Stop Worrying about what other People Think...
I remember having an interesting conversation with a friend in a coffee shop a few years ago.
He was going through a hard time at work because he had found out that his co-workers had been bitching about him behind his back.
And not just with regard to his behaviour. It had gotten quite personal.
He asked me if I thought he should care about what other people think of him.
Should he just soldier on, ignoring the – unjust, in his opinion – sniping from the background, or should he listen to what they had to say, and change his behaviour?
My answer was a bit ‘non-committal’.
I said, “Well, it kind of depends…”
“Different situations require different approaches.”
Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation.
Perhaps you get a complaint at work, or you receive nasty comments online, or people try to tear you down because of your success.
And you take it badly.
You start to care too much about what other people think and it affects your behaviour, performance, and emotional well-being.
Or you experience the more subtle form of caring too much about what other people think: self-consciousness.
Deep down you want to express yourself, and behave freely, but you worry that people will laugh at you, judge, or think badly of you.
So you restrict the natural flow of your personality, or worse, go into self-protection mode and shrink into your shell like a tortoise.
Caring too much about what other people think is common, but is the solution to just ignore what people say?
To allow the comments of others to bounce off us without so much as a flinch?
Well, like I said to my friend, it kind of depends. Different situations require different approaches.
If you struggle when it comes to dealing with other people’s opinions of you, and would like some help with it, then check out these 5 tips/strategies.
It won’t turn you into a cold-hearted, sociopathic operator, but it will help you deal with this common issue.
Tip 1: Separate the Feedback from the Hate...
Whenever someone expresses an opinion about you – that you don’t like – the first step is to separate the quality feedback from the hate.
Some people just want to hate.
They are venting anger, or – as I’ll be exploring later on in the post – they see you as competition and it’s triggering jealousy.
In these instances you want to hit the ignore button and give it zero energy.
Unless you’re being attacked in a way that constitutes libel, and you’re required to defend your character, you simply want to delete it from your world.
Don’t reply. Don’t argue. Don’t engage.
Almost all the time, the intention of a true hater is not to make you aware of your flaws so you can work on getting better in the future.
Their intention is to, well, hate!
So don’t give their opinions any energy. Don’t feed the beast.
In fact, you can even take a moment to feel genuine compassion for the hater because they’re clearly in a bad place.
What kind of twisted & impoverished world view do they have that causes them to feel compelled to tear other people down for no productive reason?
Just imagining this scenario can help you disconnect from the intensity of the comments and file them under ‘trash’.
I like to think about this as being similar to setting up a ‘junk mail’ filter in your email.
If your mailbox is anything like mine then you’ll receive lots of emails on a weekly basis. And within the valuable ones, you’ll receive lots of junk.
So you set up a filter that automatically transfers the crap into another folder so your main mailbox remains clean and de-cluttered.
It can be a similar thing with hateful comments. Learn to spot a genuine piece of hate, and then recognise how worthless it is. Send it to the internal junk mail folder in your mind.
By doing so you can keep your mind clean and uncluttered and focus your energy on what really matters.
So with genuine haters, the best plan of action is to ‘discard’. Stick the comments in the trash.
But not everyone who expresses an opinion about you will be haters. Some only appear to be hating.
They’re actually offering a well-intentioned opinion, only they’re terrible at expressing it.
Granted, it often doesn’t feel like it at the time, and sometimes it’s difficult to see, but often when someone expresses an opinion about you, they’re doing it from a positive place. They’ve just communicated it in a way that makes it seem like hate.
So it’s important to take the time to consider what they’re saying. Perhaps there’s some useful feedback to be found – a gold nugget to be uncovered beyond the poorly expressed message.
To do this, briefly see the world through their eyes and consider their message. Then ask:
- What is it that they are really attempting to get across?
- What positive outcome are they looking to create by voicing their opinions?
When you take the time to do this it can help turn what appears to be criticism, into quality feedback that can be use to help you improve.
As a word of warning though, when you’re doing this, don’t instantly make their opinion your reality.
Carefully assessing someone’s opinion, and then extracting useful feedback, is different to just believing everything they say and making it your reality.
It’s important to realise that everyone is experiencing and interpreting the world through their own filters – their own beliefs, values, learnings, biases and prejudices.
As a result, a person’s opinion is never the full story, and it will almost always contain multiple inaccuracies. And sometimes they will simply be mistaken. They might not be privy to knowledge and information that, if they did know, would render their opinion invalid.
Always keep this in mind when you’re carefully assessing a person’s comments about you.
Search for a possible positive intention behind their remarks and see if you can extract a personal learning from it, but don’t believe it to be a full depiction of reality – because It’s not.
That way you can turn criticism into empowerment.
There’s more to this process so if you’d like to learn how to do it then check out this 5-minute video.
In it, I outline a full process for sorting out the quality feedback from the nonsense:
GET THE SELF-LOVE PROCESS
Free Audio Process (MP3) by Steven Burns
Tip 2: Discover Who You Are...
Sometimes caring too much about what other people think can be a sign that we aren’t strong enough in our own convictions.
We need to spend time connecting with our values, principles and beliefs.
We need to become a stronger personality.
People with ‘strong personalities’, who have a high level of conviction in their own principles, values & beliefs, tend to care less about what other people think.
They know who they are, and have a strong sense of their own identity so other people’s opinions rarely make a dent.
When someone expresses a toxic opinion about them, they simply know, in their heart of hearts, that it is either totally false, or at least significantly inaccurate, and, as a result, simply not worth spending any energy on.
So if you’re struggling to deal with other people’s opinions of you, then it’s well worth spending some time looking inwards.
What do you value? What do you stand for? What do you believe in strongly?
Connect with your core beliefs, values, and principles more, and you’ll develop a strong intrinsic sense of who you are, which will then have the knock-on effect of making you much your resilient to toxic external stimuli.
Again, I want to re-affirm that it is still important to use other people’s opinions as a potential source of feedback – unless they are genuine haters, of course. Just make sure you don’t forget about your values and principles in the process.
Discovering – and connecting with – who you are is a pretty large subject in-of-itself, but a good start is to explore the following questions:
- What’s deeply important to you?
- What aspects of life do you value the most?
- If you were to make a list of the 5 most important aspects of your life, what would these be?
- What do you stand for?
- What are you passionate about?
- What cause(s) would you fight for?
The more you connect with the elements above, the stronger you will feel about yourself, your world, and your place in it.
You don’t have to become like Nelson Mandela, but it is important that you explore who you are and connect with it as much as you can.
Tip 3: Boost you Self-Worth...
Caring too much about what other people think can also be an indication that you’re not valuing yourself enough. That you could be doing with boosting your sense of self-worth.
One way to look at ‘Self-Worth’ is to think about it in terms of ‘Value’.
When something, or somebody, is worth something to us, what we’re really saying is that we value it, or them.
So when it comes to Self-Worth, what we’re really talking about is the amount of value that we think we, personally, possess.
Or, more precisely, how much we ‘feel’ and ‘believe’ we possess.
When you have a strong solid sense of your own value/self-worth, other people’s negative opinions tend to bounce off you like foam bullets: deep down you know they’re not an accurate reflection of who you really are and what you have to offer, so they have little to no effect.
There are lots of ways to boost your self-worth, but one powerful method is to look within and give yourself full credit for your achievements, successes, and positive personality traits.
We can often not give ourselves any where near the credit we deserve, so it can be powerful to take the time to list, and connect with, all the things that make us an awesome human being.
Go ahead right now and start the list:
What are your talents?
What have you achieved?
What positive personality traits do you possess?
What makes you an awesome human being?
So it can be useful to spend a few minutes appreciating the value that exits within you.
By doing this, you create a more solid sense of self-worth & value, and this can help you become much more robust when people have critical opinions of you.
If you haven’t started your list now, then at least plan to do it at some point in the near future.
Another way to boost self-worth is to practice ‘Self-Love’.
The more you love yourself, the more you value yourself, and the less you’ll care about what other people think.
You’ll feel comfortable when it comes to expressing yourself. You’ll feel good about letting the world see you.
If you’d like to read a full article on Self-Love, then check out this link here:
Also, here’s a free eyes closed audio process that can make a difference. It makes use of NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming) and some light hypnosis.
GET THE SELF-LOVE PROCESS
Free Audio Process (MP3) by Steven Burns
Tip 4: Realise that it could be a sign of Success!
Sometimes, people don’t like us because we’re successful.
As human beings we exist in hierarchies. We unconsciously jostle for positions on imaginary ladders with our height being determined by the amount of value that we offer and project.
In his book, The Moral Animal: why we are the way we are, Robert Wright makes the point that this hierarchical structure exists within every known civilisation across the globe. It’s a natural law.
Those who are perceived to be the most valuable rise to the top and generally receive the largest share of wealth and available resources, with those seen to offer less value being relegated to the bottom of the ladder, where they receive less wealth and resources.
It’s a simplistic way of looking at it, but it’s a bit like a troop of monkeys at a zoo: stick them together and they’ll eventually establish a pecking order.
The leader – or the alpha – will get first access to food and mating rights with the followers – or betas – being secondary.
Human hierarchies are much more complex than monkeys in an emporium, but they still contain the same foundational structure: if you’re at the top you’ll get access to more wealth, resources, higher quality mates, and opportunities for growth. Find yourself at the bottom though, you’ll have a lot more work to do to get on.
So it sounds like being at the top is all rosy, right?
Well, it’s not. It also comes at a price.
Because there are clear advantages to being higher up in the ladder of social hierarchy, those further down the ladder can look on enviously.
Many will harbour serious ambitions to move up a few positions and, to do that, in their minds, it involves bringing you down first – taking you ‘down a peg or two’ as it’s often described.
This is a problem people can often experience as they become more & more successful – especially if they choose to advertise their success.
Other people’s success can be inspiring, but it can also trigger jealousy, and even hate, from people who secretly want to be where the successful person is.
As Personal Development Guru Tony Robbins says:
“There’s two ways to have the tallest building: one is to work as hard as you can to build the biggest and best building you can; whereas the other way is to tear down everybody else’s”.
Some people look on to the success of others and choose the second option.
And if it’s you they choose to target, and you get sucked into their toxic game, you can end up becoming collateral damage.
You see this most dramatically with celebrities. Because of their lofty position in the hierarchy, their words and actions have more power and meaning.
They can often polarise the viewing public: one half worships the ground they walk on while the other half sends viscous hate mail.
Seeing successful people can be inspiring because it lets us see the colossal potential we have within ourselves, but it can also be demoralising for some – it can be evidence that they aren’t doing quite as well as they should.
It’s more complex than this of course, but it’s worth keeping in mind that criticism from others can happen not because you’re crap: but actually because you’re doing well.
So, when you think about it, people voicing their opinions about you, even if they contain hurtful comments, can actually be an indication of your success, which is a good thing, right?
Just appreciating that this primal trigger exists can often help us care less about hurtful comments that are made by people.
Is what they’re saying really a reflection of you?
Or is it more a reflection of them?
Are they just allowing their inner Caveman/woman to take over?
Tip 5: Conduct Breaching Experiments...
In the fields of sociology and social psychology there’s something called a breaching experiment – popularised by Harold Garfinkel and then Stanley Milgrim.
A breaching experiment is where you deliberately do something that breaks a social convention – you ‘breach’ the day-to-day social fabric by doing something unexpected or unconventional.
When conducting their research, Garfinkel, and then later Milgrim, would ask the participants to do things that would conflict with some kind of social norm.
Examples could be walking up to people on the subway and asking them to give them their seats, or asking bizarre, unexpected questions within a conversation.
The results of the experiments were interesting. Firstly, they found that people, in general, were much more willing to go along with the strange requests than you would expect.
Despite being asked to do things that didn’t quite fit with normal social convention, many just went along with it, without question.
A second observation was in relation to the participants who were conducting the breaching experiments.
They reported that, while they initially felt utterly terrified at the thought of breaking social expectation, the actual act of doing it wasn’t so bad.
And, after they’d conducted a few of the experiments, it went in the other direction: they started to feel a sense of personal and social liberation.
After having multiple experiences where they breached a social norm, they realised that the angsts and worries they held about acting unconventionally were mostly just illusions: that people didn’t really care that much. They had their own stuff to deal with.
Personally, I think there’s a profound transformational lesson to be found in this.
We can often lock ourselves in a prison of worry, being overly concerned about what other people think about us, but this prison is, often, mostly just an illusion.
A more modern example of these breaching experiments – and the benefits they can provide – can be found in the App Dare Me, created by Jia Jiang.
Based on the work of Jason Comely – who created something called Rejection Therapy – Jang developed an app that provides you with ‘daily dares’ – actions that require you to do things that break social convention and risk you being rejected.
Jang originally started using the method to improve his own confidence and self-esteem because he noticed that he cared too much about what other people thought about him, and it was affecting his well-being.
So he decided to see how many times he could get rejected by someone by asking them to do something unconventional.
His list started off reasonably safe and then gradually worked his way up to more extreme acts.
What he found was similar to what Garfinkel and Pilgrim found.
Firstly, it was difficult to get an actual rejection, and secondly, he eventually started to feel a sense of self-liberation and personal freedom.
From risking rejection multiple times he lost his fear of it, and started to feel significantly more comfortable in his own skin.
His realisation was that so many of our fears about what other people think are fabrications of the mind, and that the reality is very different.
Now, you may be reading this and thinking that there is no way you want to conduct your own breaching experiments.
I get that.
They can be scary, but it is worth the initial fear.
Also, you can adopt a much less extreme method, that takes away much of the terror.
It’s a technique I call, ‘Creating your New Norm’.
Each week, do 3 things that you would find challenging, but not overwhelming.
It could be speaking up at a meeting, being more forceful with your opinions, taking up a new hobby, going to a social event on your own, or socialising with different people.
Whatever you choose though, it should make you feel uncomfortable, but not so much that you melt faster than a scoop of ice cream in a microwave.
By deliberately doing 3 things that challenge you each week, you eventually create a new norm.
What used to scare you becomes familiar.
What you previously thought to be a challenge becomes a normal day-to-day event.
And by doing so, your comfort zone becomes bigger and you feel more secure as a person.
By adding in a social element too – doing things that stretch you socially and gently breaches social expectation – you strengthen your ability to not care about what other people think about you.
You start to realise that most social fears are created by your inner perceptions and aren’t a true reflection of reality.
So why not give this a go for a month: each week, do 3 things that challenge you but don’t overwhelm you.
And also make sure they have a social element to them – something that would require you to slightly breach your current social norms.
By doing this, pretty soon, you’ll feel a sense of freedom and liberation that will help you smash through the fear of what other people might think about you.
Start now by brainstorming a list of possible challenges.
And if you want to go ‘extreme’ why not try out Jia Jang’s Dare Me app.
So perhaps it’s time to care less about what other people think?
Not to the extent that you ignore important social feedback, but in a way that allows you to separate the useful information from the hate.
And also in away that allows you to become more confident, robust, and comfortable in your own skin.
The world needs to see you.
Perhaps it’s time to step out of the shadows and do just that.
All the best!
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Free Audio Process (MP3) by Steven Burns
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Hi! I’m Steven. I’m a professional therapist, coach, trainer & author with over 20 years experience. I teach the latest psychological tools and techniques to help you transform and make a difference.
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