Self-image and what you think about yourself have a major influence on your success. So how can we stop caring what other people think of us?
I believe that fearing what other people think is really just basically fearing shame and rejection. Ultimately, shame and rejection are what we’re really trying to avoid. I guess that’s the good news and the bad news. The reason it’s good news is that you are able to have full control over your feelings, since they’re rooted in your own thoughts. But it’s also bad news, because this is the true reason why quick-fix self-confidence boosting endeavors don’t really work. They don’t do anything help you fix the underlying problems. I’ll get to more on that later.
So in this post, I’ll share what I’ve learned about how to stop caring about what other people think. This means I’m also sharing what I’ve learned about how you can start caring more about the opinions you have of yourself.
Fearing What Others Think
Like all the other things I write about on this blog, I’m still on this journey myself. I haven’t been able to completely stop caring about what other people think of me. I notice that there are things that I do and that I don’t do because I’m concerned about how people might perceive me, even though I should know better by now. I just wanted to make certain I’m being up front about that. I’m not claiming that I’m an expert; I just share what I’m learning in the hope that you’ll find it helpful, too.
I must admit that even though I’ve made a significant amount of progress in this area in my life over the past several years, I do still struggle on some levels.. It was during those years that I started my blog and podcast. Which means that it was during those years that I realized I felt completely terrified of what other people think about me. I was completely terrified I’d be rejected and feel shame about who I am. I didn’t fully realize that until I was trying to stretch myself and put my work out there for everyone to see. That makes me feel like I’m qualified to share on these topics.
Caring About What Others Think
Caring about what other people think of us is proof of the fact that having intellectual knowledge regarding what we should do is not the only thing that we need. Everyone knows they shouldn’t care what people think of them. But we all still do care. But don’t worry. I’m not going to waste this entire post just to tell you that you need to stop caring. Because you already know that you shouldn’t care, but you haven’t stopped yet. So I’m going to try focusing on the things that I think will actually help you!
So why do we know that it doesn’t matter one bit what other people think about us, but we still care so much? How can we know that we don’t need other peoples’ approval, but we all still go to such great lengths to receive it? How is it that we can understand that what other people think about us is only a reflection of their own thinking, but we still feel that it’s a judgment of our worth?
Most people chalk that up to evolution, and the concept that way back in the far-distant past, rejection by society or our tribe literally meant we would die. We would die of starvation or thirst, or get eaten by a raptor, a tiger, a lion, or something at least as painful, if not worse. So seeking others’ approval and acceptance is basic human instinct. Our very survival used to depend on it.
But in reality, we o longer live in that world. People Don’t die if their friends think they were foolish to start a blog and podcast or if their relatives think that they should have stuck it out in our previous career, or if an audience full of strangers laughs at them because we forget the next line of their performance or speech.
From what I’ve personally learned on my own personal journey, I’m guessing that the main reason that we still act like other people’s thoughts and opinions about us are so important is because it feels like they are. The shame and embarrassment that follows humiliation, abandonment and rejection can certainly feel like we’re dying.
One of the most significant discoveries that I made during my journal of personal development is that I have a subconscious pattern of feeling ashamed in situations that I didn’t need to feel ashamed. I believe that it all started for me when my mother died of cancer when I was a young teen. Even though her death had nothing to do with my worth as a person or if I was “good enough” or not, or lovable enough, or anything else along those lines, I subconsciously felt that her death meant that there was something inherently wrong with me. And I felt ashamed. Children often react to the death of a parent in this way.
And shame grows and thrives when it’s left undiscussed and unnoticed. So I went all the way through the rest of my teens and halfway through my 20s (pretty much up until about a year or two ago, when I started this blog and my podcast) believing that I had something wrong with me, but I didn’t actually know why I held that belief. I was surrounded by supportive and loving people, so everything should have been amazing. So why did I believe that I wasn’t good enough? It didn’t make any sense whatsoever. I know that lots of other people feel exactly the same way.
I carried that deep sense of shame with me based on an untrue and illogical conclusion that I drew as a young teenager. It affected every experience and interaction that I was involved in. I’d been going through life believing that I couldn’t let anybody else see that there was something wrong with me. This shaped me into a high achieving, people pleasing perfectionist. So my concern about what other people were thinking about me were rooted in my determination to never feel ashamed again.
It’s amazing how shame amplifies itself. As an example, I felt ashamed about starting a blog and a podcast. I had the underlying belief about myself that there was wrong with me, so I hid the blog for a long time. But then I felt shame about hiding the blog, which made me feel even more shame. Those feelings of shame just snowballed. They grew and they grew and they grew until I finally decided to come out of hiding. I finally just got so sick and tired of hiding myself, and I began to see that I had no reason to feel shame in the first place. The shame had all just come from that subconscious belief in my teens that I had something wrong with me. That’s what had my thoughts distorted and twisted.
So in my own personal experience, which of course is anecdotal and is not based on scientific studies or research, we care so much about what other people think of us because we don’t ever want to feel shame. Never. Not for any reason. Nothing feels worse than shame. We’d rather deny ourselves self-expression and the things that we love than to feel shame. So when I began to understand that my real issue was shame, and not people’s opinions of me, I was able to start making a lot of progress, which I plan go further into in next week’s blog post.
Your Thoughts’ Power
If you’re relatively new to the world of personal development, you may think that all of this information about shame is bad news, because at any moment, something might happen that would make you feel shame—a judgmental look, a sarcastic snicker, or a snide remark. Not to mention getting dumped, failing an exam, getting fired, or any other type of epic public humiliation.
But when you can start to understand that feeling shame is rooted in your thoughts, rather than in your circumstances, you’ll find a whole new world opening up to you. I’ve mentioned Brooke Castillo and her world-class podcast “The Life Coach School” before. The reason I’m a devotee of her podcast is that she was able to articulate this concept in a way that quickly and totally made sense to me. I’m not even getting paid royalties to say that!
Most personal development industry leaders say that our thoughts form our feelings, and our feelings form our actions and our results, though they may explain this in different ways. So Brooke didn’t share anything especially new with the industry or with me. But I experienced a lightbulb moment when I heard the way she explained it in one of her podcasts. I will forever be a follower of her amazing work!
So to sum up, feelings of shame are rooted in our thoughts like “I shouldn’t have done that,” “There’s something wrong with me,” “Nobody likes me,” “I’m not normal” and things like that. The fact that two people can have the exact same thing happen to them, or be in the exact same circumstance, but each one will have a completely different feeling and reaction to it serves as proof that shame is rooted in our own thoughts, not in our circumstances.
Sometimes when you come to the understanding that your thoughts create your feelings (this usually will only happen if you’re working on personal development—they should teach that in school!) you try to alter your thoughts so that your feelings can all be positive ones. That seems to make sense, right? If you could always feel positive, why not do what it takes?
But as much as we may think that we always want to be positive and happy, we don’t really want that. We need the full spectrum of feelings. And even though negative emotions are often uncomfortable, they’re a significant component of personal growth.
So even though your feelings are rooted in your thoughts, you’ll still experience negative emotions. We’re all human and negative emotions are just part of life. This includes shame. I want to make it clear that I’m not telling you to just avoid all thoughts that lead to feeling ashamed (which, by the way, would be a huge challenge, because lots of our thoughts occur at a subconscious level). So if we can’t completely avoid feeling ashamed, what should we do?
You may be familiar with Brené Brown and her incredible body of work. Brown is a researcher on shame, an author of multiple best-sellers, and a presenter of popular TED Talks on vulnerability. I especially appreciate the way she discusses shame resilience. She explains that speaking about things that we’re ashamed of, and being vulnerable, are among the best ways to build up a resilience to shame. I’ve found this to be quite true!
Sharing the ups and downs of my life and sharing about my struggles on this blog and on my podcast have been hugely important, particularly on my podcast, a things there are shared in a less refined and edited form. Plus I get so much feedback that readers feel the same. That makes me feel much less shame. You may not have realized it, but this is a two-way street. You all help me out way much more than you ever could know that you do.
Anyways, here are a few of my favorite highlights of Brown’s work. Take some time later to watch or to listen to Brown’s interview with Oprah Winfrey and her TED Talks “The Power of Vulnerability ” and “Listening To Shame.”
Stop Caring About What People Think
The way I understand it, the reason that we care so much about what people think of us is that we’re attempting to avoid experiencing painful or negative emotions, such as shame. And while vulnerability and shame resistance will help shame stop having so much control in your life, there are some other things that will also help.
I won’t tell you things like “You can’t please everybody,” because you already know that. As I’ve already explained, intellectual knowledge alone won’t change how your behave. So I’ll instead share a few different exercises with you that you might find helpful.
Tim Ferriss and Fear-Setting
I’ve mentioned Tim Ferriss’ exercise related to fear-setting before. But I have to say more about it here because it’s so helpful and powerful, especially when you feel fear about what other people think about you. By the way, he calls it”fear-setting” because it resembles goal-setting, but it’s related to your fears.
Ferriss shared a journaling exercise in his book Tools of Titans. The exercise is a list of questions that you answer to help you get a clearer understanding about the fears that you have related to a specific circumstance or decision in your life. This exercise has changed not only my life, but it’s changed some of your lives, too. by the way, thanks for commenting and emailing me to tell me!
I first did the fear-setting exercise in the winter of 2015. At that time, I was getting ready to leave my full-time job so I could start blogging and podcasting full time. I had lots of fear because of “what people think.” I just want to add here that one reason we perceive our fears in a vague way like this is so that we can’t really rebut them or argue with them. Staying vague helps us stay in our comfort zone so we can avoid our real fears.
Anyways, with the help of Ferris’ exercise, which only takes about 20 minutes, I came to the realization that I wasn’t actually afraid of what people thought. This was a major revelation to me. For the first time, I was able to see that my true fear was that I’d start blogging and podcasting full time and that I’d fail. But it wasn’t failure that I was actually afraid of—our fear never really is failure itself. No, I feared that a failure would put undue pressure on my personal relationships, and that people would then leave me.
Once I discovered what my true fear was, I was able to start moving forward. I started writing out affirmations. I vowed I’d leave my full-time job by the next summer, without a clue yet about that would actually happen. I turned in my resignation 6 weeks later, and left that full-time job in spring 2016. So yes, the exercise totally changed my life.
This was so fascinating, because I fully believed I was afraid of what people thought until I worked through this fear-setting exercise. With the help of this exercise, I was able to dig down deep into my true fears for the very first time. And once I saw what they really were, they didn’t see, so bad after all. Our fears are the most powerful when we keep them vague.
Developing and increasing self-confidence is a great method to stop caring what other people think of us. Part of the reason we care about other peoples’ opinions is that we don’t trust our own opinions of ourselves, or we don’t have good opinions of ourselves. We therefore need the opinion of others to support and validate our worth.
You all know already that I prefer talking about the things that actually work long-term. So I won’t waste time telling you to dress nice and to stand up straight and to do all those other things that are just a band-aid over the inner turmoil you’re experiencing. You need to take the time and make the effort each and every day and do the real work.
Several weeks back, I wrote a series about personal development geared towards beginners, including instructions on creating your own personal development plan. Be sure to check that out if you’d really like it if you could stop caring about what people think about you! I also wrote another blog post on how I improved my own self-confidence. Be sure to check that one out, too!
Separate the Imagined From the Real
Often our fears of what people think of us is purely based in our imagination. We develop worst-case scenarios and make things so overwhelming and vague that we’re left blocked and can’t act. This is why the fear-setting journaling exercise is so helpful. When you find yourself blocked based on what other people think of you, take a minute or two to discern if you’re being blocked by an imagined situation or a real one.
When I first started my blog and podcast, I was fearful of what people would think, especially the people closest to me. But it was completely imagined. I discovered this when I started to tell people about it. I was shocked at how inspired, curious and supportive they all were! I thought they’d be thinking the things about me that I was already thinking about myself. But it turns out, they weren’t! I’d spent years basically in hiding in hopes of avoiding something that turned out not to be real.
Sometimes we fear of what people will think because they said something to us that we interpreted the wrong way. If that’s happened to you—and let’s be real, we all do that—then definitely take a listen to Brooke Castillo’s “The Life Coach School” podcast that I mentioned earlier, because remember, our feelings are rooted in our thoughts, not in other peoples actions.
Be Selective About Others’ Opinions
This next one is again from Brené Brown. Yes, I adore Brown. Yes, Brown’s all that and more. Yes, read all of Brown’s books. There are two things I want to share about her approach to dealing with the opinions of other people.
The first is how she handles other peoples feedback. She says, “If you’re not in the arena getting your butt kicked too, I’m not interested in your feedback.” I love this. I find that I’m on the receiving end of so much unsolicited advice. And most of it is from people on the sidelines of their own lives. So I really try pay attention to the advice only from others who put themselves “out there,” too. This helps me stay sane!
Another thing Brown did is to make a list of the names of people whose opinions truly matter to her. For people to be on her list, they have to support her through her struggles and love her for her strength. She carries that list around with her to remind herself that if the person’s name isn’t on her list, their opinion shouldn’t matter to her.
Give this one a try. Make your own list of the people whose opinion truly matters to you. Include just the people who you can count on to encourage you and support you no matter what. There’s nobody that you should feel compelled to include. It’s okay if your significant other or your parents don’t make your list!
Gather a Group of “Invisible Counselors”
Limiting the number of people whose opinions you heed is really helpful. But it’s important to have people you can consciously seek advice and wisdom from. This doesn’t mean that you should ignore your own wisdom. It just means that you should purposely surround yourself with people who encourage you and support you, people who think that what you’re wanting to do is realistic and normal. It can be so empowering to have people surrounding you that will normalize whatever it is that you’re attempting or planning to do.
One way to do this is to create what Napoleon Hill calls “Invisible Counselors” (in case you don’t know, Hill wrote the book Think and Grow Rich). To do this, think of people you’d most want to have as your own personal mentors. In this case, it doesn’t matter if they’re alive or dead. Then, hold imaginary meetings with them to ask your them for their encouragement, support, or advice on whatever it is that you need help with. It’s like asking yourself “What would _____ do?” but you’re imagining yourself actually interacting with them to get their input and advice
I’ve used this technique when I feel overwhelmed or disheartened. I ask myself what people I respect and admire would advise me to do. Right now, my Invisible Counselors are Napoleon Hill, Gary Vaynerchuk, Tim Ferris, Oprah Winfrey and Brooke Castillo, but the list changes all the time based on whose podcasts I’ve been listening to recently. This technique always helps me to put things back into the proper perspective so I can show the most courageous and best version of myself.
If you want to try this, just think of four to six people that you admire or who inspire you for some reason. They don’t have to be doing exactly what it is that you want to do! Then begin meeting with them and taking their counsel and advice.
Stop Judging Others
Something that may be sustaining your fears over what other people think of you is the judgments you make of other people, and you may not even realizing this. As I’ve already explained, the judgments people make of others are really a reflection of their own insecurities and thoughts, rather than a reflection of the person that they’re judging. It’s common knowledge that the most judgmental people are the ones who are the most insecure. They put other people down in order to help make themselves feel better.
Because of this, if you’re being judgmental of others, it’s easy for you to believe that everyone else is judging you to the same degree that you’re judging them. Being careful with your words and thoughts towards others definitely has an effect on the way you believe other people perceive you.
Stop Beating Yourself Up
As I explained earlier, we sometimes feel bad over feeling bad. And we sometimes feel shame over feeling shame. If you care too much about others’ opinions of you, you need to stop feeling that way.
I know, of course, that’s easier said than done. But beating yourself up over it will only make the struggle last longer. What you resist will persist. So if you care about other peoples’ opinions, let it be there for now. It may sound counterintuitive for now, but it’s very important for your overall progress.
Not Caring What Other People Think
Many of us think that if we’re not concerned about other peoples’ opinions of us that we’ll turn into a rude, smelly grub. But not being concerned about other peoples’ opinions doesn’t entitle us to be smelly, rude or disrespectful. And it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to what other people say. It just means that you should care most about the opinion you have of yourself. You should live your best life, share your gifts and never hold back.
The reality is, when you don’t care about what other people think of you, you’re able to be kind to others without trying to coerce or manipulate them to like you from a place of desperation and fear. You can have a greater impact because you’re free to be the driven, capable and talented person you truly are.
Your brain will probably try to convince you that your fear of what other people think of you is somehow serving you, but it’s not. You can be engaged and connected with others and take your own advice and trust in your own opinions of yourself. Your brain is trying to play a trick on you. Don’t let it.
Stop Caring What Other People Think
You all know that I love podcasting and writing this blog. so I thought that this week, it would be helpful to chat through my personal experience with all of this, as it’s easier said than done. And I’m still on the journey myself!
In my related podcast episode, I discuss how I dealt with my own fears of what other people thought of me when I first started this blog and my podcast. My fears were real, people. I also talk about how they’ve changed and evolved over the last few years. I hope you find them helpful, and that they gives you the mindset shifts and tools you need so you can start living your best life possible.
What If You Do Still Care What People Think?
Since it takes personal development work and time to change your way of thinking, I thought you could use some extra tips on things you can do if you find you still care about what other people think, so you won’t feel stuck any longer. These tips may not necessarily help you to stop caring. They’ll help you identify and manage your fears so you can work towards your goals and dreams.
I recorded a podcast episode to chat all about it. I hope you find it helpful. These are the things that allowed me to nurture and grow my business and my blog and podcast, even when I was blocked by the fear of rejection and shame.
So we all know now that intellectual knowledge won’t change you. Simply knowing how to stop caring what other people think won’t make a bit of difference unless you practice, do the work and apply what you know!