Is worrying what others think holding you back?

fear of what people think

We all worry what others think to one extent or another. It’s normal. However, when this worry stops us from getting on with life, business and doing the things we really want to do, it’s time to challenge this thinking.

If you haven’t got time to read, you might prefer to listen to a podcast on this.

Do you worry what others think?

When you take a moment to think about what’s getting in the way of you taking action and what surfaces is the fear of what others will think, the fear of being judged by others, then you may find this useful.

How do you know what others think?

It’s crucial to pinpoint what the beliefs are that are whirling around in your head and once identified, shining a light on them and actually considering them for a moment, instead of letting them continue on their whirling cycle, never to be challenged, but always to hold you back, things can start changing.  Too many people let such thoughts govern what they do, influencing their decisions and actions, without stopping to question them.  Once questioned, it’s quite likely you’ll start realising that they are just that, beliefs, and not facts. Imagine that, letting beliefs that are not based on any fact dictate how you live your life.

SNAC helps!

So let’s get a SNAC – Stop, notice, acknowledge – no criticism allowed, just observation.  What comes up when you think about what’s getting in the way of your goal, whether it’s doing something new, changing something, developing yourself, starting a business? IF it’s something like “they’ll laugh at me” or “people will criticise”, then notice this and calmly and kindly ask yourself C – can I change or challenge this?

We can hunt down the facts. When you say they’ll laugh at me, let’s look at who they are .

Whose judgement worries you?

Are you meaning people you know, like friends and family? Or are you thinking of just people out there in general?

If it’s people you know, like friends and family, you could ask yourself if this is true.  Would your loved ones laugh or criticise or judge? If the answer is no, then  you can let the belief go and replace it with the fact that you are actually surrounded by supportive, loving people who want you to be happy.  That’s great. Job done, move forward with confidence.

But then there may be some people who you think will laugh or judge. Think about them for a minute. Ask yourself why might they be judgmental? Let’s face it, some people just are critical or judgmental.  They have a narrow outlook on the world and this is their way of behaving.  It’s worth considering talking to them about this. 

Honesty helps

This brings to mind a conversation I had with a relative whose go-to was to criticise everything I did. I brought it up and said how it made me feel frustrated and actually meant I wanted to spend less time with them as a result, which was a shame as I wanted them in my life.  Doing my best to say it in a very calm way with examples of what they had said would make it less intese.  They were horrified that their words had this effect on me and were honestly unaware that they were doing it.  I can’t pretend it wasn’t awkward and I was seriously out of my comfort zone but it transformed the relationship and we became closer as a result. 

I recognise it’s not always appropriate or possible to voice your thoughts and let people know the effect their words have on you. If not, let’s look at what you can do.  You can change the way you perceive and receive the information. First try to gain an understanding into why they behave like this. Consider where their words are coming from.  Their communication style might just be more direct and it’s possible they may be super critical of themselves (highly likely as we are usually so much more critical of ourselves than others). Maybe they’re someone who thrives on critiquing and gossip.  If you have to spend time with them, what can you say to your self that will mean their words can’t reach you?

I find Eleanor Roosevelt’s words very useful here. 

“No-one can make you feel inferior without your consent”

Eleanor Roosevelt

Practise telling yourself that they can’t reach you and that you’re choosing not to be affected, some find it useful to imagine an invisible protective layer between them and the critical person.  

We’re all different

Other people have their own map of the world, their own set of unique experiences that filter the way they see the world, and it’s good to recognise that some people will not have the same ideas as you, the same desire to reach their potential, they may be happy doing their own thing and not having dreams, and that’s ok. Albert Einstein took it a step further and said 

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the person who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express their opinions courageously and honestly.”

Albert Einstein

Some might say a bit harsh, but it can help reading this when things get really frustrating.

If they’re someone you don’t have to spend time with, then consider not spending time with them! If their judgment and criticism is stopping you from doing things that you really want to do, then you might question whether they’re someone you need around.  Sounds tough, but it has to be said.

When I think about it, it really is incredible the power of the thoughts and words of others.  They are not concrete weapons, but they can actually be damaging, if we let them.

What will you do?

What might you do to reduce the impact of negative, critical people? Will you have an honest conversation? Choose to perceive them differently and not allow the words to penetrate or will you choose not to have them around?  

None of it is easy, and it all requires some solid self belief, confidence and humility (we’ll come to self belief and confidence in a future podcast).  It’s important to ask yourself how much you want this change in your life. Are you brave enough?

So we’ve considered those around you who might judge, but what if you find that it’s not specific people but a general fear of being judged full stop. I like to start by asking who might judge? Then the response comes, everyone in general, it’s a great moment to ask

‘how do you know what others are thinking?’

Imagine, we might allow a supposed or imagined judgement from people we don’t know to hold us back or stop us finding happiness. Most of us do it. And yet it makes little sense.  Again we have no facts or evidence as we don’t actually know what others are thinking.  And then even if we did, why would that influence us? As social beings, we know our happiness can be enhanced by relationships, friendships and a deep down insecurity of losing friends or not being able to make friends  and this means we want to please everyone.  Even people we don’t know.  Fascinating isn’t it.

Back to SNAC – you acknowledge that you’re being held back by the judgement of others who you don’t know and have no evidence they would even judge. Ask yourself now if you can change it.  What would be a more useful way of thinking?

What are the facts?

You could ask yourself what the facts are and choose to assume that most people wish others well, that is if they actually notice them.

“You probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do.”

Olin Miller

We are all so tied up in what’s going on for us, we hardly notice what others are doing.

There’s lots of evidence for this.  

A study by Thomas Gilovicha Justin Krugerb Victoria Husted Medvecc

Three studies examined people’s estimates of the perceived variability of their appearance and behavior in the eyes of others. Whether assessing the manifest variability of their physical appearance (Studies 1a, 1b, and 1c), their athletic accomplishments (Study 2), or their performance on a popular video game (Study 3), participants consistently overestimated the extent to which their ups and downs would be noted by observers. The results of Study 3 suggest that this bias stems in part from a failure to appreciate the extent to which observers are preoccupied with managing their own actions.

Now isn’t that interesting?

Perhaps just challenging those thoughts with the evidence might help you let them go. If not, you can actively choose to replace them with something else. Get yourself a mantra or quote like one of the ones I’ve used that will slowly become your new thought pattern.  A much more helpful one, I think.

Choose who you surround yourself with

Another thing we can choose to do is to surround ourselves with the right people.  People who are supportive, want the best for you and appreciate the fact that you want the best for them (it’s a reciprocal thing you know).

This sort of energy is contagious and can give you the boost that you really need.  Yes, it’s another step out of the comfort zone perhaps.  But the more we do it, the more we get used to it, and the results can be pretty amazing.

I want to be around people that do things. I don’t want to be around people anymore that judge or talk about what people do. I want to be around people that dream and support and do things.”

― Amy Poehler

So, using SNAC – Stop – ask yourself what’s getting in the way. N – notice what the thoughts are.  Are you worried about judgment, about what others will think? Acknowledge this thought (no beating yourself up remember, it’s ok, all thoughts are just that, thoughts, not facts) then C, challenge or change – what would be a more useful way of approaching this? What is the evidence? And are their opinions important enough to hold you back from making your own future? 

Believe in yourself, trust yourself.  Do what’s right for you.  

As  Dr. Seuss said,

” those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

Dr Seuss

I hope you’ve found this useful – do let me know what you think.

I’ll be continuing with this theme of what gets in the way in the next blog, where we’ll look at how self belief and self doubt play a big part in stopping us doing what we dream of. Yes, we’ll be looking at confidence.  reading..  Remember to keep hunting the good stuff!

Listen to this on my podcast