Why You Care What Others Think—and What to Do About It (Part 2 of 2)

Conclusion of yesterday’s column.

In order to develop healthy self-respect, and to stop obsessing on what others think of you, it’s very important that you internalize two questions:

‘ What are the facts (about myself or the outside world)?
‘ What can I rationally conclude from these facts?

These are generalized questions, so you can apply them to nearly every area of your life, every day. Whether you are interacting with family, coworkers, friends, or strangers in the grocery store, you will find use for these questions. They will steer you away from the usual concerns you have about what others think of you.

They are designed to replace such questions as:

‘ What does he(she) think of me?
‘ What kind of impression am I making?
‘ What is the perception or feeling I ‘give off?’
‘ What are people’s evaluations of me?

As an example, apply both the rational questions and the other-centered questions to your job performance.

Notice the difference in the kinds of responses you have. If you ask yourself what others’ opinions are about your job performance, you put yourself at the mercy of people who may or may not be reasonable; who may or may not share your values, beliefs, and standards; who may or may not have access to every detail about your job performance.

Think about it. You are with yourself every minute of the day. You know what you do well and do not do well.

If you focus too much on what others think of you, then you put yourself at the mercy of their opinions and values (which may or may not be valid). Even worse, you may not be able to figure out their opinions accurately. You may have to try and read their minds, and engage in futile speculation. Few things are so frustrating or self-defeating as trying to read others’ minds, and fretting over what they think of you.

Most of the time, others are so wrapped up in their own lives, they give little or no thought to you. So stop flattering yourself.

Now imagine applying rational, objective questions to your job performance. Instead of getting wrapped up in others’ viewpoints, you will stay centered on your own. And your own viewpoints will be shaped by the facts.

You will see both your strengths and your weaknesses, if you allow yourself to think clearly and honestly.

For example: ‘I try very hard. Sometimes I let my attention wander. But once I focus, I surpass even my own expectations. Focusing is never easy, but with effort I can get better and better. I also need to work harder on communicating with my staff. Sometimes they misunderstand me, or are somewhat intimidated by me, so I need to let them know it’s OK to ask questions.

I’m not always the greatest manager, and I’ll probably always need to work at it. My greatest strengths are in the area of writing and researching. That’s OK. It isn’t necessary or possible to be excellent at everything.’

Focusing on the facts is not always easy, and sometimes can provoke anxiety. But it keeps you in the arena over which you have control. Once you stray into obsessing over what others think of you, then you are leaving the psychological areas that you can control, and you’re drifting into speculation and second-guessing. People are going to think what they think, if they even think of you at all. So let go of it.

Focus on your own goals, needs, and desires, and how to accomplish them.

In short, the secret to caring less about what others think is to work more on what you think. The most rational, sensible way to do this is to focus on objectivity, meaning: the facts, and the logical conclusions drawn from those facts. Intellectually, this is not such a difficult concept to understand.

The hard part, for many people, is making it a part of their daily lives. Intellectualizing and internalizing are two different things.

By reading this article, you have spent some time intellectualizing about principles of healthy thinking. Now go out into your daily life and practice them.


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