What’s wrong with wanting others to like you?”
That’s what several of our course members asked me in response to one of my recent course member emails. And I’ve been asked similar questions over the years too. So today, I want to discuss why it’s not healthy to spend lots of time worrying about what everyone thinks of you, and how to stop yourself from doing so.
In a nutshell, tying your self-worth to everyone else’s opinions gives you a flawed sense of reality. But before we look at how to fix this, first we need to understand why we do this…
From wanting others to think we’re attractive, to checking the number of likes and comments on our Facebook and Instagram posts, most of us care about what others think. In fact, a big part of this is an innate desire that we are born with. It has been proven time and time again that babies’ emotions are often drawn directly from the behaviors of those around them.
As we grow up, we learn to separate our thoughts and emotions from everyone else’s, but many of us continue to seek – and in many cases beg for – positive social validation from others. This can cause serious trouble when it comes to self-esteem and happiness. In a recent survey we did with 3,000 of our course members and coaching clients, 67% of them admitted that their self-worth is strongly tied to what other people think of them.
As human beings, we naturally respond to everything we experience through the lens of our learned expectations – a set of deep-rooted beliefs about the way the world is and how things should be. And one of the most prevailing expectations we have involves external validation and how others ‘should’ respond to us.
Over a century ago, social psychologist Charles Cooley identified the phenomenon of the “looking-glass self,” which is when we believe “I am not what I think I am, and I am not what you think I am – I am what I think that you think I am.” This kind of external validation has insecurity at its core, and relying on it for even a short time chips away at our sense of self-worth and self-confidence.
The biggest problem is we tend to forget that people judge us based on a pool of influences in their own life that have absolutely nothing to do with us. For example, a person might assume things about you based on a troubled past experience they had with someone else that looks kind of like you, or someone else who shares your same last name, etc. Therefore, basing your self-worth on what others think puts you in a perpetual state of vulnerability – you are literally at the mercy of their unreliable, bias perspectives. If they see you in the right light, and respond to you in a positive, affirming manner, then you feel good about yourself. And if not, you feel like you did something wrong.
Bottom line: When you’re doing everything for other people, and basing your happiness and self-worth on their opinions, you’ve lost your moral center.
The good news is we have the capacity to watch our thoughts and expectations, identify which ones serve us, and then change the ones that do not.
So, in order to stop worrying so much about what others think, it’s time to inject some fresh objectivity into your life, and develop a value system that doesn’t depend on others every step of the way. Here are five things you can start doing today:
1. Remind yourself that most people are NOT thinking about you anyway.
Ethel Barrett once said, “We would worry far less about what others think of us if we realized how seldom they do.” Nothing could be closer to the truth.
Forget what everyone else thinks of you today; chances are, they aren’t thinking about you anyway. If you feel like they always are, understand that this perception of them watching you and critiquing your every move is a complete figment of your imagination. It’s your own inner fears and insecurities that are creating this illusion.
It’s you judging yourself that’s the real problem. (Read Loving What Is.)
2. Acknowledge that external validation is only getting in your way.
Spend time clearly and consciously articulating to yourself how your thoughts about what others are (potentially) thinking plays out in your life. Think of situations where it gets in your way, and identify the triggers and the regrettable responses it causes in your life. Then identify a new behavior that creates a more beneficial response.
Tell yourself, “Instead of responding in the same old way based on what I think others are thinking, I will respond in this new way based on my new way of thinking about myself.” Every time you interrupt your automatic response and respond differently, you are re-wiring your brain to think more effectively.
The ultimate goal is to never let someone’s opinion become your reality. To never sacrifice who you are, or who you aspire to be, because someone else has a problem with it. To love who you are inside and out as you push forward. And to realize once and for all that no one else has the power to make you feel small unless you give them that power.
3. Get comfortable with not knowing what other people think.
When I first started writing on this blog, I’d agonize over whether people would think what I was writing was good enough. I desperately hoped they’d like it, and oftentimes I’d catch myself imagining they didn’t. Then one day I realized how much energy I was wasting worrying about it. So I’ve gradually learned to relax with simply not knowing.
Some problems in life, such as not knowing what others think of you, are not really meant to be resolved. As I’ve mentioned, how people perceive you may have more to do with them than you anyway. They may even like or dislike you simply because you’ve triggered an association in their minds by reminding them of someone they liked or disliked from their past, which has absolutely nothing to do with you.
So here’s a new mantra for you – say it, and then say it again: “This is my life, my choices, my mistakes and my lessons. As long as I’m not hurting people, I need not worry what they think of me.” (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Self-Love” and “Relationships” chapters of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
4. Refocus your attention on what DOES matter.
People will think what they want to think. You can’t control them. No matter how carefully you choose your words and mannerisms, there’s always a good chance they’ll be misinterpreted and twisted upside down by someone. Does this really matter in the grand scheme of things? No, it doesn’t.
What DOES matter is how you see yourself.
So when you’re making big decisions, make a habit of staying 100% true to your values and convictions. Never be ashamed of doing what feels right.
To help you implement this positive habit, start by listing out 5-10 things that are important to you when it comes to building your character and living your life honorably. For example:
Having a list like this to reference will give you an opportunity to consciously invoke your handpicked traits/behaviors in place of doing something random simply for the purpose of external validation. While it may sound overly simplistic, most people never take the time to actually decide what is important to them when it comes to their self-image – they let others decide for them. (Read The Gifts of Imperfection.)
5. Let go of your ‘end of the world’ thinking.
All variations of worrying, including worrying about rejection, thrive on ‘end of the world’ thinking. In other words, our emotions convince us that an undesirable outcome results in annihilation.
- What if they don’t like me?
- What if he rejects me?
- What if I don’t fit in and I’m left sitting alone at the party?
None of these things result in the end of the world, but if we convince ourselves that they do, we will irrationally fear these outcomes and give our fears control over us. The truth is, we – human beings – are inefficient at accurately predicting how future misfortune will make us feel. In fact, most of the time we avoid consciously thinking about it all together, which only perpetuates our subconscious fears.
So ask yourself: “If disaster should strike, and my fear of being rejected comes true, what are three constructive ways I could cope and move forward with my life?”
Sit down and tell yourself a story (write it down too if it helps) about how you will feel after rejection, how you will allow yourself to be upset for a short while, and then how you will begin the process of growing from the experience and moving on. Just doing this exercise will help you to feel less fear around the possibility of someone thinking poorly of you. And you’ll gradually begin to realize…
What other people think of you really doesn’t matter that much.
You don’t need a standing ovation or a bestseller or a promotion or a million bucks. You have nothing to prove. You are enough right now. Go ahead and meditate on that for a minute…
YOU ARE ENOUGH RIGHT NOW.
Care less about who you are to others and more about who you are to yourself. You will have less heartaches and disappointments the minute you stop seeking from others the validation only YOU can give yourself.