new agent, you know, I said you might wanna reach out to this writer cause she has built a big audience and she might be a fun person to share audiences with and swap ideas.
And she was so reluctant at first because she built up all the judgments against her because she was feeling sort of depressed. So the judgements really, they give you that zing of cortisol, which makes you feel good in the short term. But she did reach out to her and the writer wound up being one of the most helpful pieces in building the platform and she actually gave her her agent’s name. Wow. <laugh>. So this writer, you know, was collaborating rather than isolating and it turned out really well for her. And it’s, it was one of the sort of biggest ways that I could think of to explain to other writers why it’s so important and anyone really in any industry to collaborate, you know, to move past the judgment to realize, oh yeah, I’m in that thing of judgment cuz I don’t feel that good about myself or whatever. Holding onto beliefs or, and then to realize like, oh my gosh, if we can just form, form collaboration and team and community, a lot can happen.
I know to my listeners too. So for folks who wanna connect with you, where can they find you?
Well, they can come to gatelesswriting.com so that’s where, we house our website and they can come along and really anyone is welcome to to write to me. And there are 75 writers, gateless writing teachers, worldwide so they can also experience the methodology really anywhere. But I’d love to love to hear from your listeners, Kate. So gateless writing.com. But think, I just wanna like, reach out and say, thank you so much for doing this podcast. It is so uplifting in a world where there’s a lot of noise. This one really stands out for me and I feel so grateful to be on here.
Daily Tiny Assignment
So the next time that you notice yourself judging someone or judging yourself, your tiny assignment is just to say, oops, there goes that little hit of cortisol again. And just take a breath and kind of let it pass. Sometimes just thinking about something in a different way helps shift it, it helps it change into something better. That’s it for today. I hope you have a great night and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.