As you go through life, you make judgments every day. Everything that you do, hear or see, passes through that never-stopping filter that exists between your ears in the form of judgment. On one side of that judgment lie your expectations; on the other side lies reality. Then, in a completely different area lies your interpretation of reality. Your brain constantly grinds those and puts them at odds. Some things match your expectations; others don’t. As you judge yourself and others, you are merely trying to figure out where reality—your reality—sits relative to your expectations.
The Game of Expectations
Regardless of their level of self-awareness, every person on the planet has expectations, you and I included.
Having expectations is not bad because you need a reference system to gauge the world around you. You create these expectations based on your own set of values and beliefs and your life experiences.
If you grew up in a household where your mother expressed her undivided love to you, you’d grow up expecting all mothers to behave that way. As a woman, you’ll wish to be capable of showing the same to your kids. As a man, you’d expect the future mother of your children to do that.
You can reflect on your life and find many examples where you have expectations that are a direct result of something you’ve experienced.
In addition to that, you also create expectations based on things lacking in your life, especially when you contrast those against the situations of other people you know. For instance, if you grew up in your parent’s fancy house, you’d expect to own something similar or better when you grow up. But, if you grew up in a small home while all your friends had fancier houses, you might grow up expecting to do a lot better than your parents.
No matter what you do, there’s always a standard you set up even if, sometimes, it might be invisible; it’s always there lingering in your subconscious.
Similar to how you create expectations for the people around you, society, and even the world, you also have expectations for yourself.
This game of expectations is not necessarily a bad thing because it could be inherently motivating. But, there comes a time when it stops being that because unmet expectations plus time lead to frustration and anxiety.
How Expectations Drive Our Judgments
When you expect a person to behave a certain way, but they don’t, what is the first conclusion you draw?
Here are some possible answers:
- My expectations are incorrect; I have to adjust them.
- Although my expectations are correct, this person doesn’t understand; I should explain, and maybe we can reconcile.
- My expectations are correct, but this person refuses to meet them. I should stay away from them.
What kind of feelings would each of the answers above give you? Probably the entire spectrum. You can see how the first one is inner-looking, where you assume that you are missing something and should do more self-reflection and analysis. The second one is somewhere in the middle, where you feel the need to have a conversation to reach the middle ground.
The last one is the more arrogant position where you expect others to change and adapt to you, or you’ll deem them not caring and distance yourself.
As the gap between your expectations and the reality you observe and internalize becomes more apparent, judgment begins to brood. That’s because we all have an innate need to explain things and have a difficult time simply accepting reality for what it is.
When the expectations are not met, we need a culprit, whether ourselves or someone else. The last thing we can accept is that reality merely is. We need to point a finger, express our frustration or anger, or affect some change in ourselves or someone else.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
The phrase “action speaks louder than words” is popular these days, and it has been since the 1600s when it was first coined by John Pym, albeit in a slightly longer version. Today, it means the same thing: no matter what you say, what you do defines what you truly think or believe.
If you tell your spouse, “I love you,” but you don’t act as though you loved them, do you love them? You might genuinely believe that you do because your way of showing love is different from how your spouse perceives love, but who’s right?
The truth is, you are both right and wrong at the same time. It sounds confusing, so to understand, you need to take a trip outside your body and float like a cloud above a couple, imagining you have omniscient powers.
The wife says, “I love you.” You then float inside her head, and you can only hear her thoughts and feel her feelings. She’s warm inside; she means it. With a gentle touch, she begins to give her husband a neck massage. After a few minutes, she kisses him on the cheek and brings him a hot tea.
Now you float inside the husband’s mind and only hear his thoughts.
Where is this going? Oh, just a massage. I really didn’t need that today.
Now float out again and be the omniscient viewer.
So, who’s right?
Of course, it depends on perspective, which is why your ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is a critical communication skill. If you focus exclusively on how you feel and how what you say makes you feel, you’ll miss the other’s perspective, and you’ll create the possibility of a gap of expectations.
Good Intentions with Unmatched Expectations
What happens in the husband’s mind, though, in the example above? He can clearly see the intention that the wife has. Her actions are conducive to what she’s telling him, but they are not the actions that he expects.
That is usually the case when you, as the point of view, observe good intentions, but the actions behind them don’t match your expectations.
Note that I’m not even discussing a situation when you know or even suspect bad intentions or lack of good intentions. That’s a whole different subject.
Here, we are focusing exclusively on those cases where you are deeply aware of the other person’s good intentions, but the actions behind them don’t match with what you’d expect them to do.
What is your first assumption?
Do you jump into the “actions speak louder than words” and immediately judge that person as a deceiver and, perhaps even a lier, although not intentionally? Does that mean that you discount their intent and only evaluate them exclusively on what they do?
Or, do you assume that their intention should be taken into account, but they cannot connect that intent with the right action at this point in time?
The former idea discounts the person, and soon those “good intentions” won’t matter anymore. Soon, you’ll start to see the other person as a villain because they cannot meet your expectations.
The latter idea proposes that the person’s good intentions should be the driver of your judgment, and you need to spend more time detailing your expectations and helping that person connect one to the other. In other words, the person needs to learn more about you to understand the actions you expect from them.
The problem is that you’ll never give the other person a chance unless you have this latter mindset. The more you’ll judge them exclusively on their actions, the more you will discount their intentions, thus robbing them from even the possibility of ever approaching the level of your expectations. In that case, you will stay frustrated and angry, and the other person will remain oblivious and dumbfounded as to why they can’t satisfy you.
Why You Judge Yourself By Your Intentions
Action is what moves you forward. It doesn’t unnecessarily mean that it moves you “forward” in the sense of going in the right direction and at the proper pace. It simply means moving.
Intentions are desires for action that might or might not manifest into action.
For example, saying “I want to lose weight” is an intention. You declare it, and you may or may not believe that you can do it. Not believing it is not in the scope of this article because it just means you’re lying.
So, we’ll assume that when you declare an intention, you believe it, and you genuinely want to do it. But you don’t.
How you judge yourself at that moment separates people with good self-awareness and a growth mindset from oblivious people with a fixed mindset.
The former goes like this: “I haven’t done anything to lose weight, but it’s on my mind. It’s in my priorities. One day, I’ll do it. I’m good. At least I know what to do.”
And that’s where it starts—with “at least.” Saying “at least” doesn’t mean anything until it converts into action.
When you cuddle yourself that, “at least, I had the thought,” all you’re doing is justifying your inaction. Somehow, it feels as if by thinking about it, not doing it is less problematic than if you had no idea.
The truth is—there is no difference.
When you judge yourself based on your intentions exclusively, you close the gap between reality and expectations artificially. It’s not real, but your brain feels like it’s real, so you feel less anxious about it. It almost acts as a numbing mechanism.
Why You Judge Others By Their Actions
Now, let’s reverse the lens. You are no longer judging yourself but others. Here are four types of people you might observe in your life:
- People who don’t declare their intention and do nothing, so you have no clue what they think;
- People who declare their intention but don’t keep their word;
- Those who claim their intention and keep their word;
- Those who just do it;
The first group of people is difficult to gauge. That’s the husband or wife who never says “I love you” and never acts like it. It’s the friend who never calls to check-in. You don’t know what is going on in these people’s minds.
The second group includes those people who keep deceiving you. They declare their intent and make it very clear, but their actions don’t live up to what they promised.
The last two groups are those we’d all like to be around. These are people who either do what they say or simply do it, and their actions speak for themselves.
In all these situations, you can see how your analysis of the other people’s performance is based on what they ultimately do and not on what they said or thought they’d do.
Unlike in the previous section, where you were content with yourself simply thinking the right thing and not doing it, that idea is no longer sufficient when it comes to others. You cannot accept their intent as proof of their true ideology.
You need them to do it. Unlike yourself, who’s satisfied with thinking the right things, you always need others to do the right things; otherwise, your world collapses.
It’s a double standard which over time, will chip away at your peace of mind. This brings up the obvious question, is there a way to flip that thinking on its head?
How Judging Yourself By Your Actions Will Transform You
When you stop judging yourself by your intentions, and you genuinely only judge yourself by your actions, you’ll enter a transformative part of your life.
That’s because if you hold yourself accountable for your actions and do not sugarcoat yourself by looking at your intentions, the gap between reality and expectations will only change when you act.
Your thoughts and ideas about what you’d like to do or not do don’t matter anymore. They are what they should be: a catalyst for your plans.
When you declare your intentions, you don’t do so to soothe your brain or show to the world and yourself that you understand what needs to be done. Instead, you declare your intentions to create a clear path toward action. You become authentic.
Intentions are no longer used to close that mental gap; they are used to drive you to action, which will, eventually, shorten the actual gap.
Note that this doesn’t imply becoming a tyrant with yourself, and start judging yourself critically in the sense of putting yourself down. There’s a big difference between beating yourself to death for every little mistake or flaw and using judgment deliberately to drive your growth.
The former is paralyzing and won’t help you. The latter is motivating and will drive you forward.
How Judging Others By Their Intentions Improves Relationships
One huge fallacy when judging people when they don’t fulfill their promises is taking things personally.
So, if a person tells you that they love you, but they don’t act like it, a first thought could be: they don’t love me. The longer that thought lingers, the more chances for it to morph into “I am not lovable.”
When people’s actions don’t fill in the gap you’ve created between reality and expectations, you forget that they are, still, people. They have flaws, weaknesses, difficulties, struggles, fears, phobias, biases, etc.
If somebody cannot show you that they love you, it’s possible that they don’t love you. But, it’s also probable that they love you very much, but they struggle with expressing it or haven’t yet found the way you need to be loved. It would be best if you did more understanding before passing judgment in that context.
That’s why judging people first by their intentions is critical to allowing the relationship to develop enough until you learn the reality.
Eliminating any extreme cases, when you start assuming that people have good intentions and that those good intentions are representative of who they are and what they are willing to do, you open the door for that relationship to flourish.
At a later point, those people might still prove to be untrustworthy and toxic. The difference is your approach.
If you judge people exclusively by their actions too soon, you might be blind to their struggles and ruin a relationship too early.
When you judge others by their intentions, you’re giving people a chance. The truth always comes up, but the mindset of approaching that relationship will determine how you feel.
Sharpen Your Judgment
When you flip the judgment game in your mind, two amazing things happen:
- You become more aware of your blind spots and begin a journey of self-improvement.
- You give others a chance and allow your relationships to grow at their natural pace.
Over time, this mindset will translate into a stronger self-awareness which, in turn, will make you better prone to improvement and growth. You will observe the things you must change, and you’ll take action rather than be alleviated by simply thinking about it.
Start to observe your thoughts from now on. Find those moments when you mentally evaluate the gap. Look at your expectation with a critical eye and figure out how you can judge yourself by your actions and others by their intentions. In the long run, it always pays off.
Other Resources On How We Judge Ourselves and Others
- Why do we judge ourselves by our intentions but judge others by their actions?
- The Judgement Hypocrisy: Judging Others by Action and Yourself by Intention
- There Are Two Ways To Judge People—Both Are Useless
- How We Judge Others is How We Judge Ourselves
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- Do you find yourself often judging others exclusively based on their actions?
- How about judging yourself – are you usually holding yourself accountable for your actions?
- Do you see any immediate benefit in judging others by their intentions rather than just by their actions?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!