Obsessing about what other people think of us is an unnecessary source of so much misery.
o You want to express a different opinion amongst more senior leaders do you think, “They will judge that to be a lame idea”?
o You want to make a risky career or relationship move do you say to yourself “I will look foolish if I fail”?
o You feel very confident about an idea do you believe “People will think of me as arrogant or stuck up”?
The result. Personal misery.
Caring too much about what other people think inhibits life, kills creativity, smothers spontaneity, and robs a person of a shot at authentic living . (Note this posting is not a case for the disregard for the needs and feelings of others but a way for us to monitor how we respond to internalized dysfunctional messages).
What are some of the causes of this life-limiting condition? And how does one exit this self-imposed bondage?
What keeps us shackled to the opinion of others?
Ever been a whistle blower, a devil’s advocate, or try asserting your identity or opinion in a hierarchical or conformist society?
The result could be instant censure.
For example, you may think you have the freedom to choose your own work hours. But if the boss is working 100 hours a week guess which direction your decision will go? So why do you nervously play to that critical audience? It could be that you are
2. A People Pleaser
As highly social animals we all want to be embraced and accepted. But this becomes a trap when we spend our time trying to please people who will never be satisfied with our efforts anyway. We give them tremendous power to control us. Intuitively they know we want their approval and they withdraw love and approval in order to manipulate us. There has to come a day when we say, “enough is enough” and move on.
3. A Shaming Culture
We are surrounded by a multitude of shaming messages.
Early on many received the message from our families or culture that it was shameful to be different. This shame often dictated how we dressed, spoke, and the career choices we made. In a family of attorneys, god forbid sometimes that you should choose something like working in an animal shelter or find a career in the arts. “Get a real job!” is often a recurring piece of advice.
The good news is that we can dare to be different.
The Way Out
The moment has come for us to write the next chapter of our lives (yes, we can edit our thoughts). Here’s how.
1. Focus Intensely on What You Are Doing. As you devote more psychic and physical energy to focus on your idea or behavior you will find that a preoccupation with what others think will begin to fade. Just remember, as once I was told, “Others are not usually spending their time thinking about you. They are thinking about themselves.”
We all deeply admire the focus of an Olympic athlete. In order to perform at the highest level nothing can distract them. Consider the words of swimmer Michael Phelps,
“anything is possible. I put my mind to doing something that nobody has done before and nothing was going to stand in my way.”
Such focus on our own task overcomes the disabling thought “What will others think?”
2. Do your Own Risk/Reward Analysis. It is wise to have feedback on one’s plans or behavior but in the end we need to factor out the naysayers (including our own inner critic). But even when we do our homework on a possible idea and determine all the possible pros and cons, we have to
3. Factor in Failure as A Possible Outcome. Instead of viewing failure as a disaster, welcome it. See failure as a learning experience, a hypothesis to be tested, and a way let the chips fall where they may. As I once heard a wise person say, “Increase your successes, double your failures.”
4. Be Confident in Who You Are. Listen to your inner self that tells you that your idea or pursuit is worth following. Also be alert to the fact that you are not the sum or what people think of you. If this is your belief you are in trouble because you can get contradictory feedback; some are pleased and some are displeased with you. Pegging your sense of self to the opinion of others puts you on a roller coaster of emotions. Recognize that the impressions of others is only an illusion that you create in your own mind. Follow your own inner GPS and life will become so much more rewarding and you will be less prone to suffering.
5. Recognize that you are rotten at mind reading. If we can barely get to the truth behind our own thoughts how can we accurately discern what others are thinking? So here it is important to view our perception of the thoughts of others as an illusion that is based largely on our own fears.
Your true self (see my blog posting on this subject) is an infinitely more reliable source of information for you than the opinions (perceived or actual) of others. That self is not something that is broken and needs fixing. Nor does it have to be a captive to past conditioning. It points to the path of free and authentic living.
Find ways to listen to your inner voice and don’t believe your thoughts about what others think.
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