I like not caring about what other people think of me. But… people always seem to test you. Last week at the office – I was talking nonsense with my colleagues, when Anne drops her gossip bomb:
“So Julia and Peter think you’re pretty weird.”
‘Thanks’ Anne for relaying the news. Her face intent with anticipation, she waited for my anxious response. But in my head, I already accepted and discarded the new. Shrug and move on. Office gossip is part of work life. I don’t care.
But that isn’t standard practice.
Would you react Stoic? I sure didn’t in the past. If people talked about me, my stomach would implode and a surge of anxiety flood my guts. I shiver remembering the feeling. Hours later, I would still frantically analyze what made somebody think so badly about me.
“I am nice right?”
“I do the right things?”
“Am I really a weird guy?”
The comment would replay in my mind for weeks. Feeling horrible, again,… and again. Stupid brain, is this necessary?
You want to lift your shoulders and move on. Sure it is nice if others think well of you, but there will always be haters. How to stop caring what people think about you? It’s a hard mindset to get into.
The groups are too big
We evolved to want to fit in. We adjust to a group – totally fine. To help the group stick together, people talk about others – and we care. Gossip and peer pressure keep a social balance. They’re great behaviors and incentives for prehistoric tribes to stick together.
Or at least great for the group, increasing the survival chance. But it is not great for each individual.
We live in a bigger more complex social world now. The original tribal pack consisted of max 150 people. Odds are you encounter a lot more than 150 people every day. Conisiting of groups you’re kinda connected to. Your family, class, office team, gym crew, commute crowd, fellow shoppers etc.
It is impossible to adjust to every group. But even within the few places you’re more active (like your family and class), there are people who will judge you.
A lot of groups, a lot of people. Your tiny mammal brains is just overwhelmed by the avalanche of social feedback. Everywhere you feel a need to fit in. While ironically you don’t ‘need’ all these people acceptance to survive. Not like when you went hunting together (we have Starbucks now).
Yes somehow we care more about other’s opinion, when we should care less. (not an excuse to start acting like a Karen)
[There are of course some (arbitrary) social rules, to let you smoothly interact with hundreds of people every day. Knowing the cultural rules is useful, especially if you want to break them. But for more on this, check the rest of the blog and try to observe your own culture 🙂]
You can’t get flustered every time someone thinks bad about you. You would have no life, constantly adjusting to the whims of public opinions.
+2 on Perception, -5 on Insight
So far we only talked about outspoken judgement. But there is also the internalized peer pressure. How you imagine people judge you.
The sum of culture, upbringing and your flawed power of prediction, create an intimidating image of people’s judgement. Stopping you to act in your best interest!
For instance, you want to introduce yourself to some people. But your bad-simulation-brain goes:
“People will think I’m weird.”
“They probably think I’m a loser if I walk up to them.”
Well maybe,….but not very likely. You don’t know. And even if they do, does it matter?
Slide that shit right off
So what to do? Time to shrug and let it slide. ¯_(ツ)_/¯
It is so liberating. Learn to stop caring, to stop giving a fuck about the opinion of irrelevant people. So Sarah can suck it if your shirt isn’t cool enough. John will be ignored if he thinks your 3rd read of ASoIaF is nerdy (it is cool and worth it!).
But also if you want to grow more confident and social. If you want to approach new people, you should be able to be yourself. Or while keeping a conversation going, you shouldn’t worry if you are considered ‘alpha’ enough.
Life is better if you don’t care what everybody thinks about you :). Destress that social brain by caring less, so you can focus on who and what matters! Let’s have a look on how to go about it.
[Do listen to the right people though. The advice of your best friends, mom (and me 😉 ) often will be worth it. Even if sometimes you don’t want to hear it. You still need some external feedback. So focus on improvingyourself (with some outside help). But don’t obsess over a ‘perfect’ image of how you are ‘supposed’ to be.]
1. Choose your own path in life
By blindly acting on other people’s opinions, you stop following your own path. If you’ve even defined that. So first of all – know what you stand for.
What are your uncompromisable values? What are your goals? Where are your chosen boundaries? Figure that out for yourself. So you can live by your own incentives and restraints. Go take some times to figure this out for yourself.
You want to be a pro-gamer? Awesome, that means you are not going to listen to your sister who says gaming is for kids. Who cares? You do you! Sure be realistic about how to chase your goal, but sway by the uninformed opinions of others. Focus on your goal.
Same goes for your values. If you think honesty is important – you are not going to pull verbal punches. If someone asks a opinion, you tell your truth. Even if you risk them not liking you, also when it’s your crush, girlfriend or husband.
Learn to live by your code, let it guide your decisions. Or as Mr Manson put it more eloquently – give the right fucks.
2. Show your vulnerable belly
If you know your way, you can be more true to yourself. Though it might feel counterintuitive. By taking the lead and choosing your own path, people will respect (and like) you more. Where following the whims of others gets you disdained.
Stop compromising by seeking acceptance and validations. Don’t be steered by the (subtle) nudges of peers. Open up and choose your own path.
Unfortunately, that does mean being more vulnerable.
For example: last year I got in to Dungeons and Dragons. (I know I told you a 100 times already, I just love it!) So I told people at work. Instant feedback: “Huh, that’s for stupid nerds, right?” At home the reaction wasn't much better. I heard my girlfriend giggle awkwardly, when I voiced a small goblin in-game.
It stung a bit, being shamed for what I liked. But I was not going to feel ashamed for what I like doing. So my response: “I don’t care, I love this game.” It did mean taking a leap.
A few weeks of unabashed playing later: curious colleagues about my fun weekends, I planned a game with my boss, and my girlfriend gifts me D&D gadgets.
Be your quirky honest self and people will connect even more! Or at least the people that matter!
[People keep shaming you for what you like? Those are not the people you should care about. If they are not worth caring about, their opinion should matter little to you. Makes sense right?]
3. Do you have enemies? Good!
The coolest people I know are the ones, that are themselves around everybody. But also allow others to be themselves around them. They don’t judge or act differently because of you being you. But they neither take shit if you push their boundaries.
Let that simmer for a while.
But even these cool guys and girls, or even more so than others, have ‘enemies’. Because if you stand for something (even if just for yourself) – there will always be some haters. It is actually cool! Why? Well think about it. Having no opposition at all in life, means you don’t resist anything, you don’t stand for anything.
When you have some opponents, it means you took a stand! You didn’t care about everybody, you let go of social perfection and expressed yourself and your values.
You reap what you sow, so take the lead. Put yourself out there with gusto – be vulnerable, be confidently yourself!
You have enemies? Why, it is the story of every man who has done a great deed or created a new idea. It is the cloud which thunders around everything that shines.”
- Victor Hugo
4. How people judge says something about them
The judgements people have about your behavior says something about them. Not you. It is a way to express how they feel.
For instance, if someone picks on you for striking up conversation in a group. It has little to do with you, but more with them being unsure of their place within the group. Their fear is channeled towards you.
Different example, I have a colleague who judges me on my cleanliness. (Trust me, I’m not a pig). That is because she was raised super hygienic. Imagine a hysterical mom flinging wet wipes at her, if everything wasn’t spotless.
Sad for her, but now her internalized upbringing is expressed towards others. She subconsciously remembers being punished for not being spotless. Translating in 'demanding’ that other people are as well.
So even when I’m decent enough – I still get flack. Should I take that personally? Or realize that this has more to do with her than me? I can still choose to adjust of course, being a bit cleaner than I think necessary – so she will feel better. But I can realize the whining is about her not me.
Understanding now that you act out your upbringing – be honest to yourself. How often do you judge people? Based on what? Your intricate knowledge about someone’s life – or your subconscious drives?
If you hate a certain behavior in yourself, you will react negatively to that in other people. But if you want to express a trait more, you will admire it if other people express it.
Our judgement kinda sucks. It’s impossible to judge or be judged fairly. Especially because we all have a different internalized cultural context. Most of it pretty arbitrary.
My nephew of five illustrated this perfectly. While burping at dinner, and getting a warning from his dad. The little kid explained that in China it is normal, indicating you enjoy your food. This little comment showed how relative certain behavior is, while still getting taught to act in one way.
So why do you still care? Why does the judgement of other people hurt? There is no golden standard to live up to. Of course you still have your instinct to be part of the group. But understand that the cultural judgements are arbitrary. Most of the time they aren’t about you. Neither can you understand all of them.
Besides, most people don’t think that much about you. They make a judgement to scratch their own psychological itch. Then move on to their own insecurities to worry about.
The best thing you can do is be nice, respectful and considerate. Trust the people close to you, to keep you on the right path. For the rest, let it go.
5. Accept what you can’t and can change
Make the days longer? Nope. Have a peanutbutter-jelly sandwich, yes. Change how people react to your new haircut? Nope. Change how you react, to their reaction, yes!
If you feel bad about something, make a clear distinction whether you can truly influence it. You can’t change the opinion of people. Better let that obsession go.
Rather, focus on what you can change:
- How you act and react,
- your own direction of will,
- what you contribute to the world,
- and the story you tell about yourself.
6. What is the worst that can happen?
If being true to yourself is scary, and you are held back by what others might think. Try this little exercise: “think about what the absolute worst is that can happen.” A small example:
So there she is, your crush, you want to ask her out. But you are afraid what she is going to think. Or what other people might think.
But imagine walking up to her, say hi, burp a few lines and ask her out. The worst case scenario: “Your crush thinks you’re weird because you thought you had a chance.”
Step two, think about it, would that even be so bad? I mean, if that is how she felt about you, the feeling was already there. At least now you would know. It is an emotional blow, sure, but your life hasn’t changed much.
Besides think about this: – does this event matter in 5 minutes? In 5 hours? 5 days? 5 years? I guess the importance of it fades when put in perspective. Besides this is the absolute worst that can happen, probably the real deal isn’t that bad :), maybe you’ll even get a date.
We all have our fears, but put a bit of thought in it. You'll learn to put yourself out there and live without the fear of others people’s thoughts.
Want to do this systematically? Check out the confidence escalation method.
7. Embrace your fuck ups
In a result driven world it’s hard to know you have to fail a hundred times before you succeed. Add some perfectionism and it’s even more challenging. Failing feels as a loss in itself, while it is a win.
Probably you want to hide or neglect mistakes. Why not embrace them instead? You learn a valuable lesson every time you do something wrong.
You often miss the goal a few times before you hit. This is true on a cognitive and an intuitive level. You learn to walk by hitting the ground a thousand times, while your brain makes tiny adjustments to get better. Slowly, yet steadily, walking better and better every time you try.
This goes for knitting, Fortnite and socializing. You unconsciously get a little better. Reinforce this with theory and mentoring, and you will make real strides.
This too requires vulnerability. But if you are open to fucking up, you are open to learning. So next time, if you feel like a failure, turn it around and think – I’m a bit better than before. Use this when chasing your goals, every failure is a small checkpoint towards success.
Before I leave you
This helps right? Thought so! Often you just shouldn’t give fuck.
Remember, you only have one life. It is wasted worrying about what random people think about you. Society and the world are big enough for you to chart your own path. One day you’ll be dead. It would be a waste to regret adjusting to insignificant others in your final death throes.
So get to know yourself, know what is important to you – and live by it! On the road find the right people, your allies, your friends, whose opinion you should take in regard.
Good luck, You’ve got this!