Here's Why You Should Stop Worrying About What Others Think

Haris Mohammad

Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

Have you ever felt a strong desire to follow your heart? Ever wanted to do something that made sense only to you? Something you knew was right but that others would never understand?

If you have and if you had the courage to listen to your own voice and fight off the naysayers, congratulations! You did what most can’t. Ever.

Much of our energy goes into making ourselves look good in the eyes of others. Into not making fools of ourselves. We are mortified by the thought of others laughing at us.

In the words of Tim Urban, one of my favorite bloggers —

“it’s a defining paranoia of the human species…An irrational and unproductive obsession with what other people think of us.”

On one hand the desire of social approval and admiration drives us and on the other, the fear of rebuke or even a slight smirk paralyzes us.

An overwhelming majority of our decisions and choices — from what we wear to whom we marry — are often dictated by this fear of judgment. It is why we cling on to jobs we hate and why “we buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.” [Quote — Dave Ramsey]

What many of us don’t realize is that this obsession is counter-productive. It turns people into poor versions of themselves and prevents them from growing and moving ahead in their lives. It forces them to throw away the charm and joy of uniqueness and turn into a boring byproduct of society’s brain-farts.

It’s not surprising that so many people find themselves struggling with different forms of life-crises (quarter-life, mid-life and what not) as they grow older.

But you know all this. The question is — how do you get rid of this madness or, at least, rein it in a bit?

Over the past few years, I have been asked this question on several occasions by different people. And so I thought about it. Surprisingly, the answer was simple.

I don’t care about what others think because I don’t trust or respect their opinions (unless they are experts in that specific field). If you don’t respect an idea, you don’t worry about it. That is why you don’t fuss over what a four-year old says. Let me elaborate.

In the article ahead, I give you 5 reasons why giving much attention to people’s thoughts and comments is illogical and useless. These are not reasons why it’s harmful (even though it is). That won’t convince your brain to drop the vicious habit.

But if you can convince your mind that this obsession is irrational and stupid, then it’s a different story. Your brain wants to see itself as anything but irrational. And so it quickly disowns anything it deems to be stupid.

1. People don’t know shit

Six years ago, when I quit my job to be self-employed, almost everyone had something to say. They all had the audacity to tell me why I was wrong and why I shouldn’t be doing what I was doing. Some of them had never been employed, had never earned a dollar, didn’t have a college degree and didn’t know why I was wrong. Of course, it didn’t matter to them.

People said I had a “brilliant mind” and I could achieve a lot if I continued with my “coveted job”. I am yet to understand why the “brilliant mind” couldn’t be trusted to decide what mattered to it and what kind of life it wanted. Wait, I think I do.

Anyway, they kept saying what they had to say and I kept doing what I had to do — ignore them. Because, of the several lessons I had learned about people, one was this.

They don’t know shit.

People love to parade their opinions as self-evident truths, pearls of wisdom and unquestionable facts. They like to present themselves as experts who also happen to have the magic crystal ball. Truth, however, is very different.

  • Many don’t know pretty much anything about anything. They are just going through life obeying orders and following the herd.
  • Some are good (to varying degrees) in their respective domains. Some might even be experts. But in other areas, they are usually no better than those in the first group. Just think of the brilliant doctor who doesn’t share your political views. Okay, that was a bad joke.
  • A very very small number of people have a decent and holistic understanding of life and the world we live in. You would be lucky to know 1–2 such people. Also, they tend to have better things to do than to think about what you are doing.

You see, almost everyone is just as confused and scared about life as everyone else and knows just as little. So, strip away their undeserved halo. There is no reason for you to attach extraordinary significance to the ordinary opinions of ordinary people. Their opinions don’t define you or your work. Neither can they predict or shape your future.

Next time you find yourself obsessing over someone’s remarks or reactions, ask yourself — is that person speaking from a position of knowledge, experience, and good intentions?

If yes, give their words due consideration. Talk to them and try to understand their viewpoint. Then make your decision.

If not, just imagine a four-year-old in their place. Would it still matter?

2. Everyone laughs and everyone is laughed at

People love to talk shit about others. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do. You could be white or black, rich or poor, Obama or Trump. Or you could be Jesus. Or Socrates. Doesn’t matter. They will always find a fault and condemn you. And it’s not difficult to understand why.

Many, if not most, of the people are timid and insecure. They don’t have the courage to take ownership of their lives or their dreams. So they spend their entire lives putting on a show, pretending to be something they are not.

This transforms them into people with low self-esteem and with a desperate need for external validation. And then, there is competition and jealousy wired deep into human biology.

And so, what do people do? They mock others.

By collectively mocking others, they pat each others’ backs and feel proud. In that moment, they feel like they are better than the other person. Like they are winners. It also justifies their own timidity.

Besides, modern society, with all its technological advancements, has given people too much time and too little to do. And because their lives are built around pretense, they have nothing better to do than to indulge in gossip, mockery, and laughter.

Just look at all the videos with “pranks” and “epic fails” doing rounds on social media. Some may not agree, but our society has turned into one that shamelessly laughs at others’ expense.

But who are we kidding? We are just as much to blame as others.

The key here is to understand that you are not alone at the receiving end. You have the company of the entire humankind. In a way, it’s nothing personal. So, why bother? Just accept it as an indispensable part of your human experience.

3. Some are just jerks

While most of this piece has been about normal people, the world does have its share of jerks and the bitter motor-mouths.

Although this breed is mostly found in the comments section on social media, a few of them exist in everyone’s life. And they can be a huge pain and, at the same time, difficult to ignore.

These are the people who are very angry with their existence and their circumstances. Their heads are filled with frustration and resentment. And the only thing that gives them some temporary relief is making others miserable.

I have seen them all my life. They always had the nastiest things to say — things that would ruin the joyous moments and make the difficult times unbearable. Until a few years ago, I would get all worked up and argue with them, fight them.

But with time, I realized that was not the best way to deal with them. It was not the way at all. Even if I won the argument, it didn’t make me feel any better. The whole experience would linger around in my memory for days or weeks, sometimes longer. And it gave those morons the satisfaction of seeing me in desperation and agony.

I started to follow an advice I had read. I would just remain calm and try to observe the depravity, the frustration and stupidity which caused them to behave in such a way.

The thing with these people is that what they say and do is so outrageous and stupid that only those equally worthless and spiteful can agree with them. So, if you remain composed in the face of all the ridicule, others will see it for what it is. Sometimes, they might even put up a fight for you.

Also, these scumbags expect you to feel angry and tormented. They want you to suffer like they themselves do. And when you show complete indifference, it takes the fizz out of their words and actions. All their somersaults end with them landing on their noses. And you feel liberated and powerful.

4. You don’t own the spotlight, thankfully

People are self-obsessed. We go through our lives viewing everything from our perspective. We are the centers of our universes. And because we are always a key player in our thoughts, it is hard to comprehend how rarely we feature in others’.

But think of this for a moment — how many people do you think of or talk about frequently, in their absence? I am sure the number is very small.

For most people we know, we follow one simple principle — out of sight, out of mind.

Even when we are around others, we tend to overestimate (like way over) how much they notice us. In psychology, it is known as the spotlight effect.

The point I am trying to make is — no matter what you do, very few people notice you and even those who do, don’t remember for long.

Today, when people are not thinking about themselves and their own lives, they are looking at a screen. If you are not on it, you are safe.

5. There are hardly any consequences

Thousands of years ago, it mattered what others thought about a person. Tribes were small and cohesive and you couldn’t survive without your tribe. Every opinion of every person mattered.

We are not living in that world any more. Today, we don’t care to know our neighbors. Siblings visit each other on occasions. Airbnb is flourishing.

When you can live, work and enjoy with any of the billions of people inhabiting this planet, the opinions of a few are of little consequence.

So, to sum it up.

  • People are clueless about most things. Much of what they say is just their confused and ignorant opinion. Don’t let it creep into your head.
  • People laugh at others to feel good about themselves. And no one is safe from their mockery and condescension. So, ignore it.
  • People notice you and think about you a lot less than you imagine. So, live freely. No one is watching and if they are, they won’t remember.
  • Some are just bitter individuals out to make others miserable. Ignore them and they will move to other targets.
  • In this age of globalization, what a few people think about you doesn’t matter. Put yourself out there and you will soon find the people you need.

The idea is not that we should go out of our ways to piss people off. Or to never learn from others. If we do so, we won’t be very different from the jerks I mentioned earlier. Instead, I urge you to take control of your thoughts, actions and feelings and not let them be dictated by what others think.

It is only after you leave behind your fear of judgment, that you will find the strength and freedom to discover, recreate and embrace your true self. And to leap ahead.

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Coach, Engineer, Writer.

Seattle, WA

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