As a worrier, a people pleaser and a textbook over-thinker, learning to worry less about what other people think is a challenge I’ve faced to some extent throughout my entire adult life. As I was writing this post, and doing a little research on the topic, it became apparent that a lot of people feel the same way!
On the one hand, it’s natural to want to fit in and feel accepted. The need to belong is part of what makes us human. And from the perspective of personal growth, it helps to be self-aware and consider how we might come across to other people. We’re more likely to be kind and considerate if we think this way.
But it can also be damaging to our confidence and self-esteem to dwell too much on what others think, or even (as in my case!) might possibly be thinking. Not only that, but the nagging worry can sometimes hold us back. I’ve certainly missed out on things that I could/should/would like to have done in the past, because I was too caught up in how it might be perceived by other people.
Over the last few years, I’ve become much better about quashing those thoughts. I believe it comes in part with age and experience – our priorities shift as we grow older. Parenthood has helped too. Becoming a mom has caused me to focus less on my own doubts and insecurities, and more on the needs of my daughters. I just don’t have time for all that!
But I’ve also become deliberately more introspective and mindful. I’m making a conscious effort these days to focus more on the good stuff in life and spend less time worrying about the bad – especially things I can’t control like what other people think of me!
This is obviously easier said than done, but here are a few great tips that have definitely helped me and might work for you if you’re in my position.
#1 Get outside of your own head for a while
Stop for a minute and consider how much time you truly spend thinking about other people. It really isn’t all that much is it?? The truth is that other people don’t spend nearly as much time thinking about us as we might imagine. And when they do, it’s probably a passing thought at most. In general, people don’t scrutinize the habits and actions of others nearly as much as they do their own.
If we’re not going around watching and judging every move that other people make, why would we assume that everybody else is?
When you try to remember this as soon as you start to fixate on what others might be thinking, it can really help to shift the pattern of negative thinking.
#2 Live more in the moment and stop over-thinking things
My own over-thinking gets me into all sorts of trouble, and one of the consequences is that it can lead me into thinking I’m being judged, even when I’m not.
How to stop over-thinking?
The first step is to train yourself to recognize when you’re doing it. When you’re able to do this, you can direct your thoughts to something more positive instead. Over time it’ll become habit.
Another good piece of advice here is that there are moments when we just need to take life (and ourselves!) a little less seriously. Attempting to see the humor in it all is another great way of putting things in perspective. We only get one shot at life. We have to enjoy it and simply live for the moment sometimes. Dwelling endlessly on what other people are thinking is definitely a waste of that precious time.
#3 Decide whose opinion really matters to you
It makes absolute sense that we should be a bit selective about whose opinion carries weight. Unless it’s someone that we look up to, respect or care about, is the time and effort spent worrying really worth it? Nope!
And to be quite honest, the people who really love you for you will be accept your quirks and flaws without the need for criticism.
If a supposed friend is consistently making mean or snarky remarks, then perhaps it’s time to question that friendship.
#4 Remember that most people are on your side
In my early career, I used to spend quite a bit of time attending conferences where I was required to give speeches and presentations to large audiences. Naturally this was terrifying to someone like me!
But I recall clearly a great piece of advice given to me by a colleague to help with the nerves, and I want to share that gem with you now.
He told me to remember that everyone in that audience wants you to succeed. They’re on your side – they aren’t secretly hoping that you’ll mess up! Why would they?? It was a very comforting thought as I looked out at the sea of faces watching me, and it’s one that’s stuck with me ever since.
There will always be the haters and trolls, but the vast majority of people out there are rooting for you. I also try to remind myself that negativity is almost always a reflection of that person’s own insecurities and hang ups.
#5 But try to be OK with the fact that not everyone will like you!
This is a bit of a toughie for me personally and there are times when I just wish I had thicker skin (working on that!). But if we’re being honest with ourselves, does it really matter if the work acquaintance or friend of a friend doesn’t take to us?
Another way to think about it is that those people just won’t be the important ones in our lives, whose opinions really matter.
It’s also true that not everybody I meet is my cup of tea, but it doesn’t mean that I’m spending a whole lot of time criticizing or thinking negative thoughts about them!
Throughout life there will be people who like us and people who don’t, and there’s not really much we can do to change that.
#6 Focus instead on what you think about yourself
The key here lies in learning to believe in who you are and what you stand for. That’s the part that you can control. The more confidence we have in our own actions and decisions, the more likely we are to stop worrying about what others think.
If you can dedicate the time to truly considering the kind of person you want to be, and then act on it, it’ll be much easier for you to find self-approval, and not need it from others.
Remember also that you know yourself better than anyone. And what might make sense for another person won’t necessarily be the best thing for you. Their thoughts are unique to them. Their opinions certainly don’t define you.
For me, this is all still a work in progress. There are definitely times that I find myself slipping into old habits and the worries resurface.
But overall I’ve come a long way in overcoming my need for approval, and as a blogger I’m exposing myself to many potential critics – a big step for me, and one which I feel good about.
I’ve also learnt the valuable lesson that what others think of me is really none of my business!
Is this a challenge for you? What steps have you taken to stop worrying about what others think? I’d love to hear from you.