4 tips to help you be your own person
“Why should we worry about what others think of us, do we have more confidence in their opinions than we do our own?” – Brigham Young
I’ve met people who don’t care at all what others think. These may be lovely people in some ways, but they tend to do to social situations what, say, an unseasonable heat wave might do to the Winter Olympics. Still, in some ways you can envy them. Never seeming to care or even consider what others think of them – oh the freedom! But really we want balance. To be ’emotionally intelligent’, we need to have some awareness and consideration of what others may be thinking of us whilst not caring so much that it prevents us being effective and original human beings.
1) Own your imagination
Why would someone never worry what other people think? Well, they might be on the autistic spectrum and not have what psychologists call ‘theory of mind’ (1) – that is, they find it hard or impossible to even imagine that other people see things differently from how they themselves do. In fact, how other people see things tends not to be considered at all.
It’s an advantage to understand that others have their own opinions and take on reality. To have ‘theory of mind’, we need to be able to extend our imaginations. If I like something, I have to be able to imagine that you might not like it, for example. But if we are not careful, we can use our ‘theory of mind’ too much and our imagination that is meant to serve us starts to work against us. This happens when folk start imagining they’ve upset others when they haven’t or that others think they are dumb and so forth.
To counteract this, start to challenge what your imagination throws up at you. “They are all going to hate me! … Hold on, how do I know that? Some people will like me, some will think I’m okay, and some might be indifferent.”
2) Learn to relax with not knowing what other people think of you
“We would worry less about what others think of us if we realized how seldom they do.” – Ethel Barrett
When I first started public speaking, I’d agonize over whether people would think what I was doing was okay, desperately hope they’d like it, and sometimes imagine they didn’t. Now I don’t bother; that’s way too much work. It’s not that I assume people will like me or what I have to say, it’s that I’ve learned to relax with just not knowing.
Some ‘problems’ in life, such as not really knowing for sure what others think of us, are not really meant to be solved. How people perceive you may have more to do with them than you anyway. They may even like or dislike you merely because you’ve triggered an association in their minds and reminded them of someone they liked (or didn’t like) from their past. That has nothing to do with you.
3) Remember: people will think what they’ll think.
How you seem and how you actually are may be two totally different things. How many people don’t look as if they can dance but they really can? Appearances are deceptive. What someone thinks of you may be (is very likely to be) totally wide of the mark. If someone forms an opinion of you based on superficialities, then it is up to them,not you, to reform those opinions based on a more objective and rational view. Leave it to them to worry about – that is, if they have an opinion at all.
4) See the best in others by not assuming they see the worst
At one point during our therapy, I suddenly said to John: “What makes you think you’re so much better than other people!”
He looked taken aback. “I don’t, that’s the whole point!”
“But you’ve already told me that you like to see the best in others; yet you assume other people always look to see the worst in you!”
He looked very thoughtful at this. Worrying that other people will think us stupid, ugly, pathetic, or un-cool is to do those people a disservice. Many people will judge you fairly and give you the benefit of the doubt – so give them the benefit of the doubt.