This week I met my sister's new puppy, Suze. She's just starting obedience training and one of the commands she is learning is "leave it". This command is issued on our morning walks when she sniffs something interesting, when she picks up my niece's stuffed animal instead of her own (yeah, they looked the same to me, too), or when she shows interest in the running socks I forgot to put out of her reach. Leave it.
It became my phrase of the week.
I'm a judgmental person. It's a bad habit I've formed over the years. My conversation is peppered with "You should...." and "You need to do it this way.". I've always got one up on you on how or why what you are doing is wrong and how my way is right.
In my mind I'm taking the obese person in front of me in line at the grocery store with the cart full of snack cakes by the shoulders and saying, "Come with me, honey, and I'll show you how to shop for the good food." In my mind, I'm explaining to the person who built a McMansion on good farmland why living small is better for the planet. In my mind, I'm telling that guy with the cigarette boat why he's just such a jerk. I'm so full of it.
But, these thoughts, and the words that come spilling out of my mouth before I've caught them, are the expression of a habit. I listened to a story on NPR yesterday about how children who have the habit of saying "Thank you." in public turn out to be optimists because they get used to the positive reinforcement of gratitude. (sorry, I can't find the link) Habits are a practice. Practice makes habits.
I was lucky to find zenhabits blog several years ago and have used the habit formation techniques there to teach myself to exercise first thing in the morning and to stop eating sugar and junk foods (a work in progress, of course, but very nearly solid now). I know I have the tools to practice recognizing these judgmental thoughts and just. leave them. alone.
And now I have a phrase to help me.