Last week’s series was all about self-image and how to change what you think about yourself (because your opinion on yourself has a HUGE impact on whether or not you’ll succeed). So this week, I thought I’d dive into a topic that I get asked for advice on ALL the time – how to stop caring what people think!
I think the fear of what people think is actually just the fear of feeling rejected and ashamed (because ultimately that’s what we’re trying to avoid, right?) and I guess that’s the good news and the bad news. It’s good news because you can control your feelings (since they come from your thoughts). And it’s bad news because it’s the reason why all of those quick-fix confidence boosters don’t work (since they don’t help you change the underlying problem – but more on that in a bit).
So this week, I’m sharing everything I know about how to stop caring what people think. Which also means I’m sharing everything I know about how to start caring about your opinion of yourself. And how to have your own back.
MY FEAR OF WHAT PEOPLE THINK
Like everything else that I write about, this is a journey I’m still on myself. I haven’t completely stopped caring what people think. And I notice there are things I do and don’t do because of how I think people will perceive me – even though I know better! So yeah, just wanted to be up front about that. But you guys already know that I’m not trying to be an expert. I’m just sharing what I learn, as I’m learning it, in the hope it will help you too!
But I do have to say that even though I still struggle with this on some level, I’ve made an unbelievable amount of progress in this department over the last 5 years. And I say the last 5 years because it was about 5 years ago that I started Smart Twenties. Which means it was about 5 years ago that I realised I was ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED of what people think of me (i.e. I was ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED of feeling rejected and ashamed about who I was and didn’t 100% realise that until I tried to put myself out there). So I feel like I have some important shit to share.
And by the way, as always, I’ve created a free workbook to help you take everything you learn to the next level and apply it to your life (since we all know that knowing doesn’t equal changing). You can click here to download it!
WHY WE CARE WHAT PEOPLE THINK
Caring about what people think is great evidence for the fact that intellectual knowledge about what we should do isn’t all that’s needed. We all know that we shouldn’t care what other people think – but we still do! So don’t worry, in this blog post I won’t be telling you to stop caring. You already know you shouldn’t and you haven’t been able to stop. So I’m going to focus on some other stuff that will help.
So how come we know it doesn’t matter what people think about us and yet we still deeply care? How come we know we don’t need everyone’s approval but we still bend over backwards to get it? How come we know that other people’s thoughts are a reflection of their thinking and yet we still feel like it’s a reflection of our worth?
Most people put it down to evolution and the fact that wayyyy back in the day, if we were rejected by our tribe it meant death. Literally. We’d get eaten by that sabertooth tiger or die of thirst or starvation or something equally (if not more) painful. Seeking the acceptance and approval of others is human instinct. It’s survival.
But the reality is that we’re no longer living in that world. We won’t die if our friend thinks we’re dumb for starting a blog. Or because our parents think we shouldn’t have changed careers. Or a room full of people laugh at us for forgetting what to say.
I’m no expert. But, from what I’ve learned along my personal development journey, I would fashion a guess that the reason we still act as though other people’s opinions are life or death is because it feels that way. The shame that follows rejection, abandonment and humiliation can feel like death.
One of my biggest discoveries I’ve made during my personal development journey has been that I’ve had an unconscious habit of feeling shame in situations that I needn’t. It started when my mum died from breast cancer when I was 11. Even though it was completely unrelated to my worth as a person or whether or not I was lovable or ‘good enough’ or anything like that, I unconsciously made it mean that there was something wrong with me (as we often do as children). And I felt ashamed.
And shame THRIVES when it goes unnoticed and undiscussed. So I went through the whole of my teens and well into my twenties (basically until about a year ago, when I was 26) believing that there was something wrong with me without actually knowing why I had that belief. Everything was amazing and I was surrounded by loving and supportive people. Why the hell didn’t I believe I was good enough? It made no sense whatsoever. And I know that SO many of you feel the same way.
I had been carrying this deep sense of shame around with me, based on an illogical conclusion I’d drawn as an 11 year old. It coloured every interaction and experience. I was looking at the world through the lens of ‘I can’t let anyone else figure out something’s wrong with me’ and it caused me to be a high achieving, people pleasing perfectionist. So of course, I REALLY cared about what people were thinking of me as I never wanted to feel that shame again.
It’s also crazy the way that shame can amplify itself. To give just one example, I felt ashamed when I started a blog (because I had that underlying belief that something was wrong with me), so I hid my blog. For a VERY long time. But then I felt ashamed that I was hiding my blog, so I felt even more ashamed. And that feeling of shame just grew and grew and grew until I eventually came out of hiding (because I finally got FED UP with hiding myself) and began to see that there was no reason to feel ashamed in the first place. It had all just come from this subconscious, childhood belief that there was something wrong with me that had my thoughts twisted.
So in my personal experience (based on zero scientific research or studies), the reason we care about what people think is because we never want to feel ashamed. Ever. At any cost. Nothing feels worse. We would rather deny ourselves the things we love and being self-expressed than feel ashamed. And when I started to understand that shame was my real issue, rather than people’s opinions, I began to make A LOT of progress (which I go into in this week’s podcast episode – listen to it here).
THE POWER OF YOUR THOUGHTS
So if you’re fairly new in the personal development world, you might think that all of this stuff about shame is actually horrible news – because at any minute, something could happen to make you feel ashamed. A snide remark, a sarcastic laugh, a judgemental look. Not to mention public humiliation, losing your job, failing your degree or getting dumped.
But when you begin to understand that shame is a feeling caused by your thoughts, rather than your circumstances, a whole new world will open up. You guys know I talk about Brooke Castillo and her amazing podcast called The Life Coach School Podcast as though she’s paying me a hefty fee to promote it (I WISH!) but the reason I love her podcast so much is because she articulated this concept in a way that just CLICKED for me.
They might say it in different ways, but almost every leader in the personal development industry will tell you that our thoughts create our feelings which create our actions and our results. So Brooke wasn’t sharing anything particularly new to the industry or new to me. But the way that she explained it on her podcast was one of those light bulb moments for me so I will FOREVER be hooked on her work.
But anyway, what I’m trying to say is that the feeling of shame comes from your thoughts. Thoughts like ‘there’s something wrong with me’, ‘I’m not normal’, ‘I shouldn’t have done that’ or ‘No one likes me’. And the proof that shame comes from our thoughts (and not our circumstances) lies in the fact that two people can be in exactly the same situation, or have exactly the same thing happen to them, and both will have completely different feelings and reactions.
If you want to learn more about how to start taking control of your thoughts and feelings, make sure you check out The Life Coach School Podcast and the early episodes in particular.
Often when we learn that our thoughts create our feelings (which usually only happens if you’re into personal development – why does no one teach us this in school?!) we usually try to change our thoughts so that all of our feelings will be positive. And it makes sense, right? If we could feel good all the time, why not do it?
But the magic of life is in the seasons, the variations, the change. As much as we believe that we want to be happy, we don’t actually want to be happy all the time. We want the full spectrum (because we don’t want to feel happy when someone dies!) and even though negative emotion is super uncomfortable, it’s a huge part of personal growth (since personal growth = changing your brain = of course that’s not comfortable).
So all of this means that even though our feelings come from our thoughts, we’re still going to experience negative emotion because we’re human beings and they’re part of life. And that includes shame! So I just want to be clear that I’m not trying to tell you that you should just eradicate all thoughts that lead to shame (which btw would be super challenging since so many of our thoughts happen on a subconscious/unconscious level). But if you can’t avoid shame, what should you do?
You guys are probably familiar with Brené Brown’s incredible body of work – she’s a shame researcher, a best-selling author and has presented some incredible and super popular TED Talks about vulnerability. And I LOVE the way that she talks about shame resilience. She says that being vulnerable and speaking about the things we’re ashamed of is one of the best ways to build resilience to shame. And I’ve found that to be SO true!
Sharing my struggles and the ups and downs of my life on this blog has been HUGELY – particular when it’s been on my podcast or my YouTube channel (as I share things in a less edited and refined way). Plus I get so many emails from you guys saying that you feel the same way too, which makes me feel way less ashamed about things too! You might not have realised it, but this is a two way street and you guys help me out sooo much more than you could ever know.
Anyway, here are some links to Brené’s work. She is amazing and I give you full permission to leave my blog and go down a Brené rabbit hole:
- Brené with Oprah Winfrey
- TED Talk: The Power of Vulnerability
- TED Talk: Listening To Shame
HOW TO STOP CARING WHAT PEOPLE THINK
The way I see it, the reason we care about what other people think is because we’re trying to avoid feeling painful negative emotions, like shame. And while building shame resilience (i.e. practicing vulnerability) will stop shame from having too much control over you, there are a few other things that can help too.
But mind you, I’m not going to give you reminders like ‘you can’t please everyone’ because you already know that. As we’ve already discussed, intellectual knowledge isn’t enough to change your behaviour. So I’m going to share a few different exercises that might help.
TIM FERRISS’ FEAR-SETTING EXERCISE
I’ve spoken about Tim Ferriss’ fear-setting exercise quite a bit but I have to share it again here because it’s SO powerful, especially when you’re scared of what other people think (btw it’s called fear-setting because it’s like goal-setting, but for your fears).
This is a journaling exercise that Tim Ferriss shared in his book Tools of Titans. It’s a list of questions that will help you get clear on the fears you have around a certain decision or circumstance and it hasn’t only changed my life but it has changed some of your lives too (THANK YOU for emailing me and letting me know).
The first time I did Tim Ferriss’ fear-setting exercise was in December 2016. At the time, I was terrified of leaving my full-time job for blogging because of ‘what people think’. And I just want to point out here that the reason we keep our fears vague like this is so we can’t really argue with them or rebut them. It’s so we get to stay comfortable and avoid our real fears.
But anyway, with the help of the exercise (which takes about 15 minutes) I was able to see that I wasn’t scared of what people think. And you guys – it was a REVELATION. For the first time, I saw that my real fear was that I would go full-time into blogging and I’d fail. But I wasn’t actually scared of failing (we’re never really scared of failure itself), I was scared that my failure would put pressure on my relationship with Steve and he’d leave me.
Once I saw what my real fear was, I could begin to move forward. I started writing out an affirmation that I’d leave my full-time job by 30 June 2017 – without knowing how the HELL that would be able to happen. I handed in my resignation 6 weeks and worked my last day at my full-time job on 10 March 2017. So yeah, this exercise has completely changed my life.
It was so interesting too because I 100% believed that I was scared of what people think until I did this journaling exercise. But with the help of the exercise, I dug down into my real fears for the first time and once I saw them – they weren’t so bad after all. It’s when we keep our fears vague that they are the most powerful. If you’d like to give this exercise a try (which I HIGHLY recommend, obviously) then make sure you download my free workbook that will help you take all of this week’s content to the next level. And I also chat about this exercise in this video.
WORK ON YOUR SELF-CONFIDENCE
One way to stop caring about what other people think is to do the work on creating self-confidence, since part of the reason you care about other people’s opinion is because you don’t trust your own opinion of yourself. Or you don’t have a good opinion of yourself and you therefore need others to validate your worth.
You guys know I always like to talk about the stuff that actually works long-term, so I’m not going to tell you to stand up straight and dress nice and do all of those other things that might put a band-aid on your inner turmoil. You need to take time each day to do the real work.
A few weeks ago, I did a series on personal development for beginners, which includes how to create your own personal development plan. So make sure you check that out if you really do want to stop caring about what other people think! I also wrote this blog post on how I’ve improved my self-confidence, so check that out too!
SEPARATE THE REAL FROM THE IMAGINED
Most of the time, our fear of what people think is based purely on our imagination. We extrapolate out the worst-case scenario and make it so vague and overwhelming that it leaves us paralysed to act (which is the the fear-setting exercise is SO helpful). So when you find yourself stopped because of what other people will think, really take a minute to reflect on whether you’re getting stopped by a real situation or an imagined one.
When I started Smart Twenties, I was SO scared of what other people would think – particularly those closest to me. And yet it was all completely imagined, which I know because when I started telling people about it I was SHOCKED by how supportive, curious and inspired they were. I thought they would be thinking the things that I was thinking about myself. But they weren’t and I spent years in hiding, trying to avoid something that wasn’t even real.
Sometimes we do have a fear of what people think because they have said something to us that we interpreted in a hurtful way. If that’s something that’s happened (and let’s be real – we all do it) then definitely have a listen to The Life Coach School Podcast that I recommended because our feelings come from our thoughts, NOT other people’s actions.
BE SELECTIVE WITH OTHER PEOPLE’S OPINIONS
So this next one is from Brené Brown, yet again. Yes, I love her. Yes, she is everything. Yes, you should read all of her books. There are two things I want to share about Brené’s approach to dealing with other people’s opinions:
The first is her approach to dealing with other people’s feedback. She has said “if you’re not in the arena, getting your ass kicked on a daily basis, then I’m not interested in your feedback”. And I loooove this because I find that I get SO MUCH unsolicited advice and the majority of it comes from people who are sitting on the sidelines in their own life. So I really only pay attention to the advice of those who are putting themselves out there too. It just helps me stay sane.
The other thing that Brené did is get a tiny square of paper and write on it the names of the people whose opinion actually matters to her. She says that for someone to be on that list, they have to love her for her strength and her struggles. And she carries it around in her wallet as a reminder that if their name isn’t on the list, their opinion doesn’t matter.
So if you’d like to give this one a try, get a small piece of paper and create a list of all the people whose opinion actually matters. Make sure you write down the names of individual people and that you select people who are going to support and encourage you no matter what. There is no one that you ‘should’ write down – it’s ok if your parents aren’t on the list!
CREATE A BOARD OF INVISIBLE COUNSELORS
Limiting the number of opinions you take notice of can be really helpful, but I feel it’s important that you also have people that you consciously look to for wisdom and advice. And this doesn’t mean you ignore your own wisdom, just that you surround yourself with people who support you and encourage you. And people who think that whatever it is you want to do is normal and realistic (it is SO powerful to have people around you that will normalise whatever it is you’re trying to do).
One way you can do this is by creating what Napoleon Hill called Invisible Counsellors (if you don’t know who he is, Napoleon Hill wrote the classic book Think and Grow Rich). To do this, think of the people you would most want to have as your mentors, dead or alive. Then, hold imaginary meetings (in your mind) to ask your mentors for their advice, support and encouragement on whatever it is you need help with. Basically, it’s like asking yourself “what would _ do?” but you actually imagine yourself interacting with them and getting their advice. This article explains it really well!
I haven’t tried Napoleon Hill’s technique yet (I will be!) but when I feel disheartened or overwhelmed, I often ask myself what certain people would advise me to do. At this point in time, it’s mainly Brooke Castillo, Oprah Winfrey, Tim Ferriss, Gary Vaynerchuk and Napoleon Hill (it changes all the time depending on who I’ve been listening to the most) and it always helps me put things back in perspective and show up as the best, most courageous version of myself.
If you’d like to give this a try, think of 4-5 people who inspire you or that you admire for some reason (they don’t need to be doing exactly what you want to do!) and begin to take their counsel. There’s also an exercise in my free workbook to help you to do this too. Just click here to download a copy!
BE LESS JUDGEMENTAL OF OTHERS
One thing that might be perpetuating your fear of what other people think, without you even realising it, is the judgements you make of others. We all know that the judgements we make are actually a reflection of our own thoughts and insecurities, rather than the person we are judging. And it is often said that the most judgemental people are the most insecure (since we put others down to make ourselves feel better).
But not only that, if you are being judgemental then it is easier to believe that everyone is judging you to the degree that you judge others. I talked about it a little more in this blog post but I think that being careful with your thoughts and words towards others does have an impact on the way you believe that others are perceiving you. So I just thought I’d mention that too!
DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP
As I mentioned earlier, sometimes we feel bad about feeling bad. And sometimes we feel ashamed about feeling ashamed. If you’ve been beating yourself up for caring about other people’s opinion of you – cut that shit out.
I mean, I know it’s easier said than done. But feeling bad about all of this only going to make it last longer. What you resist, persists. So if you find yourself caring about what other people think, allow it to be there. It’s counterintuitive but so important.
WHAT IT MEANS TO NOT CARE WHAT PEOPLE THINK
I think so many of us have this idea that if we don’t care about what other people think then we’ll turn into a rude, unhygienic grub. But I don’t think that not caring about other people’s opinion means being disrespectful or rude or smelly. And it doesn’t mean that you don’t listen to what others say. It just means caring about your own opinion of yourself. Living your best life. Sharing your gifts. Never holding back.
I think the reality is that, when you stop caring about what other people think, you’re kinder to others because you’re not trying to manipulate and coerce people to like you from a place of fear and desperation. And you can have a greater impact and show up as the talented, capable, driven person that you really are.
Your brain will try to convince you that your fear of what other people think is somehow serving you, but it’s not. You can be connected and engaged with others AND trust your own opinion of yourself and take your own advice. Your brain is just playing a trick on you. Don’t let it.
HOW I STOPPED CARING WHAT PEOPLE THINK
You guys know I LOVE chatting on my podcast (and you guys tell me you love it too) so I thought that this week, it might be helpful to chat through my personal experience with all of this – as it’s easier said than done. And I’m still on the journey myself!
In the podcast episode, I chat about how I dealt with my fear of what people think when I first started my blog (my fear was REAL you guys) and how it has evolved and changed over the last five years. I hope you find it helpful and it gives you the tools and mindset shifts you need to help you start living your best life, for you.
You can listen to the episode below, click here to download it and take it with you or you can find it anywhere you listen to podcasts – just find Episode 27 of The Smart Twenties Podcast!
WHAT TO DO IF YOU CARE ABOUT WHAT PEOPLE THINK
Since it takes a little bit of time (and personal development work!) to change your mindset, I thought I’d share a few tips on what you can do if you care about what people think – so that you don’t need to stay stuck any longer. These are tips that won’t necessarily help you stop caring, but they will help you manage your fear so that you can start working towards your dreams and goals.
I filmed a YouTube video to chat about it all and I hope you find it helpful, as these are the things that have allowed me to grow my blog and business – even when I’ve been crippled with by the fear of rejection! You can click here to watch the video or take a look below.
WANT TO GET STARTED?
As we all know, intellectual knowledge doesn’t change you. Knowing how to stop caring what people think doesn’t make a difference unless you do the work to practice and apply it!
So I’ve created a free workbook that will help you take everything in this blog post to the next level. It includes 5 journaling exercises that will help you do the work and stop caring so much about what other people think. You can click here to download your copy!
I hope you’ve found this helpful! If you have any questions, let me know in the Smart Twenties Facebook Community or in the comments below!