Is It Really Possible to Stop Caring About What Others Think?
I wanted to use today’s video to talk about our fear of what other people think.
How often do you find yourself anxiously thinking about what others think of something you’ve done? Or not doing something because you’re worried about how your friends, family – or even strangers – will react if you do?
My answer might surprise you, and it also contains the secret to how I’ve continued to do what I do, regardless of what people think…
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I was recently asked by one of my members, “Matthew, how do I stop relying on others for my confidence and my happiness?” Which begs the question, is it possible to actually stop caring about what other people think of us?
The answer I gave her possibly surprised her. I said, “No.”
Evolution, innit. It’s evolution, isn’t it.
Now there are people far more studied in this area than I but in evolutionary biology, there are people that argue that, back in tribal days, if we were ostracized and outcast from our tribe, that could mean death. It could be fatal. So it was just about one of the worst things that could happen to you. Hence the fear of what other people thought of us: It was important to see that coming.
Even today, that is part of the fabric of our DNA. We have not just shaken off the fears of our ancestors. That even when we say today, “I don’t care what people think of me,” we’re either lying or sociopathic, because we do care. And even when we’re going to great lengths to show that we don’t care, usually that’s just another way of caring, right? “I care that you think that I don’t care what you think.”
So. Resistance is futile. We could be banging our head against a wall at a pointless endeavor and I think that’s a waste of time.
Plan A: Resist. Let’s not do that.
Plan B: Change the game.
What does it mean to change the game when it comes to caring what other people think?
First, know who your audience is. We’re not trying to impress everybody, and yet our instincts, our reflex response is, when anybody points out something that’s wrong with us, when anybody criticizes, when anybody says something mean, we immediately take it to heart. And yet, logically, we know if we were to spend time with those people and walk through their lives with them, understand their belief systems, what they like, what they don’t like, how they treat people, how they live their life, we’d realize, “My God, why am I trying to impress this idiot?”
There’s a great moment in the show, Rick and Morty – I don’t know how many of you are fans, but the irreverent maverick of a grandfather, Rick, is on stage at a convention in front of a bunch of people that he doesn’t like. He says something and the entire crowd boos. He says to them, “Your boos mean nothing, I’ve seen what you cheer for.”
I think about that all the time. Whenever you’re worried that “someone thinks poorly of me,” think first what things that person cheers for and you might worry a little less about their approval.
Number two, even in the case of the people whose approval you do seek, even on a logical level, an intellectual level, don’t over-respect anybody. Hero worship is dangerous.
Even the people I respect the most in life, I have watched them change their opinions on things over and over again. I have watched them be stupid. I have watched them get things wrong. I have watched them disagree with me one minute and agree with me the next, and vice versa.
So even the people we respect the most, whose validation we often prize, do not over respect them either. As Christopher Hitchens said, whenever you feel yourself intimidated by another human being, remember it’s just another primate.
And number three, change the rules of what your confidence is based on. Now, what do I mean by this?
Let’s imagine that, right now, the thing that’s inhibiting us is a set of rules. We want to go over to that person and tell them we think they’re attractive. We want to go for that interview, for that job. We want to start that company. We want to voice our opinions to people around us, or speak our mind. But we don’t because of a set of rules that stop us from doing so.
We may have a rule that says, I never want to be rejected. Now, we may not actually verbalize that rule or consciously admit that rule, but our behaviors or our lack of action is suggesting that this is indeed a rule that we have internally.
Always being right. I always want to make sure that no matter what I say, it’s correct. That’s a rule that will stop us from speaking up.
Never looking stupid. If I have a rule that says, I don’t want to look stupid, I don’t want to be embarrassed, I don’t want to make a fool of myself, that will stop us from having a tremendous number of experiences that would enrich our life, that would teach us a lot, and that would allow us to live more intensely.
So here you have three rules. One that will stop us going after things we want in life. Another one that will stop us speaking our mind. And this one that will stop us having new experiences. These are very dangerous rules to base our confidence on, and yet so many – I would argue the majority of people – base their confidence on these rules and then they wonder why they can never get themselves to act. “I just can’t get myself to do that thing. I know there are things that would improve my life but I can’t get myself to do them.”
If we change the rules of our confidence, it means making a switch in each one of these areas. So never being rejected becomes finding someone who actually loves us for who we are. See, people go through their love lives all the time never wanting to be rejected by anybody. But if you’re rejected by somebody who gets to know you and then decides they don’t want you, by definition, they can’t be right for you. So is the goal to never be rejected? Or is the goal to find someone who really wants you for you? If it’s the latter, it creates a new rule. Now my confidence isn’t based on never being rejected. My confidence is going out there, showing who I am in this world, and looking for someone who likes that person.
What if you changed always being right to just valuing yourself based on how much you care? “I care the most.” I think about that in terms of my videos and my work all the time. I can’t base my confidence on always being right ’cause I’m going to be wrong sometimes. I’m going to miss the mark sometimes. I’m going to say the wrong thing. I have to base it on just showing up every week and saying I care, and if I care, I’m going to go out and speak up no matter what because I care about my subject. I care that people hear it. And if I get it wrong, I have the ability to adapt. I’ll just change the message until I get it right. I’ll adapt until it’s heard the right way. I’ll just keep maneuvering because that’s what I do. It’s not about being right all the time. It’s about how much I care and my ability to change when I’m wrong.
If I have these two rules in place, it doesn’t matter that I’m wrong sometimes. If someone says I’m wrong, fine, that stings for a moment, but ultimately you can move on because you know that’s not ultimately what your confidence is based around. It’s based around a different set of rules.
Never looking stupid. That can change to I want to have experiences. This isn’t about whether I always look cool, I always look in control. You can’t look cool and in control when it’s your first time doing something or when you’re not very good at something. Sometimes the fun of life is being out of control. The fun of life is looking stupid. The fun of life is as, my friend Karen Rinaldi would say, sucking something. So if we put a premium on having experiences and the rule that I’ve set up for myself is I want to live a life full of experiences, then avoiding looking stupid becomes secondary. Sometimes we might look stupid and we might get embarrassed and we might go red and that might happen and we go, “OK, so what? Avoiding that isn’t more important to me than having new experiences.”
It’s not that making the paradigm switch between this and this is going to eliminate all of our care about what other people think. We’re all going to be susceptible at times to something someone says. Someone’s going to say something in just the right way that it catches us off guard or strikes a nerve, strikes upon an insecurity we already have, and it’s going to affect us in that moment. It’s going to hurt. That’s normal. That’s human, right? By the way, numbing yourself to that will be numbing yourself to a whole bunch of other things too, so I’m not even sure that it’s desirable to stop caring what other people think in that way.
What we need to make sure is that what other people say and think of us doesn’t debilitate us, doesn’t paralyze us and stop us from going and doing the things that would improve our lives, give us joy, allow us to express ourselves, and allow us to actually make an impact on the world. Because there’s a lot of people out there right now not making an impact on the world, on the circle around them, or themselves because they’re so inhibited by rules that dictate everything they do.
By the way, you might have a rule that, as we’re talking, you realize there’s a rule that I haven’t put up here that you have for yourself that’s causing you a lot of misery, in which case you can run this exercise on that rule, right? Write your rule up on the left-hand side and then write up what the new priority is going to be for you. That your confidence is no longer going to be based around this rule, it’s going to be based around this one that frees you up.
And you’ll notice, by the way, that on all of these, the locus of control is external. I’m putting it in the hands of other people, all of that power in everyone else’s hands. The locus of control on this side is internal. These are all things that I have complete control over and no one can take away from me. No one can stop me achieving these goals, but everyone can stop me achieving these goals. You see that?
Tons of you ask me every week if I’ll design a confidence program. What a lot of people don’t realize is that I already have and it’s called the Retreat. The Retreat in May got canceled. I still have one in October. Many people are signing up for that, but a lot of people are asking, is there any way for them to do it from home right now?And what I’ve put together is something that allows for both. I’m not going to say any more here, but let me just say this: The offer that we have for the At-Home Retreat right now is… has never happened before and it will be almost impossible for it to ever happen again. It is a function of these times that we’re in and we’re doing something very, very special. So if you’ve ever been interested in the At-Home Retreat, if you are interested in transforming your confidence right now, while you have this time at home, check it out. I’ll leave a link here. Go see for yourself. And as always, I will see you in next week’s video.