Right up there with the likes of public speaking, mortality, and rejection is another common anxiety-fueler: the fear of what others think. While it can show up in many forms—like, curbing us from speaking our truth, deciding what we do (and don’t) post on social media, and factoring into big-deal life decisions like which jobs to seek—it often holds us back from going after our most sincere goals. Or worse, it can prevent us from being our authentic selves. But before learning how to not care what people think, it’s key to first understand why so many of us do, and to a strong and enduring extent.
Put simply, we are wired to crave a sense of belonging and safety. “In ancient history, we belonged to tribes that ensured our survival as a species,” says holistic career and mind-set coach Amina AlTai. “Belonging to a group made life less dangerous. Our primitive brain is still connected to that idea that we need to belong to a group and stay in their good graces in order to survive.”
“Our primitive brain is still connected to that idea that we need to belong to a group and stay in their good graces in order to survive.” —mind-set coach Amina AlTai
While this need to be liked and accepted may have served humans way back when, it now often robs us of our freedom to be ourselves. “When we are so focused on being liked or on what other people think, we can step away from our truth and lean into performance,” AlTai says. “We censor ourselves. We water ourselves down and become consummate chameleons in order to be accepted.”
If any of this rings true for you, keeping you from the life you truly want to be living, check out AlTai’s six tips for learning how to not care what people think, once and for all.
1. Remember that what others think isn’t your business
Although it may seem like external thoughts can have a major effect on our inner workings, that’s really not the case. Rather, it’s merely our perception that gives them power. With this in mind, AlTai suggests a powerful strategy for learning how to not care what people think is to remind yourself that their thoughts are their own and have nothing to do with you. Furthermore, the only way these thoughts can impact your life is if you let them.
2. Know that your value is not contingent on being liked
Embrace the fact that your value is not determined by how liked and accepted you are. “It’s not my job to be liked,” AlTai says of her career, which involves being present on social media and public speaking. “It’s my job to show up in my authenticity and deliver the contribution I came to deliver. Some people will like what I have to offer, and others will not, and that is real and normal. It has no implications on our value as human beings.” So if someone likes you or what you’re doing, cool. And if they don’t, that’s cool, too—you do you, regardless.
3. Define your values
Living your life according to what others think of you is a recipe for an unhappy and exhausting life. Instead, AlTai’s says to define your own set of values. Get clear on what’s important to you, not other people. Focus on who you want to be, not what others say you should be. From there, AlTai says, “we can align ourselves with friends and groups that share these values versus attempting to fit ourselves into a box that doesn’t reflect our truest expression.”
4. Find the core wound and write a new story
There is usually an old story, subconscious belief, or an emotional wound that drives the worry of what others think. AlTai suggests reflecting on this during a meditation or in your journal to help you better understand why it is that you, personally, care what others think in the first place. Think of your earliest memory of not being liked or accepted, how it made you feel, and what you most needed in that memory.
Once you’re clearer on that core wound, belief, or story, you can write a new story for yourself, literally. Write it out in a journal. For example, if your old story is that you need to be liked to survive or be worthy, AlTai says, then you can write out examples of times when you weren’t necessarily accepted and still flourished.
5. Forgive yourself and shift your mind-set
Overcoming the fear of what people think is certainly not something that can happen overnight. It requires practice and a whole lot of self-forgiveness. “We all get caught in our fear stories from time to time,” AlTai says. “It doesn’t make us wrong or broken.” When that fear rears its ugly head (and it will), forgive yourself in that moment and then choose a new thought and way of being. Shifting your mind-set in this way will give you the motivation you need to do what you’re holding yourself back from accomplishing.
Now that you’re clear on how to not care what people think, here’s how to get over your fear of being mean. And if a fear of rejection is keeping you from professional success, here’s how a career coach suggests you chase your goals.
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