Caring too much about what other people think about you puts you on the fast track to a life that is dissatisfying, hollow, and unnecessarily painful. Assuming that isn't what you want, this article serves as a crash course in Stop Caring 101.
Our human instinct to desire the approval of other people might have been necessary for survival in the cave days, but it doesn't mesh well with modern life.
If you're ready to take charge of what you can control in life and make yourself into the person you want to be, shifting your energy away from other peoples' thoughts and opinions about you should be high on your priority list.
Do yourself a favor and read through this entire article. If you stop caring about what other people think about you, you'll feel a sense of liberation you've never experienced before.
Before I get into how to stop caring what other people think, it's important to dive into why we care in the first place.
Back in the days when humans co-existed in the wilderness with saber-toothed tigers and wooly mammoths, people had every reason to not want to get left behind.
Before the safety net of civilization, the world was filled with perils we don't think much about anymore-- starvation, exposure, and predators, to name a few. Staying alive depended on being a part of a close-knit tribe or clan. To survive in that world, group inclusion was a must.
In a modern context, though, this instinct can manifest itself in ways that are practically absurd. A few thousand years ago, you might have understandably felt tremendous fear when kicked out of the group to fend for yourself in the wilderness. Sounds pretty reasonable, doesn't it?
These days, however, the same anxiety and terror might arise in response to the mere idea of receiving negative comments online or being judged for your clothes, looks, profession, or personality.
From an evolutionary standpoint, caring what other people think makes perfect sense when you only have two choices: belong or die.
We don't live in that world anymore, though, and fixating on the perspectives of others will most likely keep you from living a productive, meaningful, and fulfilling life.
So, what is happening in our brains when other people approve of us?
One study from University College London and Aarhus University in Denmark found that when other people agree with and validate our own opinions, the area of our brains associated with reward is much more active.
These researchers also found that some people seemed to be more influenced by the opinions of other people than others, which they could actually predict by looking at their brain activity.
If you are guilty of caring too much about what other people think, you can cut yourself some slack by realizing that we are, to some extent, evolutionarily and biologically programmed to value the opinions of others. That being said, it is possible to overcome this impulse and improve your life dramatically.
One more thing before we jump in: there are definitely benefits to having a sense of belonging within a group. This primer on how to stop caring what people think is not advising that you should stop being empathetic and alienate yourself from everyone you've ever known.
Humans are fundamentally social creatures, and it's important to have deep connections with other people. Experiencing a feeling of belonging with a group can help us manage stress, be more resilient, and support the stability of our mental health, to name just a few of the benefits.
After all, one of the greatest gifts and joys of life is the wealth of family and friendship-- truly knowing and loving other people.
On top of that, the feedback and opinions of other people can be incredibly valuable. Not caring what other people think about you doesn't mean closing yourself off from the useful perspectives of others.
Sometimes, people you love and respect can hold a mirror to you in a way that helps you grow. No one is born perfect, and we can learn a lot from others. The point is to be able to stay centered in yourself and discern valuable feedback from superfluous, judgmental, or superficial opinions.
Many of us, however, go way too far when it comes to caring what others think.
It is far too easy in our modern world to let other people's opinions (or worse, our lousy guesses of what we think other people will think) dictate what we do, how we act, what we say, and, ultimately, who we are.
Ok, so now we have a picture of why we tend to care way too much about what other people think.
The next step is to understand what this might be costing you.
“Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.”
This is a big one.
It's possible to go through your whole life letting other people define who you are without even realizing it.
When this happens, you deny yourself one of your greatest powers: the ability to deepen your relationship with yourself over the course of your life.
“The greatest fear in the world is of the opinions of others. And the moment you are unafraid of the crowd you are no longer a sheep, you become a lion. A great roar arises in your heart, the roar of freedom.”
When you don't know yourself, how can you know what you want out of life? How can you know what your goals and purposes are? Hint: you can't.
When you value what other people think over your own thoughts, opinions, and beliefs, you're on a one-way path to becoming a pushover. The fear of negative judgment can leave people unable to stand up for themselves and make them easy to influence or manipulate.
When you care too much about what other people think, you're bound to spend your life disappointed.
Why, you ask? Because you can't actually ever please everyone.
Even when you do everything in your power to fit in and be accepted, you simply can't control what other people think. This means that you could spend your entire life expending energy in a way that is ultimately fruitless.
What do you want to do with your life? When you're old and gray, what do you want to look back on your life and know you've done? What will you regret not having done?
“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”
— Oscar Wilde
When you're too concerned with what other people think, it can keep you from pursuing your life goals or even knowing what they are.
Caring too much about what other people think isn't a new phenomenon. The infinitely wise Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, observed this aspect of human nature nearly 2,000 years ago:
“We all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.”
– Marcus Aurelius
If you put too much stock into what others think, you'll be devaluing your own perspectives. It might even mean you don't know what your own perspectives are.
If you are fixated on what other people think about you, you likely deal with a good deal of anxiety. Caring about what others think can lead to constantly burning energy obsessing over how you will be judged or praised for any little action.
Anxiety can range from unpleasant to debilitating. No matter the scope, it can seriously get in the way of actually living the life you want. On top of that, it can lead to a long list of physical ailments.
If you want to free yourself from anxiety, learning how to stop caring what people think about you will go a long way.
Finally, you probably won't live the life you want if you're prioritizing what other people think.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”
— Steve Jobs
You want your loved ones to live fulfilling and purpose-driven lives, don't you? So why wouldn't you want the same for yourself?
One of the first steps on that journey is letting go of the attachment you have to other people's affirmation, validation, and positive opinions of you.
Our lives on earth are finite. Once you stop caring what other people think about you, you can begin living the life you want.
Now it's time to look at some of the practical things you can do to stop overprioritizing the opinions and thoughts of others.
It is terrifyingly easy to go through your whole life never really knowing yourself.
If you don’t know who are you, you’re a lot more likely to let other people’s opinions define you and your sense of self-worth. When you don’t have an intimate relationship with your true self, there’s a good chance you will live your life driven by external forces or focused on pleasing other people rather than fulfilling your dreams, goals, and purposes.
The importance of getting to know yourself is quite clear: when you don’t know who you are, how can you possibly be making the best decisions that define your life?
“Nothing gets us into greater trouble than our belief in untested advice; our habit of thinking that what others think as good must be good; believing counterfeits as being truly good; and living our life not by reason, but by imitating others.”
If you’ve never spent much time getting to know yourself, starting the process can be scary. After a while of some dedicated self-work, though, you’ll find priceless wealth inside yourself.
Getting to know yourself is a process you can go through for the rest of your life. One of the best things you can do to discover your true or inner self is to simply sit quietly. We are constantly inundated with other people’s thoughts, ideas, images, marketing tactics, etc.
Sitting quietly with your own thoughts can be surprisingly difficult if you’ve never made a habit of it. In a time before radio, TV, the internet, and smartphones, quiet meditative time was often built into the daily life of humans around the world. These days, we have to purposefully seek it out.
“Everyone rushes elsewhere and into the future, because no one wants to face one's own inner self.”
– Michel de Montaigne
When you’re getting to know yourself, remember to not be too hard on yourself. It’s also important to recognize when you’re focused on who you think you should be rather than who you are. Instead of judging the thoughts and feelings that come up, realize that finding the truth of who you are is the most important thing.
The more you are in touch with who you are and what you want out of life, the less likely you will be to let other people’s opinions bother you. Even if you do find yourself caring about what people think way too much, you’ll always be able to return to your inner resources and stay on your chosen path.
What are your values? What are the underlying principles you hold that dictate your sense of what is important in life? What are the core ideas that are driving you to do what you do day in and day out?
If you have no idea, don’t worry. It’s possible that by discovering what your values are, you will be much less likely to care about what others think about you.
“If an action or utterance is appropriate, then it’s appropriate for you. Don’t be put off by other people’s comments and criticism. If it’s right to say or do it, then it’s the right thing for you to do or say.”
– Marcus Aurelius
If you start to look into the concept of values in ethics and social sciences, it can start to make your head spin. There is some debate about whether some ideas that are considered values are intrinsic while others are better classified as vices or virtues. Don’t get too caught up in this level of thinking when you’re starting out– instead, just focus on the ideas that you believe are important and that inform the decisions you make.
Some examples of personal values, in no particular order, are:
We all pick up values along the road in life, whether we realize it or not. Maybe you have values that you learned from your religious faith, your parents, your community, or your culture. Maybe some of your values developed during your own path of personal growth.
When you’re making a list of your values, try not to censor yourself too much.
Don’t write down the values you think you should have, write down the values you feel really guide you. If there is a discrepancy between your values and how you act, this is a great way to discover it and begin a new, exciting process of growth.
When you have a sense of your values, you basically possess a map that you can carry with you through life. This can be of tremendous benefit to you if you feel that you care too much about what others think of you.
If someone expresses a negative opinion about you or accuses you of doing something wrong, you can simply refer to this map.
Are you acting based on the values you believe in? If not, you can be grateful to the person for helping you realize that you’ve wandered off your desired path. If you are, though, you have a lot more mental strength to not be bothered by criticism or judgment.
You might think that caring what other people think is a sign of a selfless, humble person.
In reality, though, it can also be a symptom of not taking responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings.
When you obsess over what people think and let their opinions dictate your life, you're essentially letting them live rent-free in your head.
You don't have control over what people say about you. What you do have control over is how you react to the negative, baseless, or unflattering opinions of others.
"You have power over your own mind - not over events. Realize this, and you will find strength."
– Marcus Aurelius
From a Stoic standpoint, you'll want to learn to accept things you can't control and focus on the things you can control.
What other people say, do, or think isn't something you have direct power to change. What you can control are your mindset, reactions, attitude, opinions, and beliefs. You can control your own mind, and if you succeed in doing so, you will change your life.
It's great to aim high in life, but being a perfectionist can seriously hold you back. What is perfection, anyway? Whose definition of perfection are you using?
“Some people say you are going the wrong way, when it’s simply a way of your own.”
— Angelina Jolie
If you care too much about what other people think, it can mean you do everything in your power to not be seen in a negative light. While it might feel nice for our ego to never have anyone witness us make a mistake, mistakes are how we learn, grow, and mature.
"The perfect is the enemy of the good."
When we focus too much on being perfect, we can value the feedback we receive from others far more than our own personal growth. If we're more concerned with avoiding failure than bettering ourselves, we're seriously holding ourselves back. In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, "the only man who makes no mistakes is the man who never does anything."
The affirmation cycle is something that pretty much everyone gets caught up in at some point in their lives. Some people even spend their entire lives there.
No, I’m not talking about the New Age sense of affirmations where you say positive things to yourself every day to achieve success in life.
I’m talking about the affirmation and approval that we seek and receive from others throughout our lives. Maybe you received validation for being good at sports, creatively talented, or for getting good grades. Maybe it's for your looks or personality.
It’s all too easy to get addicted to receiving the approval of others, so much so that you let the expectations and opinions of others rule you’re entire life.
On the other hand, maybe you didn’t receive enough affirmation in your life. Maybe you were constantly seeking the approval of your parents or another authority figure, always to be left hanging. This can keep you scrambling for pats on the back in your life, rather than fulfilling your own goals and purposes.
When you are so focused on receiving affirmation and validation from other people, you tend to:
It is, sadly, possible to go through one’s entire life without ever really getting in touch with the inner self, the true self. It is possible to only be concerned with what other people think is good, what other people want, and what other people give you validation for. This is a terrifying premise, to me at least, and I expect that it is to you, too.
It’s natural to want to have control over our lives. The reality is, though, that a lot of the things we encounter are completely out of our control.
If you’re a student of Stoicism, this is probably an idea you’re familiar with. If you aren’t, stick with me for a minute.
Your entire life can change if you start to distinguish between the things you can control and the things you don’t have control over. It might seem distressing at first to accept that there are things you can’t control. After all, if you don’t have any sway over what happens, isn’t life just chaos?
If you sit with this idea for a while, though, it can be incredibly liberating.
According to Epictetus, one of the great ancient Stoic philosophers (and a slave for the first chunk of his life), we have control over very little. We don’t have control over:
That’s right– not even our bodies are fully under our control.
You might be wondering, what does this even leave for us to have control over?
The answer: our opinions, our thoughts, our desires, our aversions, and our own actions.
That’s right. You have control over how you think and feel. You have control over how you react to the things that happen to you. You have control over what you do and do not do.
What that means is that other people don’t have control over how you think or feel.
This is one of the most powerful ways to stop caring what other people think about you.
You don’t have to let other people’s opinions get under your skin or make you feel unworthy. You don’t have to let your imagination of what other people will think dictate what you think, believe, and do.
At the same time, this way of thinking can help you realize that other people are just as in control of their own thoughts and actions as you are. The more you value the freedom you have in controlling your own opinions and behavior, the more you will respect that same freedom in other people.
If you contemplate this idea frequently and incorporate it into your daily life, you’ll realize that your entire mentality shifts. Seriously– it’s a game-changer.
Have you ever had anyone assume they know how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking in a way that was totally off-base? Of course, we can sometimes glean a general idea of what others are thinking without them saying anything– body language, facial expressions, and general vibes are also incredibly communicative.
That being said, it can be pretty annoying when other people make assumptions about where you’re coming from when you haven’t told them what you’re thinking. When you expect other people are judging you, you are guilty of the exact same thing.
In the same way that other people don’t always know what you’re thinking, you can’t know with certainty what other people are thinking.
If you’re walking around with the idea that everyone is judging you, making fun of you, or otherwise belittling you in their minds, there’s a good chance that you’re completely missing the mark.
When you zoom out on this illustration it’s pretty remarkable. Picture yourself walking around a grocery store, for example, with thought bubbles that are wholly concerned with what other people are thinking. All the other people in the store have their own thought bubbles, that are fairly benign and completely unrelated to you.
Seems kind of silly, doesn’t it?
That’s usually what’s happening when you assume you know what people think.
We think about ourselves a lot. According to an article from Scientific American, people spend 60% of conversations talking about themselves, on average. When communicating on social media platforms, 80% of communication is just people talking about themselves.
If we spend this much time talking about ourselves to other people, one can only imagine how much time we spend thinking about ourselves.
“You probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt
Sometimes, we can get caught in cycles where we are super self-conscious of who we are, what we look like, and everything about us. We go to a party and are consumed with the idea that everyone is paying attention to us. Our hearts start pounding and our mind is racing, obsessing over the fact that everyone is talking about just how lame we are.
What’s most likely happening, though, is that almost no one is thinking about you. I don’t mean this to be mean– it’s not that you don’t matter. If you can realize how much time you spend focusing on yourself, though, it can give you a window into what everyone else is most likely thinking about: themselves.
Why waste your time worrying about what others think when they might not be thinking about you at all? If we’re all just walking around thinking about ourselves most of the time, why not use that time productively? And that brings me to my next section… understanding the opportunity cost of caring about what other people think.
When you spend time thinking about something, you are (consciously or unconsciously) choosing to focus on that topic rather than absolutely everything else you could be thinking about or doing.
The truth is that our time is limited. We only have so many hours in the day and we all have only so many days in our lives.
“Don’t waste the rest of your life worrying about others — unless it is for some mutual benefit. The time you spend wondering what so-and-so is doing, saying, thinking or plotting is the time that’s lost for some other task.”
— Marcus Aurelius
Every time you think about what people would think if you wore that outfit, quit your job, or started a band, you are doing so at the expense of every other possibility in the universe.
At the same time, you’re pouring your energy into these topics in a way that most likely impedes your growth. What if you took that energy and put it elsewhere? What if you took that energy and put it toward something you actually had control over-- like who you are, what you accomplish, and what your life is like?
In order to not care what other people think, a few things are necessary.
You need to believe in yourself. You need to trust yourself. You need to take care of yourself.
You need to accept yourself.
When you have these tools in your arsenal, you're much less likely to get completely bowled over when someone expresses negative opinions about you. You can't control other people, but you can control how you feel about yourself. The truth is, the more you do in life, the more criticism you will receive no matter how selfless or genius your actions.
“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”
Accepting yourself isn't easy, but with dedicated self-work and attention, it's possible.
We are all connected to hundreds or even thousands of people through our family, friends, school, work, and social media. When you find yourself fixated on the opinions of other people, it’s important to ask yourself who this person is and why their opinion matters to you.
“Who are these people that you want to be admired by? Aren’t they the same ones whom you used to call crazy? Well, then, do you want to be admired by madmen?”
You'll also want to distinguish between actual feedback and the anxious ramblings of your own mind-- i.e., did someone actually give you their opinion, or are you just letting your imagination run wild?
It’s possible that someone's opinion does matter to you. Maybe you are receiving constructive feedback from your grandfather about a life decision you are making, and you have learned to trust and respect his opinion over the years. If this is the case, you might find that learning what other people think about you is incredibly valuable and useful to your life and growth as a person.
On the other hand, maybe you are feeling judged by someone that you basically don’t know at all. Should you let this person live rent-free in your mind? Why would you let their opinion impact your life at all?
It’s not that you should necessarily go through life completely unwilling to entertain what other people think about you. Sometimes, people have useful feedback that can legitimately change your life. No one is perfect, and sometimes we need some help from the outside.
But you also shouldn’t go through life trying to win validation from people you don’t actually know, care about, or respect. There are plenty of things to concern yourself with in life, but the snarky comment that girl you knew in middle school left on your Instagram photo probably isn’t one of them.
Have you ever heard the Jim Rohn quote that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”?
Depending on your social circle right now, this thought might be absolutely terrifying. The reality is that we are a lot more influenced by the people that we know than we might want to admit.
If you find that you care too much about what other people think, it’s possible that it’s all in your head. On the other hand, it’s also possible that you’re around people that are constantly judging you, criticizing you, and pulling you down.
Are the people you’re around disrespectful to you and not supportive of you? Do you feel more beaten down than lifted up by your friends? If so, it might be time for a change of scene.
According to the Pew Research Center, about two-thirds of Americans say that social media has “a mostly negative effect on the way things are going in the country today.”
Social media has also been found to be a “significant contributor” to stress, anxiety, and low mood. On top of that, several studies have linked social media use with a greater risk for depression, and research has also found that people that use social media often are more likely to have sleep troubles.
The list of negatives about social media goes on and on. Studies have found that social media sites make “more than half of users feel inadequate” according to one survey and that looking at other people’s selfies is correlated with lower self-esteem.
Another study found that the more time people spent on Facebook, the more their life satisfaction declined over time and the worse they would feel later on in the same day.
Think that’s all the bad news about social media? Not at all. Studies have found that social media can have a negative impact on relationships, can instigate feelings of frustration driven by envy, and make people feel more lonely.
“Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”
– Steve Jobs
Don’t get me wrong– there are definitely some incredible things about social media. It’s a truly powerful tool that can be used to connect people across geographic barriers, teach you about things you never would have learned about otherwise, and provide valuable and meaningful entertainment. You can use your social media as a marketing tool for your business that allows you to reach way more people than you could without these platforms.
However, many of us aren’t very conscious about how we’re using social media. It’s easy to just grab your phone and start scrolling whenever you have a free minute or otherwise don’t know what to do with yourself.
It’s amazing how much time can be spent staring at our phones and taking in information that is not particularly useful or interesting to us.
When you look at the increasingly large number of studies that have been done about social media and mental health, it implies that we might want to step back individually and as a society and learn to be more conscious of our social media use.
After all, we only have so much time in our lives.
Do you want to look back on your life when you’re old and realize you spent a good chunk of it staring at other people’s selfies?
Let’s face it: social media can make us feel terrible about ourselves. It can leave us comparing ourselves to the carefully curated images of other people, that more often than not don’t even really reflect their lives.
It can also create pressure within us to produce an online personality that is accepted, affirmed, and validated by other people. It is all too possible to put almost all of your energy every day towards carefully orchestrating the persona we project online.
At the end of the day, this activity comes down to caring way too much about what others think. We look at social media and we judge others, we look at social media and we feel judged by others. This aspect of the relatively new social phenomenon isn’t healthy for anyone.
If you feel like you care way too much about what other people think, try staying off social media for a week. Heck, try staying off it for a day. There’s a good chance you’ll find a lot of benefits in logging off and focusing on yourself and doing something else with your time.
In our hyperconnected world, it's easy to never spend any time with your own thoughts. If you're always plugged into the opinions of others without spending any time with your own, you're much more likely to fixate on what other people think.
Remember, you have control over how you spend your time and what you spend your time thinking about. If you feel like you care too much about what people think, try to pull back on how much content and media you consume. If the media you're consuming is garbage and you know it, find your self-control and stop.
A terrifying number of people spend most of their free time mindlessly consuming content without balancing this out with productive self-growth activities or working to achieve goals.
If you're all wrapped up in what other people are saying, it might be time to log off and recenter.
If you think life is about impressing other people, you probably won't realize one of the most profound truths of life: mistakes are how you learn and challenges are opportunities for growth.
Do you want to grow? Do you want to become the best possible version of yourself before you die?
If you answered yes to these questions, it means you have (or aspire to have) a growth-oriented mindset rather than a fixed mindset. A growth-oriented mindset means you aren't afraid of mistakes or obstacles-- in fact, you welcome them as ways to learn, grow, change, and become your best self.
“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”
― Sigmund Freud
I've had a lot of setbacks in my life that were actually golden opportunities.
Years ago, I almost gave up and sold my blog when it wasn't taking off. It was easy to feel like a failure, to feel like other people would judge me for my unsuccessful venture.
“Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.”
– William Arthur Ward
Luckily, I didn't let my fear of what other people thought dictate my actions.
Instead of throwing in the towel, I doubled down. In less than ninety days, the blog made a million dollars.
Here's another example: In 2011 I lost everything when Google changed its algorithm basically overnight.
I could have spent my time feeling ashamed that my project had failed. I could have gotten all caught up in what my friends and family might think, or even about the opinions of random strangers.
But I didn't.
Instead, I put my nose to the grindstone. I rebuilt from the ground up. Just four short years later, I was able to retire a multi-millionaire.
I'm not trying to brag. The point is to show that your choice to have a growth-oriented mindset or a fixed mindset can have a very well impact on your life.
The journey to being your best self is a fascinating one– you both have to practice self-acceptance while also constantly scrutinizing your own opinions and beliefs. You have to, at once, believe in yourself and doubt yourself.
A lot of this advice so far has been about the fact that you shouldn’t let other people’s opinions bring you down or dictate your life.
At the same time, though, none of us are perfect. We make mistakes, we hold opinions we haven’t thought through, and we act from beliefs we don’t understand in ways that contradict the values we want to hold.
One of the worst things that you can do in life is be unwilling to question your own opinions.
Sometimes, we can believe that our thoughts, beliefs, and opinions are so central to our identity that we assume we wouldn’t know who we were if we changed them. In reality, though, if we are unwilling to question the contents of our own minds, we can get stuck in our ways and close ourselves off from opportunities in life.
Sadly, some people get trapped believing that the personality they picked up somewhere around middle school is fixed, and they don’t let themselves grow because they are too afraid to doubt themselves.
Learning how to change your mind is a huge asset to living a fulfilling life.
It can also make you more forgiving of other people because you recognize that the perspectives they hold now might not be the same as those they hold in a few months, years, or decades. At the same time, it helps you learn to forgive yourself and recognize that every time you’ve thoughtfully changed your mind, you’ve grown a little.
It is all too easy to get stuck in your own head. You can spend hours, days, weeks, or an entire life laying around worrying about what other people think.
Concerning yourself with the opinions of others can be paralyzing, as it can make you question everything you do. The less you do and the more you stay in your head, though, the more intense this cycle can get.
If you feel like you care way too much about what others think, get out there and do something. Anything.
Exercise can be an awesome way to get the right brain chemicals flowing and burn off all of those self-conscious anxieties. Go for a run or a walk, hop on your bike, do some yoga, put on some music and dance, play tennis, shoot some hoops– it doesn’t matter. You might just find that moving around has a huge impact on your tendency to focus too much on what others think.
You can also take up some new hobbies or activities that you find enjoyable. Do something that you wouldn’t normally do for fear of what people would think. Whether it's starting a business, going to a concert alone, or writing a book, there is tremendous value in self-directed action.
Go have fun– you only live once! If other people want to give you a hard time for what you’re doing, that’s their problem, not yours.
There are people out there that absolutely despise Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama. Long story short, no matter who you are, you absolutely cannot make everyone happy, no matter how hard you try. As it was once said, “the key to failure is trying to please everyone.”
This can be a hard pill to swallow if you’ve always been a people pleaser. If you run around your whole life, though, simply trying to make everyone happy and ensuring that no one is ever mad at you, you’re going to drive yourself mad. At the same time, you won’t get to do the things in life that really matter to you.
“You can’t be an important and life-changing presence for some people without also being a joke and an embarrassment to others.”
– Mark Manson
If you feel the urge to change who you are to make someone else happy or say something you don’t believe to please another person, stop and take a step back. Ask yourself why you would let this singular other person take control over how you are feeling. Consider the fact that you are totally free to separate how the person thinks about you from your own sense of self-worth.
No matter who you are, no matter how much good you do in the world, there are people that will criticize you. In fact, the more of a stand you take in life, the more opposition you will face. This is, for better or for worse, just a part of the deal of being a person.
The reality is, though, that we are all individually responsible for our own happiness. You can’t make someone else happy.
From this perspective, all we can do is try to be the best people we can be and hope that others do the same. If you encounter some perpetually disappointed people along the way, (which you surely will,) it’s essential to find a way to accept that you simply can’t please everyone.
“Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.”
– Bertrand Russell
As a final point, don't let the fear of being "weird" keep you from being your true self. Being normal is boring anyway.
We are human, and it’s easy to get caught up in the human world. If you are actively feeling overwhelmed by what other people think of you, get out of your house and get out in nature.
“If words control you, that means everyone else can control you. Breathe and allow things to pass.”
– Warren Buffett
Whether you head to your local nature path or you take a drive to a nearby mountain, there’s nothing better than spending some time with mother nature to help you gain some perspective.
You might just find that the things you've been fixating on don't really matter that much in the big picture, and help you remember or get in touch with your larger purposes.
We don’t like to think about death in our culture, but that doesn’t change the fact that every single one of us will die someday.
If you find that you’re so concerned with what others think that it’s holding you back from living your life, you might want to try out a practice known as memento mori. Latin for “remember that you [have to] die,” the ancient Stoic philosophers were particularly notable for their use of this discipline.
When you contemplate the fact that you will die, it can change your entire perspective on life. All of a sudden, the fact that people might make fun of you if you start that YouTube channel or quit your job to pursue your dream business stops being so important.
One particularly useful practice is to imagine yourself on your deathbed at the end of your life. As you're laying there and reflecting on the life you lived, what do you want to know you have done? What would you regret not having done?
This can be a great way to re-orient yourself when you’ve let yourself get pulled away by other people’s ideas, opinions, thoughts, and desires. The more you practice this discipline, the more you won’t let the passing judgments of others affect your ability to live your best life.
Are you totally consumed with what other people think, even anonymous posters online? To cut through the noise, start a journal.
This is a great way to get to know your own thoughts and make sense of your feelings, experiences, beliefs, and life.
Are you finding yourself fixating on what other people think? No problem. Start writing in your journal and reconnect with yourself. You'll likely find whatever is being said doesn't matter much at all in the grand scheme of who you are and what you want to accomplish.
I've written about how consumerism is the ultimate emotional scam in the past. If your primary concern is the thoughts of other people, you're on a fast track to getting caught up in social status in material wealth instead of the things that really matter in life.
Moving beyond a fixation on keeping up with the Joneses is essential if you want to really stop caring what other people think.
In fact, even if you have the wealth to show off your status with luxury experiences and flashy stuff, there are a lot of reasons why keeping your wealth a secret is the better road.
If you search on Reddit for “how to not care what other people think about you,” a surprising answer pops up over and over again.
“Get older,” they say.
There is some truth to this. Life consists of many seasons, and we tend to care more about what people think about us when we are younger. That being said, there are plenty of people that are closer to death than birth who are completely consumed with pleasing other people and receiving validation from everyone but themselves.
“We cling to our own point of view, as though everything depended on it. Yet our opinions have no permanence; like autumn and winter, they gradually pass away.”
Getting some perspective on the fact that there are different phases to our lives can help if you feel you simply can’t let go of other people’s opinions.
Work on getting in touch with yourself, practice being self-aware of your own thoughts and feelings, and try to identify what your goals and purposes are. If you can do these things and let time pass, you’ll wake up one day and realize that you don’t spend nearly as much time focusing on other people’s opinions.
Don't let people convince you that what you do in your own life doesn't matter. Don't let the people you're around convince you that you should "stay in your lane" or that your goals are pipedreams.
Take yourself seriously. When you do this, other people take you seriously, too.
“Lend yourself to others, but give yourself to yourself.”
– Michel de Montaigne
If you don't take your life seriously, you probably won't live a life that you're proud of. You might get in the habit of sabotaging yourself and even resenting people that do take themselves seriously.
That's no way to live.
"Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you."
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Remember, you are the only person in the entire universe that can make your life what you want it to be. So take it seriously and don't pay any mind to people that give you slack for doing so.
Social media makes it easy to constantly compare yourself to the carefully curated personas of other people.
“Do not overrate what you have received, nor envy others. He who envies others does not obtain peace of mind.”
When we compare ourselves to others too much it can destroy our self-esteem and make us focus too much on what others think. Instead of envying others for what they have accomplished, turn envy into appreciation and use it as motivation and inspiration to be who you want to be.
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”
Rather than comparing yourself to other people, compare the person you are today with the person you were yesterday. Personal growth is a slow, steady hike-- it's a marathon, not a sprint. As long as you're making progress one day at a time, you're on the right path.
Instead of being defensive when you receive negative feedback, be curious. This won't just help you build more meaningful relationships with the people you're close to, but it can also mean that you could gain some valuable information that could benefit your growth as a person.
There's a lot of talk these days about the benefits of practicing gratitude, and for a good reason-- it works.
When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love.
– Marcus Aurelius
Focusing on what you're grateful for rather than what you don't have can help you stay centered in yourself rather than focusing on the opinions of others.
We all make mistakes. Sometimes, we make big, life-changing mistakes. Maybe your little mishap has become the talk of the town.
It can be hard to forgive yourself when this happens, and it isn't necessarily an overnight process. No matter how big or small the mistake that is weighing on your mind, this is the perfect time to turn inward and find the piece of gold hidden in the experience.
"Every difficulty in life presents us with an opportunity to turn inward and to invoke our own inner resources. The trails we endure can and should introduce us to our strengths."
Instead of putting all of the value on what other people are saying, reconnect with yourself, learn what you can, and learn to forgive.
Letting go of what other people think about you isn't easy, and it can take time to break the habit of fixating on the opinions of others. With attention, effort, and time, though, you can refocus on yourself and stop caring about what other people think about you. The sooner you can shed your fixation on other peoples' opinions, the sooner you can start pursuing your deepest goals and purposes.
So, who am I to be telling you how to stop caring about what people think? You can learn more about me and my projects here.