“Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.” – Lao Tzu
We’re told not to care about what other people think. But we REALLY do and it’s entirely natural. Abraham Maslow and other social scientists believe our social identity is a key point of self concept and this fuels our need for belonging and fear of social isolation. It also stands to reason that this deep seeded motivation to belong stems from our primitive past, since back then ostracism lead to death if you lacked the protection and food sources of an overarching society.
Dr. Fredric Neuman, a blogger at Psychology Today, disapproves of platitudes like “Don’t care what others think,” and encourages clients to have a more balanced understanding of their desires for approval. He says, “How much someone cares about what others think depends—or should depend—on the nature of their relationship.”
Meaning that, of course, you care what your mother thinks. And this reaction need not prompt self criticism considering that her opinion about your behavior had direct life consequences for 18 years.
He suggests, however, that the credibility of outside opinions should diminish as people drift farther from your life’s inner circle. So, you take immediate family and friend opinions to heart, give less acknowledgement to coworkers and acquaintances, and give virtually no thought to what strangers think of you.
Unfortunately, even though this makes logical sense, it is still difficult to enact. Babson College professor, Elizabeth Thornton, shares why adopting this balanced mindset is so difficult in this Fast Company article: How to Stop Caring About What Others Think.
She says, "We respond to everything we experience through the lens of our mental models, which are deep-rooted ideas and beliefs about the way the world is and how things ought to be," says Thornton. "One of the prevailing mental models is external validation. Since we were kids, we were only good enough if someone else told us so," says Thornton. "The good news is that we have the capacity to understand our mental models and our self-concepts, identify which ones serve us and transform the mental models that do not."
So how do we learn to ditch this fear-based mindset? How can we be objective?
Thornton and others say that the first step is to see our need for external validation for what it is -- a bad habit. Like eating too much, over caring about what other’s think is holding you back from healthy living. It keeps you from pursuing the things you love, makes you settle for substandard circumstances and makes you repeat activities than garner praise, even when they don’t fulfill you. Not to mention it makes everyone’s FaceBook feed an obnoxious stream of perfection.
The second step is to get to know your authentic self. You must know what you value and desire. Once you find that moral compass, insecurities will no longer be the defining force of your life. When on the search for your authentic self, remember, life is too short to give it away to others. Decide what YOU really want, no matter what you’re given accolades for, and make those things more important than all the noise from others.
And finally, you’ve got to tune out and remove yourself from the negative forces of the world. Stop asking and looking towards others for their opinions. Stop requiring validation for self worth. This means don’t share your authentic self with those that shit on your dreams. Show the haters the doorway out of your life. And, most of all, make your own life happen by taking responsibility for your behavior, your goals and your decisions.
When all else fails remember the wise words of Eleanor Roosevelt. “You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” People don’t care about you. They are obsessed with themselves. The world is vast and you are insignificant, so do what you want and forget the haters.