No one likes to look like a tit, but caring too much about what other people think isn’t doing you any favours, either.
The people who get ahead in life are rarely the ones who bite their tongue, turn down invites and avoid potential embarrassment at all costs. You can bet they probably don’t lie awake at night, replaying an awkward conversation they had with someone five years ago, either.
That internal voice whispering “what if they think I’m stupid?” can hold you back from what you really want – and for most people, it chirps on for over half our lives. It takes adults until the age of 46 to stop caring about what other people think, according to a new survey of 2,000 people by hotter.com. That’s an awful lot of time to be held back by self-doubt.
So, how can you avoid becoming another statistic in a random survey by a shoe brand and conquer over-caring?
Firstly, don’t beat yourself up for caring about the opinions of others – we’re actually programmed to do it, so that’s extra negativity you don’t need.
“We care about what people think about us because we need to belong to a group,” says Counselling Directory member Dr Melissa Sedmak. “This is hard-wired into us and there was even research a few years back about how we accept lies from people (unconsciously) just to be a ’member of the tribe’.
“As species, we have an innate need to belong in order to survive. Therefore, caring about what other people think, and tailoring how we express ourselves and who we are, enables us to fit in and not become an outcast.”
Like most things in life, it should be activated in moderation, though, says life coach Kanika Tandon. “Caring about the opinions of other people helps when it comes to working as a group,” she says, “but it turns into a problem when we begin to lose the path to our integrity by putting others before us.
“It crosses a line when we begin to make decisions on how it will be received by others instead of what we truly, genuinely want and desire.”
Taking time to figure out what you truly value in life can be the first step in realigning your behaviour. “A lot of people in lockdown have come to question their choices because they realised they were loving life according to other people’s standards and values,” says Tandon. “Realising that we are people-pleasing is the first step to finding solutions.”
To further redress the balance, it can also help to ask yourself whether your group – or “tribe” – would really judge you for making a mistake/saying what you think, or whether this fear of judgement stems entirely from you.
“We need to ask ourselves: is this just a perceived mould we are trying to fit in or are these expectations of my tribe really this high? And if they are real, do I want to associate with the tribe where people impose this mould on the members?” says Dr Sedmak. “Is there another tribe where I would fit better, with having to let go of less of myself?”
Having strong self-esteem will help you stick to your decisions, adds life coach Joanna Ward. “Remind yourself of your achievements, qualities, skills and your unique perspective,” she says. “Be in touch with your purpose. Understand why you’re taking the path you’re taking. If you can explain it to yourself as much as to others, you’re less easily swayed by alternatives.”
For big life choices, Tandon recommends asking big, long-term questions, such as: “Will I regret the decision five-10 years down the line?”
But for the smaller, every day worries, when our biggest concern is looking a bit silly, Ward says it’s good to respond with humour and never be afraid to laugh at yourself and at life. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?