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How to stop worrying about what others think of you

cat1Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. – Dr. Seuss

I’m not sure we should take advice from a man who thought ham and eggs were green, but the above is a great quote, meaning you shouldn’t mind what others think of you; just be true to yourself. But is this always possible, or even wise?

Are you who people think you are? Or do you let them see only a carefully-crafted persona for the reasons of likeability? Do you tiptoe through life, saying and doing only what passes through your internal social acceptability filter?

The fear of social judgment wears many masks: shame, shyness, etiquette, prudence, perfectionism. Whatever form it comes in, its impact is to limit, to constrain, to constrict.

People who fear social judgment miss out on much of life. Across the room they see what could be the person of their dreams, but they don’t approach because of what a roomful of strangers might think if they’re rejected. By caring what these strangers think, they’re allowing people they’ll never see again to control their behaviour.

Fear of social judgment also makes people think small. Accomplishing anything big is going to annoy some people, who will try to deter you. To really have an impact, you can’t let them get in your way.

More importantly, while your brain is wired for survival and reproduction, you can choose to focus on other priorities. Survival is relatively easy now, and reproduction is just one part of a person’s life, to be weighed in the balance with other things you may choose to value, like happiness, meaning, beauty, or justice. Focussing on other values may help you worry less about what other people think.

When you stop trying to impress others, you can express your true self more fully and connect with people, more genuinely, openly, intimately. The less time and energy you spend on image management, on making your life presentable to others, the more time you can spend on things that really matter.

How can you stop worrying about what people think of you?

  • Bring awareness to how your decisions are currently affected by what others will think of you.
  • Be unswayed by social pressure, unaffected by criticism, immune to embarrassment. And take fewer things personally. We’re biased toward sensitivity to criticism, insult, and rejection. And when these biases affect our behaviour, we cede our power to others.
  • Be unswayed by social pressure, unaffected by criticism, immune to embarrassment and take fewer things personally.
  • Don’t look to others for guidance on how to behave. Do not wait for permission from others; it is easier to get forgiveness than permission.
  • Do not be needy; if you don’t need anything, you do not have a reason to try and impress people.

Be authentic and have the courage to allow people to see the real you. Be willing to be judged, and even encourage it. It’s good for self-knowledge and for developing a thick skin. As you become and express your best self, others will think great things about you, and the few that don’t, won’t matter anyway. If all this is too extreme for you, start by taking small steps. Expect it to be hard, and show yourself some compassion; you’re swimming against ancient currents, thousands of generations old. Rather than not caring at all what others think of you, start by just caring less. Be open to what they think and feel, and consider their opinions, but decide for yourself how to act. Care what the important people in your life think, but only those whose opinions you value. Strangers should not get a vote in how you live your life.

A good way to start is to pick a day and on that day, for each decision you make, consciously observe whether you are factoring in what others will think, and whether it benefits you to do this. Be ridiculous; allow yourself to be ridiculed. Break a few unwritten rules of social etiquette in the company of strangers and watch how they react.

The philosopher, Jiddu Krishnamurti, once famously, during a lecture, asked his audience if they wanted to know his secret. The lecture hall went silent, everyone leaned forward and he said:

“You see, I don’t give a shit.”

Actually, he said: “You see, I don’t mind what happens,” but he could have easily said either, and not giving a shit is a concept more people can identify with.

When you tell people to “not mind what happens,” they’ll probably look at you funny unless they’re the type of person who would be in the audience at a Krishnamurti lecture. But everyone understands that there are times in life when the best way to respond to an unpleasant event is to not give a shit.

Giving a shit really just amounts to thinking about what happened. If someone was rude to you on the phone and you think a lot about it, you are giving a shit. If you hang up and shrug and then go for a bike ride, then you are successfully not giving a shit.

Giving a shit does not necessarily mean you’re doing anything useful, but it makes it seem like you are. It feels like there’s some kind of justice that you’re getting closer to with every moment you give a shit. But that’s not true, because giving a shit, by itself, is only thinking — and thinking has little use aside from figuring out what to do.

This illuminates one of the most stubborn, silly beliefs about human thinking: that most of it is worthwhile, that it’s actually getting you somewhere. Most thoughts just fill up your head and distance you from the life that’s still unfolding in front of you. They’re not leading to any important decisions or insights, they’re just taking over your present moment, and possibly shortening your life on the other end too.

We often believe that our thoughts are accomplishing something just because they’re emotionally charged, or because they’re “about” something we consider important, like fairness, respect, or the state of society.

No. They are useful only insofar as they get you to move your body and do something useful.

This isn’t to say that action is always necessary when it comes to responding to life’s countless little annoyances, rudenesses, and unfairnesses. In fact, usually it isn’t. Often there’s nothing you can do, or nothing you’re willing to do. That’s fine. In those cases, which I think represent the vast majority of cases, you’re better off not giving a shit.

Not giving a shit sounds like apathy, but it’s not. It’s simply a refusal to waste your energy and time on thoughts you’re not going to act on. So when you do give a shit, make sure that the point of this shit-giving is to figure out what you’re actually going to do in response to what happened, and then move on to the action part.

It can be hard to not give a shit. It’s something you have to practise. It should be a celebrated life skill that we teach children, alongside maths, shoe-tying and talking to strangers.

I have known people who will tell stories, repeatedly, about some unpleasant twenty-second interaction that happened to them years ago, and which they evidently never stopped giving a shit about. I’m sure you have witnessed this too. Don’t fall for this madness. As a general policy, don’t give a shit.

Knowing how to not give a shit doesn’t mean you never give a shit about anything. It just means that when you give a shit, it’s voluntary. You have a reason.

The key to not giving a shit is knowing what the rising temptation to give a shit feels like. It always starts with angry or indignant words in your head, often in the form of a clever comeback or an internal sermon about respect and decency.

You may start playing out different scenarios in your head where you show the offender who’s boss in some way. Maybe you slip into a revenge fantasy where (for example) you run after a car that has cut you up, you chase them and they end up driving into a tree, with you standing there laughing.

When you notice these kinds of thoughts arising, remind yourself that you don’t give a shit about things like this, and invest your attention into the physical world again. What’s the next event in your life, now that you’ve moved on from the tiny, unfortunate event that just happened? Pay attention to what your body needs to do next, in order to move on to this next thing.

Then pull the trigger. Dial that next call, run that next mile, mix those drinks, hop on that bike… whatever logically comes next in the life of a person who doesn’t give a shit about petty things. If you’re itching to give a shit, give a shit about that.

The Complete Guide to Not Giving a Fuck

Most people have spent their whole lives caring far tto much about offending people, worrying if they are cool enough for them, or asking themselves if they are being judgied.

Just don’t take it anymore. It’s stupid, and it’s not good for one’s well being. It has turned everyone into a flabby punchbag. But worse than that, it has made them someone who doesn’t take a stand for anything, who stands in the middle, far too often, and not where they want to stand, for fear of alienating others. No more. Not today.

Today, ladies and gentlemen, is different.

We’re going to talk about the cure. We’re going to talk about what’s necessary. We’re going to talk about the truth.

Do you wonder if someone is talking shit about you? Whether your friends will approve? Have you become conflict-avoidant? Spineless?

Well, it’s time you started not giving a fuck.

FACT NUMBER 1. People are judging you right now.

Yes, it’s really happening right at this moment. Some people don’t like you, and guess what? There’s nothing you can do about it. No amount of coercion, toadying, or pandering to their interests will help. In fact, the opposite is often true; the more you stand for something, the more they respect you, whether it’s grudgingly or not.

What people truly respect is when you draw the line and say “you will go no further.” They may not like this behaviour, but so what? These are people don’t like you anyway, why should you attempt to please people who don’t care for you in the first place?

Right. Then, there’s Internet trolls. That’s a whole other thing.

Regular people are fine– you don’t actually hear it when they’re talking behind your back. But on the web, you do see it, which changes the dynamic drastically. They have an impact because they know you have your vanity searches, etc. But the real problem with Internet haters is that they confirm your paranoid delusion that everyone out there secretly hates you.

Thankfully, that’s not actually true. So the first noble truth is that most people don’t even care that you’re alive. Embrace this, my friends, for it is true freedom. The world is vast and you are small, and therefore you may do as you wish and cast your thoughts of those who dislike it to the side.

FACT NUMBER 2. You don’t need everyone to like you.

Here’s the next thing: not only do most people not know that you exist, and some are judging you, but it totally does not matter even if they are.

How liberating this is may not even hit you yet, but it will. Check this out: when people don’t like you, nothing actually happens. The world does not end. You don’t feel them breathing down your neck. In fact, the more you ignore them and just go about your business, the better off you are.

You know when they say “the best revenge is a life well lived”? Well, this is true, but it isn’t the whole truth. A life well lived is great, yes, but it cannot happen while you are sweating about who your detractors are and what they think. What you have to do, what you have no choice but to do, is accept it and move on.

So not giving a fuck is actually a necessary precedent to create a good life for yourself. It can’t happen without it. That’s why you have to begin today.

FACT NUMBER 3. It’s your people that matter.

Ok, so you’ve adjusted to the fact that most people in the world are barely aware of your existence, and you’re also conscious of the fact that those who don’t like you are in the obscenely small minority and don’t actually matter. Awesome. Next you need to realize that the people who do care about you, and no one else, are those you need to focus on.

Relationships are weird. Once we’re in one (with family, a spouse, whatever), we promptly begin to take the other person for granted and move on to impressing strangers instead– say, our boss. Then, once we’ve impressed our boss, we start taking him for granted too, and so on, in an endless cycle of apathy. It’s like we always prefer to impress and charm the new than to work on what we already have.

But these people– your champions– they understand your quest or your cause. They make you feel good when you’re around them, make you laugh or make you feel like you can just be yourself. They make you feel relaxed or at ease. You’ve shared things with them. They’re important. Focus on them instead.

FACT NUMBER 4. Those who don’t give a fuck change the world. The rest do not.

Do you know the book by Stephen King, called the Long Walk. It’s a contest where people walk without sleeping or resting, and if they do stop, they are killed. (That’s actually every Stephen King book– “there’s a clown, but it kills!” “There’s a car, but it kills!” etc.)

I suspect this book is a metaphor for war, but it also captures perseverance very well. What it takes to move past anything is to simply realize that your obstacle is unimportant, and that it can be dismissed. This is true whether you’re running a marathon or trying to get to Mars.

If you dismiss the things that do not matter; if you remove those things from your mind and focus on what must be done; if you understand that your time is limited and decide to work now; only then will you be able to get to the finish line. Otherwise, you will be dissuaded into living a life you aren’t interested in

Side note: You need to handle failure and obscurity better. You may be in a tough place right now where you feel lonely or like a loser. No worries, we’ve all been there. But it’s time for you to realize how common these things are, and that they’re experienced by even the most successful and happiest people in the world. Those people get past them, and you will too.

The eye is watching

Everyone has an internal eye. It is always watching. It has been slowly constructed by society at large and by your friends and family, and it checks you for unacceptable behaviour. If you have had it around for long enough, you actually start to believe that the eye is you, and that you’re “being reasonable” or some other rationalization.

But the eye isn’t you at all. It is a prison, and you have justified its existence by obeying it. It’s strong because you let it be strong.

But the secret, the part that’s amazing, is that it can’t do anything to stop you, even if it wanted to. It’s an eye. It can only watch. The rest of you is free to act as you wish.

How to get back your self-respect in five easy steps:

STEP 1. Do things that you consider embarrassing.

If you are a married man, wear your wife’s coat on the tube or something. No-one will notice and if they do, they will soon forget about you entirely. Find your internal filters and break them, one at a time. Notice how society, like an ocean, smoothes over the waves you make, until what you do gets eliminated, or becomes the status quo. Work with this.

STEP 2. Accept, or deal with, awkwardness.

It’s widely known that interviewers get their best material by being quiet and allowing silence to force words out of a politician or celebrity.

You may be uncomfortable with silence. Most people are, but you can work on it and it is a much more serene state to be in than babbling away randomly.

This is one type of awkwardness, a kind that you should feel comfortable about and learn to live with.

Another kind of social awkwardness is this in-between space where you might have done something wrong or been wronged, but don’t say anything. The fact is that the freedom that comes from talking about an uncomfortable truth is better than the comfort of avoiding that talk altogether.

Someone said recently that the Clintons’ method for earning respect in politics is this: if someone pushes you, push back twice as hard. This is much better than awkwardness. It’s clear, it’s not passive aggressive, and you know where you stand. Start doing this immediately.

STEP 3. Refuse boundaries.

These are arbitrary and it is only the unreasonable man who makes great progress.

STEP 4. Tell the truth.

You don’t need to be an asshole, but the world does not need another conflict-avoidant, evasive person. No one wants another individual who steps in line with everyone else. The status quo is doing fine without you, so it’s up to you to call bullshit if you see it.

Don’t mind-read either. Telling the truth means seeing the truth, not adding your own layer of sugar coating or suspected emotion on top of it.

STEP 5. Begin your new life.

This step can’t happen without the others, but once you’ve got here, you can safely begin to explore a whole new world– one where anything you do is fine as long as it isn’t seriously hurting anyone else. Wanna explore old abandoned buildings? No problem, as long as you’re ready to live with the consequences. Feel like hanging from hooks or get whipped by a dominatrix? Go ahead, but be safe about it.

Once you begin on this path, you start to discover that practically everyone is capable of understanding the weird things that you do. In fact, it makes you interesting and worth paying attention to, further feeding into your plans of world domination, should you have any.

But none of this fun can happen without you recognizing, and walking past, the eye. Doing this is a powerful act of control which builds momentum and makes you strong.

Take back your self respect. Do it today– try it right now. Wear something ugly. Do something stupid. Tell someone the truth.

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