What kind of life are we living when, primarily, it’s determined by caring more about what other people think than our own perspective? But how do we stop caring what other people think when far too often it’s hardwired within?
Almost 2,000 years ago, Marcus Aurelius said:
It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.
I’m not sure we all love ourselves more than we love others, but who will argue with Marcus Aurelius? Not me.
I will say that we are internally wired to care about what others think of us, be they family, friends, strangers, or even sometimes, especially those who dislike us.
This tendency might be natural, dating back to the dark ages, but this habit can drive us crazy.
Being logical, we would say that our fears about what other people think of us matter, not a jot, and we tend to blow them up out of all proportion. But since this fear is hard-wired in us, it’s not going away without a fight. And it might never go away at all, but we can manage it better.
We can take deliberate steps to change our minds about this habit of caring too much about the opinions of others. In addition, we can change our minds about tailoring our lives to meet those opinions or expectations.
I reached a point in my life where I was more than ready to decide who I was without needing someone to choose that on my behalf. I needed to stop caring what other people think of me.
If this is you, and you’re not sure where to begin, here are some simple techniques that I have used to choose for me what I was going to do, who I was going to be, how I was going to do it, and (mostly) putting on one side what others would think of me.
I tuned in to myself to discover how to stop caring what other people think
I took a look at what was going on inside of me. The lesson had been years in the making, but I knew we didn’t get what we wanted. We get who we are. The question was, who was I?
To quote Judy Garland, was I a “First-rate version of myself, or a second-rate version of someone else”?
Sadly, more often than I would like, the latter was true. I had lost a part of myself by trying to please everyone and by caring more than I should about what other people thought of me.
For the most part, we don’t like to look within. Why? Because it’s hard to face all those things that run around in our heads.
And believe me, tuning in to myself wasn’t a lot of fun, but it brought something of great value into my life: the profound realization that I didn’t have to explain myself to others — it was my life to live in whatever way that brought me the most fulfillment.
Choosing to be okay
It’s not the easiest thing in the world to accept, however true it might be, that not everyone will celebrate our successes, so letting someone else control how I feel about myself wouldn’t be okay.
I made up my mind that I was the only one in charge of my happiness. I was the only one who could create a life that felt good on the inside, which would then become experiences that were good on the outside. I knew I couldn’t control what others said or thought about me, but I could damn well choose my response. I chose indifference. And no, it wasn’t that easy at first.
So I needed something else to help me, and I chose:
Little reminders to help stop caring what other people think
Ironically, feeling bad about myself because of what someone might think of me reminded me that no one is paying me that much attention. The reality is that those very people probably didn’t have as many opinions about me as I thought they had.
In the Tao Che Ching, Lao Tzu observed:
Care about peoples’ approval and you will be their prisoner.
This was more than likely meant as a warning to us all. But I decided to use it as a little reminder.
A reminder that each time I became concerned over what others were thinking of me, I was putting myself in a prison of my own making. This reminder helped me to realize that all our opinions and perspectives stem from our environment — past or present. And the views of others should have less validity than my own.
This slight mind shift reminded me of one of the paradoxes of life: when you no longer need the validation of others, it seems to be the time you’ll get it.
Life can be mysterious.
An evening ritual
Life is an echo. What we send out comes back. When we’ve spent much of our lives caring about what others think, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy governing our thoughts and behavior.
Based on this knowledge, I came up with something that might help; I would use my imagination for something I wanted instead of focusing on the opinions of others, who were probably focused on something I wouldn’t like.
So, each evening, I would mentally plan my tomorrow. If I had a meeting, I would imagine the outcome I wanted. In my mind’s eye, I would see smiles all around me and enjoy the feeling of success. Mentally planning for tomorrow became one of my favorite evening rituals.
One tiny reminder, one small discipline
The bottom line is, how much longer do you want to spend some of your precious time focused on the opinions of others? To begin with, it is an uncomfortable change, and I won’t lie; it takes commitment. But one small change of thought, one tiny reminder, and one small discipline will carry you there.
Letting go of worrying about the opinions of others is a bit like learning to meditate; they’re both skills that require some practice.
Whatever people think of you, whether they love or hate you, needs to be something you see as none of your business. It’s about them. Not you. It’s time to answer the Judy Garland question, “Do I want to be a first-rate version of myself or a second-rate version of someone else?”
I think we know the answer to that. And the exciting thing is that you don’t have to change your mindset much for the results to change for you quickly.
Encourage one another.