Do you hold back from doing something because you’re worried about what other people might think? Perhaps you fear the disapproval of your parents, spouse or significant other, other family members, colleagues, or your social set. If you do, you’re not alone. It’s natural. We are social animals and connection with others is critical to our well-being.
According to research though, we tend to overestimate how often people are thinking about us and how much of their thoughts about us are negative. And sometimes, we convince ourselves that people will think badly of us when this isn’t so at all.
Our worries may or may not be in line with true reality but the stress and anxiety that they create is real. Here are five tips to help you worry less about how you come across to others.
Reframe how you think about yourself
How much is your worry about what other people think triggered by how you see yourself? If you think negatively of yourself, you may project your negative belief about yourself on to others assuming they think the same. You may not even be aware that you are expecting others to share those beliefs.
Thinking kindly of yourself is a crucial first step in worrying less about someone else’s view of you. If you can treat yourself the same way that you’d like to be treated by other people, it can start to break the desire to get approval from them. Once you can stop judging yourself, you can channel your energies in more positive ways. Loving kindness and other meditations were helpful to me as I learned to be more kind to myself.
Being mindful is about living in the present rather than the past or the future. Most of your worries about what other people think of you are probably focused on things that have already happened or that may occur in the future. You may be replaying in your mind uncorroborated stories about how you think someone reacted to what you said or did. Or, you may be replaying what you think someone will think or do about a decision you made.
If you practice mindfulness regularly, you’ll get better at keeping your attention on what is happening in the here and now rather than assuming you know what is or will be on someone else’s mind.
Mindfulness is also about non-judgmental awareness. As you focus on your present choices, remember to be kind to yourself. Notice if you are ruminating over what others might think – without judging yourself for the rumination and without judging yourself according to your perception of someone else’s opinion – and then let it go. I know – easier said than done. Again, this can become a part of you as you develop an ongoing, regular mindfulness practice.
Feed your soul
Channel your energies into doing things that feed your soul. In addition to personal fulfillment, you’ll meet people who share your interests and passions. You’re likely to feel more comfortable in this situation and show your natural self. When you’re operating from a place where you feel great about what you’re doing, you’ll worry less about what other people may think and be more inclined to do what fits right for you.
Question if your cultural norms and beliefs are the right fit for you
You may feel like you must act a certain way for people to like and accept you. This feeling may have been cultivated since childhood and can show up in many ways from how you relate to food, to who you socialize with, to your religious beliefs. The cultural norms in your life can fuel worries about what other people will think of you if you want to act or believe differently.
If you want to stop worrying what other people think, consider why you feel you must always fit in with a particular group. Give yourself permission to explore other ways of thinking and to interact with other people. Begin to take steps to live how you want to live rather than how you feel you should. Do so in a way and at a pace that is comfortable for you, taking baby steps if helpful as you make this shift. In the end though, remember this is your very precious life. If you answer to anyone at all, make it yourself. Focus more on how you can be a better version of you, rather than trying to please others in ways that are not consistent with your goals, priorities, and values. No sense letting other people live both their life and yours too.
Extend your kindness to others
We often define ourselves through our relationships. If you are focused on how others see you rather than bringing your best self to the relationship, you are not present for that other person. Putting so much focus on wanting other people to like you can cause stress, anxiety and self-doubt. And, other people can sense this, which can affect the quality of your relationships and the friendships you’re able to build. It can also cause stress for the people close to you who are affected by decisions you make as a result of a desire to be accepted by others.
One way to help with this is to be compassionate and kind towards other people. Knowing that your actions are genuine and you are operating under your best intentions makes it easier to stop worrying how you will be received by others. You can’t control how people will behave towards you or what they will think but by extending kindness you both make clear you wish the best for the other person and reflect the best of you.
When you’re stressing about what others think, what helps you to move forward anyway?