We are all subject to what others think. The whole world has an opinion about everything; the question is how you deal with it when it’s directed at you. This has been a major issue for me personally in the past. You may have noticed that, contrary to all the ‘how to write and manage a blog’ opinions, I commit the biggest sin of not posting on a particularly regular schedule. I wrangled with this one for a quite a while until I came to the conclusion that I really don’t care when ‘experts’ say that I should be posting, taking note of the day, regularity, time etc. What is important to me is to enjoy writing inspired content that is of use and interest to you, my readers, rather than something shoved out to meet a deadline.
We come into the world innately selfish and inconsiderate of others. We are programmed for survival. A human baby is born so ‘immature’ that it is entirely dependent upon others to attend to its needs. When it’s hungry, it screams. When its nappy needs changing, it screams. When it wants attention, it screams. And if you’ve ever been on a long haul flight, you’ll know that not too many babies are concerned with whether screaming bothers anyone. A baby is (ideally) adored, despite its behaviour. Babies also receive endless affirmation and praise in their developmental efforts. They even get praise for going to the toilet! We learn to relish attention and love because it translates into being nurtured and feeling safe.
Pretty quickly, however, we learn that to continue receiving this love and attention we have to adapt our conversation and behaviour to suit our elders and betters. Moreover, humans are social animals and, in the days as hunter gatherers, being accepted by the tribe was essential for survival. Positive interactions with other tribe members are rewarded with a dose of happy hormones from our bodyguard brain to ensure we keep striving to fit in.
“Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner” Lao Tzu
Unfortunately our social evolution has hugely exceeded our physiological evolution, leaving us inappropriately equipped to deal with modern life. On the one hand it is still extremely conformist, but on the other hand it challenges us to be individual, special and successful. Too many of us have become over considerate, over sensitive, self deprecating and in need of validation.
So why is being a seemingly considerate, sensitive, humble person potentially detrimental? These characteristics are surely positive and good. Of course these are positive traits, but only when they don’t diminish you. Ironically, people who are all accommodating to the point of submissiveness, sensitive to the point of fragility and humble to the point of insignificance are rarely respected or revered. On the contrary, they are often considered doormats, a push over, and not someone whose opinion we trust.
In as much as we like people to ‘fit’ into the tribe, what we actually respect and respond to are the characteristics of leadership. It’s all good being a team player, but tribe members also subliminally register the list of possible replacement leaders. When the head honcho is skewered by that mammoth tusk, there is always a subconscious awareness of who is ready to step up to the plate. We can see this in action in every A&E department at the hospital. The last thing you want is to have a doctor that starts crying and screaming, and telling you they feel your pain and sit with you in suffering. We want a person who is detached from our pain. One who tells you with confidence and authority they’ve fixed this sort of thing a thousand times and it’s going to be just fine.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” Eleanor Roosevelt
A dependency on needing to fit in, be accepted and validated by our peers, family, society etc. is ultimately a no win situation that leaves you more depleted than enriched. A quick review of the US presidential election or Brexit clearly illustrates that you will NEVER get complete consensus on any subject. You simply can’t please all of the people all of the time. Even more so when one wants you to be this way and another that way and so on. Trying to serve all these opinions of how you should be will drive you crazy!
Even like minded people or those who care for you are not exactly in the same place as you. Often in their desire to protect you, they will point out all the reasons why your idea or project could fail and pour so much cold water over it you lose the motivation to proceed. I learned a long time ago to keep really important personal projects to myself if possible until I can report a fait accompli – driving test springs to mind. This massively reduces expectation anxiety. If it doesn’t work out you don’t have to deal with potential disapproval or the famous ‘I told you so’.
A major downside to being susceptible to others’ opinions comes on the tail of feeling hurt, discouraged or attacked. These feelings shut you down emotionally and block the receptivity to constructive criticism. If you can hold your emotional ground, you are more likely to be open to what might actually be constructive criticism rather than a slight. Not taking critique personally can quickly lead to the ability to discern the haters from really good advice and actually render you the chance to grow and produce an even better result.
“Live life as though nobody is watching, and express yourself as though everyone is listening” Nelson Mandela
Another aspect of retaliating to what others think can revolve around feeling ‘falsely’ empowered. To argue your point or prove that you are right can be counterproductive. Some people just won’t hear what you’re saying. We have all experienced disagreeing with someone, and irrespective of how many logical, convincing and persuasive arguments you put forth, they just seem to bounce off. It’s like they don’t want to understand your point of view. These exchanges are never satisfying, rather the contrary. Proving you’re right isn’t always the best way and ‘turning the other cheek’ is certainly more a sign of strength and true empowerment than of weakness.
Being a conformist and upholding general opinion is also rather boring. The most successful entrepreneurs and public figures don’t give a fig about what others think. They believe in themselves and their ideas and stride out into the face of adversity. Being authentic is powerful. How many scientists, inventors and creatives were ridiculed in their time, whose endeavours have since significantly improved our existence?
Consider the amount of time you spend occupied with your own thoughts. The same is true of everyone else! We are often tripped up by our own sense of self importance. The reality is that most people are way too preoccupied with their own business to care too much about yours. Spending time and energy worrying about what others might or might not think is not only futile but none of your business either!
“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with dirty feet” Mahatma Gandhi
People in your environment are also under constant scrutiny. They may be responding to demands and pressure to conform from their peers, employers, partners, or society in general. They are not so different from you. It’s impossible to look into another person’s head and truly understand the reasons for why they say what they do. It’s easy to fall into the trap of transforming your negative emotions to their response into finding fault in the other person. You can never change someone else or control the circumstances in which they or you live. But you can avoid blaming them for the way you feel by changing the way you respond, and understanding that you are responsible for your feelings, not someone else.
Soliciting the opinion of others can be detrimental to your sense of self worth. Often times when we ask what someone’s thinks about what we’re doing or thinking, what we are really asking is for them to agree with and validate us. If they disagree we can feel deflated and misunderstood. A good rule of thumb is not to ask if you don’t need to or unless you can cope with a potentially negative response.
Every psychologist would agree that a healthy sense of self worth is essential for good mental health. The number of people who are reliant on psychoactive medication, experience burn-out or anxiety and bouts of depression is testament to our very fragile and damaged sense of self worth. When we are criticised, it often feels as though a spotlight is being shone onto flaws that we, ourselves, have catapulted into existence. Firstly, nobody is perfect, and secondly, it’s important to view such ‘flaws’ as a work in progress. You are constantly gaining experience and growing so that a flaw from yesterday could be your expertise of tomorrow.
Sometimes we have to give our ideas or creations up to others for acceptance in order to ‘sell’ them. This is daunting to many. It’s a case of putting yourself out there and letting people essentially judge your work, and that means you. Again, a stronger sense of self worth will help negate that feeling of standing naked in full view of the peanut gallery. Another way forward with a new product or new idea is to go for the early adopters. Exposing your work initially to people open to innovation or your type of thing or wavelength increases your chance of acceptance. A positive experience at the start of an endeavour bolsters you for negativity later on.
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken” Oscar Wilde
A last tip comes from a very good friend of mine, who once gave me this brilliant piece of advice. Remember that no one on the planet knows as much about exactly what you do as you do yourself. Everyone is an expert in their own way.
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