You could spend the whole year worrying about what other people think of you, but it wouldn’t get you anywhere.
“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.
The floor is yours…
How has worrying about what other people think interfered with your life? What has it stopped you from doing? How have you coped? Leave a comment below and share your insights with us.
Susan Rae says
Thank you so much for this timely post. I have been getting better and better understanding that we never need to carry more than we can hold…we just need to take it one day at a time. I always put myself under pressure of what others think of me. It has stopped me on many occasions from following my heart. But your words here (and in your book) are pushing me forward in the right direction. Honestly, the reminders you’ve been giving me have been keeping my head straight.
This post penetrated my whole being. Having struggled with insecurity for most of my life, I pretended to be someone else just to be likable.
I was afraid of my boss thinking I was lazy, so I brought home my work and spent my weekends working instead of spending quality time with my family.
My fear of being seen as stupid led me to triple and quadruple-check everything before I make a decision.
All these focus on what others think led me to miss out on life. I stopped pursuing the things I love because I was too busy pleasing everyone else. I sacrificed my time just so others will not think ill of me.
The turnaround came when I started to suffer physically. Even though I exercise a lot and do a lot of meditation and yoga, the sheer stress I imposed on my body was too much. I started to get sick more often and I was becoming irritable.
I decided then to get some help, read books and devour blogs like Marc and Angel. I’m slowly making progress. Thank you for these incredibly helpful posts!
When I think about all the things I haven’t done because of fear of what someone else might think, it proves that I have eluded my own identity for quite some time. I feel cheated of all the chances I had to pursue something I believed in because someone (mostly, my father) would have an opinion that it was the wrong thing to do.
On the other hand, I can think of so many situations in which I did something purely driven out of spite for his foul judgments. For example, he told me I wouldn’t get into the grad program I wanted, so I applied and got in just to throw it in his face. When I told him the news, all he said was, “Good job” which in turn, antagonized the overall pursuit. I am done making choices on behalf of the off chance that I might earn approval; because in the end, I need to earn my own stamp of approval or all my efforts would have been wasted. Like Susan and Nila, this is something your newsletters, book and blog posts have been helping me with, gradually.
Yes, if the people close to you are happy with you then who cares what everyone else thinks. There will always be people who don’t like you. If you think that you are a good person that is what counts.
Thank you for posting this! I always have concerns about what people thought about me just after what I had done. Even worse when someone tells others about it. Will they think of me as stupid or idiotic? I got so insecure as well as losing trust in others.
Just recently I realized I have some friends who had to go through this. And sadly, I have this one friend who actually asked me what I thought of her.
Sandra Pawula, Always Well Within says
This is such an important issue and you have addressed it so well. All 5 of your points are excellent. I was especially drawn to this one: “Acknowledge that external validation is only getting in your way.”
Peter Banerjea says
I really like point No. 1. We usually overestimate that amount of attention we occupy in other people’s minds!
Great article but I definitely have to add some perspective to the first point. From my own experience I have had people who watched me very closely and were suspicious of my every move once I had had some major success in my life. Most people who never believed in me were astounded and threatened by my ability so they watched me like a hawk and tried to make my life hell.
So sometimes, especially when people around you are playing political games with you, you have to care what people think and keep a sharp eye on them. Sometimes people can be malicious in ways you wouldn’t imagine whenever they feel insecure and threatened. Believe me.
Leslie Grima says
Thank you for the reminder that I am enough. I am doing the best I can. I will survive & flourish.
A good rule of thumb to keep is: If you are going to do something just to impress people, don’t do it and if you are afraid to do something because of what others might think, do it anyway.
I like your thumb rule Ray.
I just love the way you guys write. Thank to you am becoming a better person and overcoming a personal loss. I always look forward to an email from you. No matter how bad am feeling or how bad my day is knowing I will get mail from you guys just brightens my day. Thanks a lot.
Your emails reinforce the changes I’ve made since my life totally turned into a different direction when my husband of decades decided he wanted a divorce. My faith in Jesus Christ sustained me, but I find so interesting that the very things I chose to do I’m reading in your emails. After he filed, I chose to see this surprising break up as another adventure in my life and to be determined to grow in it. I found so much healing in reaching out to other hurting people as I was called to go by Red Cross, as disaster nurse, to national and local disasters. As I did my value of others and myself changed. My compassion grew and my caring how others viewed me diminished. I was FREE TO BE ME!! Thank you for helping me continue to go forward.
Worrying about what other people think has caused anxiety and fear in my life. It has also prevented me from reaching my full potential. I acknowledge where it stems from, but overcoming it had been a process. I really love your website and the book. I ordered one for myself and one for a co-worker. I really don’t mind you sharing my story because it’s freeing.
David Rapp says
I wasted pretty much a whole decade of my life worrying about what other people thought. I knew something was majorly wrong with me, but refused to get medical help (bi-polar disorder and low testosterone). So I suffered in silence for 20 years. I refused to date anyone because I was so afraid that when they discovered all my problems they would reject me outright. I made very sure that no one knew about anything.
And now I have no idea how many opportunities, choices and decisions were made out of total fear, and how much I lost in the process. Almost no day goes by without me thinking about what might have been.
Only in the past 18 months have I even told a few people about my situation in full. What a waste of a good life.
I believe “worrying what people think” can also stem from constant criticism in One’s childhood from a parent and/or siblings. When one grows up being criticized and looked upon negatively their self worth takes a tumble from that alone..However, I’ve learned most go through life trying to please and look for constant reinforcement. Its a vicious cycle.
I was born a people pleaser…I lived to gain good opinion.Now having lived through an unhappy childhood,a train wreck of a marriage,all due never having learnt to say no,I am an old man with an attitude.Thank you for the wisdom of your teachings ….they are a real comfort,and I look forward to them I wish they had been around years ago and saved a wasted life….
Marc and angel, thank you for everything you do. U GUYS ARE DOING REMARKABLE WORK!
Rose Costas says
This is a wonderful lesson for most of us. I spent many nights and days worrying about what people thought of me. I finally decided that I didn’t care and maybe just maybe they didn’t even know me. I turn out to be right. All my insecurities were causing me to believe things that didn’t exist.
I also learned that people many times are using their perception of themselves to just others. They have a problem not me. I am too busy now living my life. Thanks for another great post.
Well said Maureen. I totally agree, also control freaks and insecure people are the worst, i can only stop playing their mind games for so long, the nasty comments they dish out at you and i am always off guard, i tell myself they are not my friends and i pity them, what a sad life they lead, eh?
That’s why this is so good to read… great reminder, this kind of stuff will never stop, it’s how i deal with it, and that’s a whole new story…..
This was a much needed read. I have struggled with this since I was young and it has stopped me from doing many things over the years. Currently I am trying to get past a breakup and the words read in this post and a few others are helping me break past the clouds I have allowed to overshadow many of my days as of late. I know I will have to read this a few times before it sinks in but I am thankful I have it to read at all.
Václav Dekanovský says
If I would ever want a tattoo it would be “This is my life, my choices, my mistakes and my lessons.”
I wanted to share a story too. We are often told to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Wrongly we expect that they will do to us, what we think they suppose to do to us. We don’t have to worry how they will accept our behavior. We should do the best we can in every situation, because if we do less, it is us who have to live with that. But don’t worry too much about it either. Sometime is the best we can just take a rest and leave the urgent matter to wait.
I don’t know how I can express all my gratitude for this text having arrived today (yesterday, actually). My Monday was a bad day because I just fought, just thinking and remembering exactly the unfair and negative words and opinions of people incredibly even know me right. In addition, I had problems with relatives who never supported me and always have belittled my efforts. I am a writer and graduated in History, but I come from a family that never supported me (even when I was sick severely); or, at least, didn’t give me a chance to grow as a person. Today, all this weight made me stop. I couldn’t do anything because I thought everyone was right and I was useless.
So, anyway, I decided to open my email and I couldn’t believe it when I saw the title. I know it’s pretentious to say this but, it was like the answer to my doubts and anxieties right there, in my email box.
Thank you, Marc and Angel all support their words give. Was a watershed the words of this text in my life tonight. And I’ll get to make these changes and no longer allow the opinions of others bound for my life.
A hug for you two!
All my life I have looked for one or the other person to be my approver and this has led to massive complications and no one else but the real me suffers in all this.
I am almost a middle aged woman now, however I have been emotionally limp most of my life. However the good news is that change has finally crept in.I am taking baby steps to brush off what others have to say or think about me because inside of me I know, I am not what they say I am.
These five points have further helped me in that struggle. Thanks!!
I’ve been struggling with harsh self-judgement for quite some time, so (needless to say) I was very happy when I saw this post! Thank you!
Excellent advice. I also recommend reading The Four Agreements.
I’ve always listened to what other people thought of me and let it get me down. I tried to prove them wrong and be perfect in every way. It’s even led to me getting bitter about certain things. I had cancer twice and my brother called me a hypochondriac. I even let that bother me. I’m dealing with my father’s declining health and I worry about the decisions I make will be criticized. I get mad at people who don’t understand what I’m going through. It finally came to a head yesterday when I thought I was going to lose my mind. I’ve been able to talk with someone who finally gets me. She put it in my head to stand up for me now and do what I need to do for myself immediately to save myself. I feel better already, but I still have work to do. It might not sound like the best way to deal with things right now, but I need to take myself out of this un supportive environment and recharge my battery so to speak.
Adam LaClair says
I am really glad to hear that you have been able to make positive changes in your life. And, I just wanted to say that I really respect you, whenever I am just scanning through the comments, (yeah… I don’t always read all of them) and I see ‘David Rapp’ on the comments I make sure to read that post because what you say always seems really wise and always seems to take a completely different and interesting approach on the topic at hand.
The main reason I am writing this post is because honestly it’s kind of sad to hear you express your life as wasted. I think what is important is that you are not settling for where you are and are continuing to strive to make positive change throughout your life. Just remind yourself that while your old life may be dead and gone, it’s for the best because your new life is just beginning, and it’s going to be beautiful.
Such a timely email..amazing that when you are ready the lesson arrives!!! For years the only person whose approval I sought was my partner’s….but I have learnt over time that he feels threatened by any success of mine and will actively “talk it down”. Today we checked into a hotel and the girl at the front desk complimented me on my hair (naturally curly)…normally I wouldn’t carry on a conversation because I would worry about his criticism…tonight I chose to have that conversation across the hotel lobby with her……my attitude was different…he didn’t say anything critical…..whe you make the decision to be yourself and not seek others approval it will show!!! Thanks again for great lessons!!
This is a wonderful post and a timeless lesson that’s quite easy to forget.
I think we have this “crowd” in our head that we want to belong to. They’re not necessarily like us, but they’re a cool crowd. And perhaps similar to the “looking-glass self”, we are governed by how we assume or expect they see us. So we try to fit in.
This could be really tiring. A lot of energy and time easily down the drain.
Since I shifted from being the “Hey! Please like me!” type of guy to my true self (who I thought was you know, boring), I noticed I could engage people more–interaction became better–because I am my true self. They may like me or not, but I learned it wasn’t really my problem. At the end of the day, I’m at peace with myself, which is all that matters.
Emmanuel Worthwhile says
Wow, amazing! I love this post.
Marc Chernoff says
@David Rapp: From your comments over the years, I know for a fact that you have learned a lot on your journey and you are stronger for it. So keep on growing. Focus ahead… From this point forward, it’s not too late to make the very best of it. You know this. 🙂
@Maureen: No doubt about it. That’s why it’s so important to instill the right values in our children.
@Everyone: Again, thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. Your remarks always inspire the next article in some way. This community truly is a two-way street, and for that we are grateful. 🙂
I am glad to have read this article. Actually,I am not confident… so I always try to act well in order to receive good praise. However, the truth proves that it is foolish. Now, I realize that we should live for ourselves too. Trust yourself including your styles, your opinions, etc. Only when you accept yourself can others believe you.
Over the years i have gone through times when my character was tested – times when you suddenly hear your name being mentioned in a conversation or moments when people react as you pass by. I can say for sure that it was tough, something I have always pondered upon every night asking myself what have I done wrong to them to deserve that kind of treatment. Perhaps as time went by,after nights of thinking and reflecting I have made a decision, a decision to stop thinking about what others think about me and do not let myself drown from other people’s criticism even if they don’t know me,from then on I would always remind myself that I should always be who I am at all times because it is there when you get to meet the genuine ones who truly appreciates you for who you are.
Worrying has become a bad habit to me to the point where I do not listen to my relationship and work. One reason I worry is to generate advice, consolation, or drop some love in a timely manner (statuses for work). I worry to the point where I worry if I am not worrying sometimes.
This worry is usually approval from others. I worry about what they think about my choices, my intelligence, how I spend my time, and so many things. I realize that I may have lost my girlfriend recently after I worried about how I was going to help her amidst her problems. I wasn’t living in the present. I wasn’t telling myself simple thoughts to myself such as “being there for her could be enough” or simply saying “I am enough; just be there for her.” Enough good for everything I aspire to do and be with.
What has helped me recently is to slow up, pray/thank, and write. I am used to trying to move fast and would dislike writing (which would help me in my teens) because it would make me feel slow and external expectations demand me to move fast. Now, I just accept and write for my life. I hope I didn’t lose her.
Thank you for your time and energy of such wonderful reminders.
David P says
Mr. Marc Chernoff, Wow! Are you sure you haven’t been in my wife’s head? You have summed up just about everything my wonderful wife has been telling me since the day we met (19 years ago). Her wisdom (not what she learned at school) has saved me from myself many times. I have suffered from many bouts of ‘end of the world’ thinking and of caring too much about what I think that others might be thinking of me. It has crippled me at times but I have always had an angel by my side to talk some sense into me.
Reading this article has been almost mind blowing. I had to share it with my wife. I read it out loud to her. Even she was blown away to realize that there is someone else who thinks like her. It even brought tears to her eyes because almost every thought you have written in this post was familiar to her. Your words are almost exactly the words that she has been trying to permeate through my thick skull like a constant song over the years and while I have grown a lot wiser in understanding that people aren’t really thinking of or about me, since they are mostly thinking about themselves most of the time, I still have a tendency to care too much about what others might think of me and choose my words and actions carefully.
I am bookmarking this post so I can come back to it any time so I can read the lyrics of her song which you have so eloquently put together.
Nice post! I reviewed myself while reading this post. I find myself not doing things at work because I’m so afraid of doing them wrong and, because of that, afraid of what people will think of me . I rather prefer being unemployed so people don’t see what I’m doing. I’m so scared of being stuck forever because of that.
Plus, I kind of hide myself from my boyfriend (I think he doesn’t really knows my true self, my fears, my tastes) because I just don’t want him to make fun of me, or think I’m not good or interesting enough.
I will think about what you wrote, it might help me. Thank you.
This resonates with me SO much– I feel like you have described my existence! I have been a teacher for nine years, and year after year I find myself caring more about pleasing others (other teachers, parents, and administration) than about my own personal growth. This has kept me from doing so many amazing things, and from making waves in school and community when I should have. Unfortunately, politics get in the way of progress in the workplace, and some of us shoulder the blame more than others. The playing field is not and has never been equal, so the best we can do is be genuine and hope that is enough. Sometimes we just have to disregard others’ opinions, because that’s the only way to stay healthy!
Somewhere the universe knew I needed this message very urgently today when I am at a very low point.
I recently accepted an invitation to teach on a short 8 session course in a subject closely related to my field of teaching but with a different content and a very different methodology. I put in all my sincerest hard work, asked people with expertise for guidance and did my best in my teaching. I knew it was not my best performance as it was all new to me, but I enjoyed teaching the course and learnt so much from it. Though the students seemed happy, I expected an average feedback, nothing great, nothing bad. But then I got an immense shock yesterday when I saw the very negative feedback that the students had given me.
I am devastated and have been doing an incessant post mortem of what I did wrong and panicking about what the people who invited me to teach must think of me, in short ‘an end of the world scenario’, till a friend pointed out that the feedback was given 10 minutes after the students got their grades. I am so upset that I have completely forgotten that the feedback that I get in my regular teaching job has always been very positive.
I have always had problems with self-esteem and I must confess almost obsessed with getting people’s approval for everything I do. Many a time, I have not bought something just because I sense that my friend does not approve of it! How pathetic this looks to me as I articulate it.
Your message has come at such a timely moment awakening me to the horrifying extent to which I depend upon others’ approval for everything and how much work I need to do on my self esteem.
The moment I started reading your article, I knew that a kind and merciful universe had sent it to me to see things clearly.
Thank you so much Marc and Angel for your words of truth. Thank you to all the people who have shared your stories laying bare your fears and anxieties and making me realize that I am not alone in this.
Hope Praise says
Thinking about what people think or say about you is frustrating and relenting all you do is speak to yourself and encourage yourself not to get blast of by the wind of critics and discouragement.
Wow, these words couldn’t have come at a better time! I let people and what I perceive to be their rejection of me, to leave a good job I had. A friend always told me “You know that no one is looking at you” when that’s what I always thought. I thought people were looking at how unattractive I am, how quiet I am. So the first point- Remind yourself that most people are not thinking about you- really resonates with me. The whole entire article resonates with me. One of the commenters pointed out that when you’ve grown up with a lot of criticism and negativity, it becomes second nature to seek out approval. Mine is on steroids! So thank you, thank you for this article that is the best I’ve seen on this subject.