Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What others might think?

Worrying about what others might think of us is something we all go through. Often it starts at home, where our parents teach us to behave and dress in a certain way. Then of course there’s the mainstream media, advertising and our peer group. All these things get inside our heads and often we find ourselves pre-occupied with worrying about what phantom people might think of who we are and what we’re doing.

The struggle to let go of the meaning we give to others’ opinions is one that is important to win, yet not so easy to do. This worrying and fear of others' opinions is a cage that many of us know far too well. When we’re caught up in what others might think of us, we often limit ourselves and behave unnaturally.  Instead of focusing our attention on what we are doing, our attention wanders to 'them' – and the funny thing is that this undefined group is often not even the 'them' whose opinions we do care about. We become afraid of what “they” might think about what we do, think, wish and feel.

And yet, to not care at all what others think is a cold and lonely place. A place where the only thing that matters is what I think, and the entire world of people around me seems to have no meaning. Can we find a way to accept that people will always have an opinion and allow that to be there, without letting it take away our confidence, freedom, individuality and choices?

Even as a child, I remember worrying about what others might say or think about me. It’s almost as if it were always there. This awareness in the back of my mind, looking at myself as if from the outside, and judging myself as “they” would – those people I had never met.

But I also remember the moments where all of this didn't matter – where I was fascinated by something, totally immersed in it, a part of it, and this awareness of others' observations was gone. In these moments, I wasn’t judging or talking to myself about myself. Life was just what I experienced - magical moments of enjoyment, belonging, and feeling a part of the world around me.

Those are the moments I collect and hold onto. And in some way, they are the only moments that actually count, real moments of silence, freedom and being myself. Moments where the experience is much bigger than what anybody has to say about it – full of the richness and intensity of what is happening and becoming.

The way to not worry about what others think of us, from what I can observe, has nothing to do with other people or with their opinions. It has a lot to do with our ability to fully care for whatever we do and our ability to be fully involved. It is about directing our attention to the thing we are interested in, rather than commenting or talking to ourselves about it.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a conversation, painting, cooking, practising an instrument, running, or writing. When we are fully immersed in whatever it is that we are doing, we find moments of creativity and intensity, and in these moments our minds are blissfully quiet.

I find that the real challenge is in creating those moments on purpose and turning them into a way to live life. It is about staying loyal to my own perception of things, staying clear and focused.

Becoming confident in ourselves and our view of life does not mean that we don’t care about the opinions of others. Instead it means to be confident enough to intentionally ask for the opinions that matter to us, with the aim that this will give us a different perspective, help us focus, or make our work better. The difference is that if we genuinely ask for someone’s feedback, we are in reality. We are not caught up in our heads, worrying about what we think others might think of us.


  1. I must admit that I'm generally very happy with myself. I've given up worrying about "what people may think" when I realised that it was sucking the juice out of my life. There is no way I can please everybody and myself, so I just quit worrying about it.

    Recently I had a conversation with a friend about how an injury, resulting in chronic pain and sleep deprivation, had been negatively affecting my mood. I had been noticing myself getting increasingly short-tempered and being unable to fully control it. I didn't like it one bit. He told me "Pain will do that to you. You have to be careful or people will not want to talk to you." HUGE reality check, and meant in the best possible way by someone who genuinely cares.

    It made me make an extra effort to regulate my behaviour, for my own self-respect as much as anything else. It also made me think about conducting an experiment of sorts. I wondered about asking my best friends what they thought was my worst trait. I know they would pick whatever they thought causes me most problems, rather than what bothers them - that's why they are my best friends. I could do it, look at the results, deal with what needs to be dealt with, and then drop it. I haven't done it yet. I must admit I'm scared.

    1. Sometime an honest opinion of a friend is what moves us forward and allows us to see beyond the obvious. We only have to choose well what we want to ask about.