Most of us are guilty of worrying too much about what others think of us. Studies show that we consistently overestimate how much, and how badly, others think about us and our failings. An unfortunate consequence of this is that we are far more inhibited and far less spontaneous and joyful than we could be.
How can we stop being bothered by what others think of us? Following are three principles that can help.
Operate from Other-Centeredness
We, humans, are a painfully social species. For example, as many as 4 out of 5 processes going on in the background of our brain is about our relationships with others. We care so much about others because our happiness depends on the quality of our relationships. Our worrying about what others think of us stems from the fear that we may be bereft of friends. This fear can, in some instances, be useful. Embarrassment and shame can motivate us to behave in a more considerate or appropriate manner, increasing the chances that others like us.
But if the fear is too high, it can also be counter-productive. Constantly wondering whether others like us enough can evoke anxiety, leading to neediness and insecurity.
One way to break this vicious cycle is to consistently—or at least more of than not—operate from a place of other-centeredness, rather than self-centeredness. If you are consistently kind and considerate, then you will worry less about what others think of you. And, it turns out that being other-centered is not just a happiness booster, but also a success booster. Specifically, you are more likely to be successful if you are giver, rather than a taker.
Know that Hurt People Hurt People
Even if you do your best to be kind and considerate, you may still be judged negatively by others. This is not a reflection of your failings; rather, it is a reflection on where the others are coming from. People often behave in the only way they know how. Recognizing this can help you become a little more compassionate towards others, and thereby, reduce your worry about what others think of you.
Develop Attentional Control
Attentional control is being able to control what you pay attention to. It involves practicing the ability to direct your attention to those things on which you wish to focus. Perhaps the best way to practice attentional control is through mindfulness. Although mindfulness does not work for everyone, it is still a very powerful way of developing attentional control. An additional benefit of mindfulness is that you develop greater self-awareness, which can be useful in preventing self-delusion.
Another way to develop attentional control is to take action, something that helps you develop that “other-centeredness.” Do a random act of kindness. Write a letter of gratitude. Or, do those things that get you into what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls flow.
Worrying too much about what others think of you can be debilitating. And doing these three things: 1) operating more consistently from other-centeredness, 2) know that hurt people hurt people, and 3) developing attentional control can all help you overcome this tendency.
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