Several of you have emailed me recently with a similar question:
How can I stop caring so much about what other people think of me?
Here are a few of my quick thoughts on the question:
1. Accept that it’s okay to care about what others think of you
My experience is that most people aren’t really bothered by caring about what other people think of them. Instead, what bothers them is the huge wave of anxiety, shame, disappointment, and all the other difficult emotions that go along with it.
All this excessive emotionality comes not so much from your basic instinct to care about what others think of you (something all of us have), but instead, is the result of assuming it’s bad to care about what others think of you. When you assume it’s bad to be concerned with what others think, you end up feeling bad about feeling bad, which dramatically increases how bad you feel.
Instead, if you can learn to accept the fact that it’s normal and okay to care about what other people think of you, you’ll stop getting lost in all those unproductive mental patterns that blow your emotional response out of proportion.
Try This: The next time you start to worry about what other people think of you, say this little script to yourself: I may not like caring about what other people think of me, but it’s perfectly normal and okay for me to feel this way.
2. Stop dwelling on your worries
Feeling bad about what other people think of you comes from worrying about what other people think of you.
But there’s some nuance here: A single worry won’t cause you much anxiety. 10 minutes of continuous worrying, on the other hand, almost certainly will. In other words…
Having a worry isn’t the problem. It’s continuing to worry that makes you anxious.
If you want to care less about what other people think of you, it’s critical that you avoid letting a single initial worry turn into cycles of worrying.
When you notice yourself first starting to worry, remind yourself that an initial worry isn’t a big deal. And the best thing you can do is to refocus your attention on something more productive and less anxiety-producing.
But what if my concerns are legitimate? I can’t just not think about it?!
Try This: Delay your worry. In most situations, even if the concern is legitimate, it’s unlikely that you absolutely need to think more about it right now. Instead, set aside a time in a few hours or days to reflect on it when you’re in a better state of mind.
3. Clarify what really matters to you
Often we become overly-fixated on what other people think because we’re not very clear about what we think. Specifically, when you’re not very clear about your values—what’s really important to you in life—it’s very easy to get lost in other people’s values and trying to live by them.
For example, suppose you tend to get anxious at parties and gatherings because you hate talking about yourself and your career and you worry a lot about what people will think of you (She’s an accountant… she must be boring. He’s in sales, he must be good at lying.)
Maybe you actually enjoy being an accountant because even though it might seem boring to someone who’s an extreme extrovert and life of the party, you’re an introvert and being able to work quietly on your own for long stretches is actually really important and valuable to you.
Or if you’re in sales, maybe it’s worth taking some time to clarify why sales is important to you and valuable. Maybe you see yourself not just as someone trying to make money, but also, as someone who helps people arrive at the best solution for their lives. That’s meaningful and important!
We all have values. But often we don’t make time to reflect on them much or clarify what they really look like and why they’re important to us. But when you do, you’ll find yourself increasingly confident in yourself and what you want—and as a result, a lot less concerned about what you think you should want based on others.
Try This: The next time you’re feeling anxious about what other people think of you, ask yourself this question: What do I really want right now? And no, to feel less anxious doesn’t count 🙂
Learn More: 7 Ways to Clarify Your Personal Values →
4. Build confidence by practicing assertiveness
Remember that it’s normal to care about what others think of us to some degree. The trick is how can you care about it enough but not so much that it’s debilitating?
In a word, confidence.
More specifically, you have to be confident enough in yourself not to get lost in worries about other people and what they think of you.
But where does this kind of confidence come from? Genetics? Personality? Having enlightened parents and mentors?
I’m sure all those play some role in how confident you feel. But there’s a much bigger factor in confidence that, luckily, is much more under our control:
Assertiveness is the skill of taking action on what you really want despite your emotions pulling you the other way.
- Despite feeling anxious and not wanting to make them disappointed, you tell your coworker that you can’t help them with a project over the weekend because it would eat into your family time. Boundaries, in other words, are a key part of assertiveness.
- Even though you’re tired, you wake up early and go to the gym to exercise like you promised yourself. Following through on your commitments is a big part of assertiveness.
- When someone at work makes an off-color joke about another coworker who isn’t present, you stand up for them and speak out about it not being appropriate even though it’s awkward and anxiety-producing.
See, when you consistently ignore or put off what you want and need in life, it teaches your mind that what you want doesn’t matter. So of course you’re going to be increasingly worried about what other people think and want!
But the more you practice being assertive, the more your mind starts to believe that what you want and believe matters. And this leads to confidence.
Try This: The next time you go out to eat, ask for a different table than the one the host/hostess brings you to initially. It’s a relatively small thing but still pretty uncomfortable for a lot of people who worry about what others think of them. But it’s excellent practice in being assertive—asking for what you want respectfully even when your emotions are pulling you the other way.
Read More: How to Be More Assertive →