Have you ever wondered why we care so much about what other people think of us? Have you ever wondered why you let people you don’t even know have so much influence over your life? For some, this problem can be life crippling. It can become an obsession. This is a topic that has perplexed me in the past, so I researched it and have an article laid out below which goes over why we do this, why it’s insane, why you shouldn’t do this, and how to make some big shifts in your life starting today that will set you on the path to being free from the opinions of others.
It’s human nature to care what other people think of us. We wonder what people will think of our clothes, body, hair style, profile pic, car, presentation, voice, etc. It’s become this weird obsession in our society because we are always trying to impress everyone else. Not only are we being fake and ignoring our own inner voice by saying things we don’t really believe, but we are also buying things we can’t afford to impress people we don’t even like. You might not even be fully aware that the actions you are taking are happening in order to impress someone else.
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We try to impress each other by saying what we think other people want to hear instead of letting our inner authentic voice guide us. We post our best pictures, our new possessions, and our “perfect” life on social media because we want people to accept us. Many of us walk on egg shells, suppress our true self, and conform, in order to fit in and it’s just exhausting! It’s mentally exhausting to keep up this game. It’s so much more stressful caring what other people think rather than just doing, saying, and being whatever you want.
Everyone cares what other people think because it’s ingrained in us – we are social creatures. Unfortunately, the logic behind this thinking is outdated. Sure, when we were in small groups of tribes thousands of years ago, likability and fitting in were vital to our acceptance, status, and ranking within the tribe. But today this is not the case. In fact, this thinking has the opposite effect and hurts us. Worrying too much about what other people are thinking can become a self-fulfilling prophecy because it begins to impact the way you behave. It has to stop.
Do you want to feel as free as a fart in the wind? Stop caring about what other people are thinking of you. Your opinion of yourself is much more relevant to YOU than their opinion. I won’t lie, it’s not easy at first. It’s never easy when trying to change a habit. It takes work, but it is well worth it.
So, how do you get there? As with anything, the first thing you need to understand is why this is happening to you in the first place.
Where it starts and why
It starts as a child. This video show’s just how responsive we are to other people’s reactions from an early age. The emotions, actions, and reactions of those around us deeply influence our own from the very beginning of our lives, and they will continue to control us unless we do something about it.
As kids in elementary school, our young feeble minds aren’t really ready to deal with the social complexities of the world. At a young age we learn that if we conform and follow those around us, we won’t be ridiculed and picked on by other kids. So we learn to be like the other kids and keep some of our opinions to ourselves, to a certain degree. Kids that are different are usually picked on, so most kids avoid any kind of behavior that will make them stand out. This is still usually true for most adults. We don’t want to stand out and be labeled as different or weird.
As we get older, we develop our own thoughts and opinions, but sadly, most of us keep them quiet because it’s what we have always done since childhood and we just don’t know any better… or as I said earlier, we don’t want to be labeled as different. There are exceptions of course, but for the most part we are afraid of being ridiculed by others, so we conform to the opinions of the masses. I am guilty too. I have said things that I didn’t really believe just because it was the socially accepted opinion.
Your self image and insanity
As we grow up, we also develop a self image. This self image is how we see ourselves and how we want others to see us too. If you consider yourself a nice person or a people pleaser, you have a very altruistic self image. This altruistic self image requires constant maintenance and external validation (praise and approval). You want evidence that this ideal self image that you have created is accurate, so you’re constantly looking for external validation from people – friends, family, colleagues, and even compete strangers.
Charles H. Cooley, a social psychologist, developed the looking glass self concept and it illustrates why other people’s opinions have such a big impact on how we think about ourselves. The looking glass self concept goes like this… First, we imagine how we appear to others, then we imagine their judgment of that appearance, and then we develop our self concept through the judgments of others. We will perceive the judgment as favorable or unfavorable, which will give us feelings of pride of shame.
“I am not what I think I am and I am not what you think I am; I am what I think that you think I am” Charles H. Cooley
We try and uphold this ideal self image through some seriously ass backwards logic. It’s absolutely exhausting and insane to try and uphold this self image through something as subjective as another person’s opinion. Or even worse, your perception of someone else’s opinion based on how you think they see you. That just sounds crazy… and it is. You can’t control someone else’s opinion, so this is a game that can’t be won. I’ll say it again, constantly trying to validate your ideal self image through the opinions of others is a doomed practice. You are basically handing over your self-worth to someone else. People’s opinions often times have nothing to do with you at all, so why give them this power? No one should have that kind of control over you except yourself.
“Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner” Lao Tzu
Opinions are random, fleeting figments of the imagination. According to Elizabeth Thornton, author of The Objective Leader, “We tend to forget that people judge others based on a myriad of influences in their own mind”. They could simply be having a bad day and project that negativity onto their opinion of you. It’s nuts when you really think about what you are doing. Think of a time when you judged someone negatively just because you were in a bad mood. The same thing happens to you. For example, let’s say you got ripped off by a guy from Massachusetts (there is a reason why they are called Massholes). In the future you might not trust (or become more cautious) people from Massachusetts strictly based off of that event. When someone judges you, they are saying more about themselves than you.
“When you judge another, you don’t define them, you define yourself!” Wayne Dyer
Why should you stop caring what other people think of you
1 – When you are living your life based on others opinions of you, you’re giving up your own authentic inner voice. You’re not being your true self and not living to your potential. You won’t be happy living a life dictated by other people.
2 – People who live by their inner voice are leaders. Those that don’t are followers. Followers are never the first to do something of importance.
3 – You will be more respected for being your own person and upholding your values, opinions, and morals. Someone won’t agree with your opinion no matter what it is, so why not express your real one?
4 – You will respect yourself more. If you live by your terms, you will have a higher level of respect and self confidence.
5 – When you are not putting your values first, you’re not developing yourself or really doing any good. The world doesn’t need more yes men. Pursue your own agenda. Go after your dreams and don’t worry how it will be perceived.
5 – People who follow their inner voice are more interesting. You can tell who these people are because they have a genuine quality about them. Be genuine.
6 – People who are guided by their own voice in the face of objection change the world. Inventors, visionaries, and creatives of all kinds are shunned and told they don’t know what they are talking about all the time! But they still do it and they change the world. Need examples of outcasts and people who stood up for their beliefs even when everyone was against them? Galileo Galilei, Joan of Arc, Martin Luther, Robert Oppenheimer, Vincent VanGogh, and Edgar Allen Poe.
7 – It’s empowering! When you are true to yourself, you feel like you can do anything.
8 – People will always judge you and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it.
9 – Most people don’t care what you are doing anyway. They don’t care because they are too wrapped up in their own drama. They are probably too worried thinking about what people think of them. Want proof? What’s the first think you look at when you look at a group photo? Probably yourself, right? People in social situations are the same way. They are focusing on themselves, not you.
“You wouldn’t worry so much about what people thought about you if you knew how seldom they did” Unknown
10 – This is a common feeling to all people. We’ve all been there. Become aware of it, examine and contemplate it, and deal with it.
11 – You don’t need people to like you. If someone doesn’t like you, it’s not the end of the world. People will dislike you for absolutely no reason. You have to like you, that’s what’s important.
How do we stop caring about others opinions so much?
Instead of relying on others opinions to uphold your ideal self image, build your own self-concept that doesn’t need external validation. We all have this ideal self in our heads that we are constantly bumping against the external world for validation. We are fortunate enough to understand our mental models and change them if they don’t serve us. Here are some things you can do to get you out of this state.
Step 1 – Become aware of the game you’re playing. Becoming aware of what you are doing is always the first step and then contemplate on it for yourself. Don’t take my word for it. The next time you realize you are basing what you are doing, saying, or feeling because of someone else’s perceived opinion, reflect on that and examine it. You will begin to see that when you base your self-worth on someone else’s opinion of you, you can never win. You may win in the short term and get that little ego boost, but it’s an un-winnable game. You will constantly be in a state of vulnerability if you play this game.
Become aware that you have been valuing external validation and examine the impact it is having on your self worth and on your life in general. Reflect on it. Try and become aware of it during the day and catch yourself. This practice will be more effective than simply reading this article and forgetting about it.
Step 2 – Acknowledge that basing your self worth on external opinions is a bad way to live. Develop a new mental model and strategy to live by. There is nothing stopping you from re-inventing the way you act or think. Only yourself. When you catch yourself in the act and change the way you respond, you are changing your mental model. Keep reinforcing, and over time, changes will become permanent. New habits will form. Additionally, determine why you want to get out of this external validation mental model. If you have a why, you will be more inclined to stick with this new habit.
Step 3 – Write down and become grounded in your values and morals. Find out how you really want to live your life. These are the characteristics that you believe are important like honesty, integrity, respect, positive attitude, kind, loving, giving, etc. This will be your new moral compass. We can’t attain a level of perfection, but we can try each day and do the best we can. Making progress is enough, we don’t need perfection. Use these new convictions to guide you instead of letting other people’s praise guide you to do things you don’t really want to. You have your own guidance system. use it. Understand what YOU want in life and go for that. If you are living solely based on the approval and praise of other people, you are not truly living your life. You are living a life according to other people’s rules and expectations.
Step 4 – Say, “I am totally independent of the good or bad opinions of other people” everyday for 5 minutes for 60 days straight. I will admit it felt strange at first to say this aloud to myself, but it really works. It will reprogram your mind. This tip is from Deepak Chopra, a world renowned author. You don’t need external praise or criticism if you are grounded in your own values. If you really know what you want in life, other people’s opinions don’t matter. Important point here – this goes for good opinions as well. Good compliments are only reinforcing and validating that self image. Say thanks if someone pays you a compliment, but don’t let it influence you.
Those are the 4 most important steps, but here are some additional things you can do if you are actually serious about making a change. Doing these things will reinforce and internalize this belief deep inside of you.
Other things you should do:
1 – Don’t take things personally. Look at things objectively and do not get defensive. If someone says something offensive to you, just let it bounce off or pass through you. Only you can give those words power by reacting to it. Ignoring someone’s criticism is a stronger approach than reacting and feeding it. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t take and consider constructive criticism. Just don’t let it become a way of life. Let your own guidance system control you, not someone else’s. Look at all the great artists that have been criticized in the past and then became world renowned. Criticism is only as important as the importance you place on it.
2 – Think before reacting to situations. Usually we will want to respond right away, especially if it feels like an attack on us. React in a way that is in line with your convictions. Don’t become reactive. Slow down and think about what you are doing and saying.
3 – Kill your inner critic. There is another little voice inside your head besides your authentic voice that can be a real jerk. I like to think of it as an audience that is analyzing the things you do and say, and if you don’t get control of it, it can take over. When it comes up and says, “you can’t do that”, just dismiss it. Don’t dwell on it or overthink what this insecure voice says, just squash it immediately and replace it with an empowering thought.
4 – Accept things as they are. If things become awkward or weird, go with it. If you become nervous about something, go with it, and interestingly enough, that feeling goes away. Be weird, it’s fun.
5 – Don’t try to impress strangers. We have a tendency to want to impress new people we meet by telling them something interesting or special about us… or just flat out lying to them. Uh, don’t do that. You have nothing to prove. Instead, focus on your inner circle of people who truly matter. On that note, they should love you for who you are, and should accept your opinions, etc. If they don’t love you for you, examine that relationship.
6 – Do something that you consider embarrassing.
7 – Learn to be comfortable in silence with another person.
8 – Be in a relaxed state. Don’t rush and fumble with things when someone is waiting on you (like paying for something while in line). Take your time when doing things and don’t worry about them.
9 – Stop reflecting over and over on things that went “wrong” during the day. Instead of doing that self talk we’ve all done, “I should have said this or that”… accept what you said and move past it. Focus on the present instead of regretting the past. If you said something foolish, so what! They have probably already forgotten what you said, and in time, you soon will forget. Things fade away as time goes on and the sooner you put it behind you, the sooner you will stop caring about it. Remember that embarrassing thing you did last year? No one else does, so who cares. The embarrassing thing you did this week will soon disappear as well.
10 – Be mindful of the filter you put on yourself. Be aware of the filter and do or say it anyway. Shut that filter down… I should mention to use reason here. If you are calling someone a jackass because that’s how you feel, you’re missing the point of using your inner voice. Your inner voice wouldn’t say that.
11 – Be truthful with yourself and with others.
12 – Be open. People who are open seem much more human than people who close themselves off to the world. Because you see their soft side, you can talk to them about anything.
13 – Think of it as a game. Can you purposefully weird someone out and not become embarrassed or critical about yourself? It’s actually quite fun to test people in this way. Don’t be a jerk, just do something odd and see the reaction. Learn to be comfortable with awkwardness. If you treat it like a game at first, it won’t be so uncomfortable, so it’s a great place to start.
14 – Consider your worst case scenario. If you did what you true inner voice told you to do, what’s the worst that could happen, and could you survive it? The answer is almost always going to be not much, and yes. Most things we fear don’t have a real physical consequence. Usually it is just a psychological one. Except attempting to tame a lion. Lions can kill you. So don’t do that. All joking aside, the worst case scenario will always be much milder than you think and you are probably over playing the entire situation. You won’t die if someone dislikes you. Once you come to that realization, you won’t fear it as much.
15 – Don’t be a people pleaser. Being overly nice won’t stop someone from judging you.
16 – Learn how to say no. If you don’t want to do something, just say it. And stand by it.
17 – Surround yourself with people who are honest, self assured, and direct. You are the combination of your 5 closest friends. So, have friends that stand up for their values and aren’t afraid to speak their mind.
18 – If you are single, ask someone out. Don’t overthink it, just do it. If they say no, that’s cool. You will still feel good for having had the courage to do it. If someone declines your offer, it doesn’t mean anything. It just means you’re not the right fit for them. To simplify this line of thought, here is an example: just because a square peg doesn’t fit in a round hole, doesn’t mean the square peg is bad or wrong, it’ just not the right fit. This is an oversimplification, but it’s the same thing with people. If you get declined, you’re just not the right fit for them.. That’s all. Now, if they say yes, then don’t be afraid to be yourself on that first date.
19 – Do other things to put yourself out there. Experience what it’s like to go out there and try to not care what other people are thinking. Make a list of things you fear doing because of your fear of ridicule or negative judgement, and do it. Don’t just read this article and do nothing. Take action. Start with 1 small thing to get out of your comfort zone and go from there.
20 – Become aware of any puppet masters in your life. Is there anyone in your life that you crave the approval of? They are running your life, so cut them off and learn to live your own life.
Who are you trying to impress and why? Why are we afraid to be different from other people? Imagine if we all dressed, acted, talked, and thought the same way… Who really wants to live in that kind of world? So get out there, be yourself, and stop caring if someone thinks your ideas, clothes, or looks are stupid.
Remember, it’s ok if someone mocks you, makes fun of you or your work, or thinks you’re stupid. Who cares! It’s meaningless information. It’s ok to be different or weird. It’s ok for people to think your ideas and visions are dumb or won’t work. Visionaries have to deal with these people and their criticism all the time. It won’t kill you.
When you stop caring what others think, you will also stop being so judgmental towards other people. It’s a win-win.
Not caring what other people think doesn’t mean not caring about anything at all. Don’t get those two confused.
Some people may have the counter argument that they don’t want to be considered an “asshole”. Being grounded in your own beliefs doesn’t mean you have to be an asshole, it means you are going to find a middle ground/happy medium that serves you. If you are reading this, you are probably too far left on the “how much I care” scale and I wouldn’t worry about going too far to the right. In fact, I encourage you to go too far to the right to break you out of your old habits. As time goes on you can shift more to the center, but you may need a jolt to really move you out of that “caring too much” state. If you are living in fear because of what someone else might think of you and your ideas, then you’re not being your true self.
There are boundaries, obviously. All of this doesn’t mean you can go around being an asshole and blasting your music at 2am. It’s not ok to be violent, offensive, selfish, etc. But where is the line between not caring about what someone thinks and being selfish, offensive, inconsiderate, etc.? That’s for you to determine, but I say if it’s not illegal or immoral, it’s fair game. Go for it. Follow the Golden Rule – if you wouldn’t like something done to you, don’t do it to someone else.
Moving from someone who is worried about what everyone thinks to someone who does and says what they want without fear of negative opinions or jokes about them is an amazing transformation we should all make. I won’t lie, it’s not easy at first. But give it time and attention, and eventually it will sink in, become internalized, and you will begin to feel so free for maybe the first time in your life. It’s an amazing feeling. You will become some much more comfortable doing whatever you like and with being who you truly are. There is no more pressure!
“What other people think of me is none of my business” Wayne Dyer