It happened again. A conversation didn’t go how you planned, and now you’re worried you’ve given people the wrong impression. You bumped into a stranger at the supermarket and nearly knocked them over. You wore the same shirt to work two days in a row. Whatever it was, you’ll be stuck ruminating on it for the rest of the day, worried sick over what someone, somewhere, must inevitably think of you.
First, understand that this compulsion is common. None of us are free of it. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to let these worries interfere with your life. It is possible to train your brain to be less concerned with the opinions of others.
There are two components of this fear of cold opinions, one passive and one immediate. The passive fear of societal disapproval is a slow, constant pressure that keeps you from trying new things or putting yourself out there. The immediate concern of the same is the anxiety that overtakes you when you realize that you’ve raised your hand in a work meeting, and everyone is about to start judging you for what you say. There are different techniques for coping with (and hopefully eventually eliminating) each situation.
According to most survey data¹, we regret what we didn’t do more than what we did. Nothing contributes to “missed opportunity” regrets more than the fear that trying something risky will leave us vulnerable to the scrutiny of others. Your positive mindset can only combat this omnipresent worry over others’ opinions.
Take the time to identify your best traits. Your confidence, qualification, experience, and ability all deserve recognition. Create a slogan for yourself that best encapsulates your worth, such as “I have valuable experience in my field” or “I am a kind person.” It’s okay to make more than one.
You may shorten this phrase even further if you wish, and turn it into something catchy. Adopting a personal value catchphrase gives you a powerful tool for guiding your brain into positive self-reflection. Bring out your phrase when you need to remind yourself of your real value, and cast away the values you imagine others might assign to you.
This terror of what others think of you shares a lot with general anxiety, and some of the same tips will work here. Deep breaths are always a good start. Are you about to give that presentation at work? Take slow, deep breaths. Try to belly breathe². This technique will help tell your brain that there’s no immediate danger and to calm down. If you created a value phrase as suggested in the last section, now’s a great time to repeat it to yourself silently.
We filter the world through our lens. Everything we experience goes through the filter of our understanding and ideas. can present yourself to a dozen different people, and each one will form a different opinion about you.
Most of this is out of your control. There’s nothing you can do if your face reminds your boss of their third ex-spouse. There’s no way you can stop the stranger in the supermarket from disliking your hairstyle because it’s too similar to their own. People will have their own opinions about you, and you do not have the capabilities to micromanage how these opinions form. All you can do is present your most authentic self to the world and trust that those who matter will see you as you are.
We often find that our most insecure fears never actually manifest. You may think that everyone around you is judging your mismatched socks when the truth is no one’s looking.
When we don’t know what someone is thinking, we tend to expect the worst. Never received a response to your last text message? Your friend must be mad at you. The joke fell flat at a party? Everyone there must think you’re the worst guest, and none of them are ever going to invite you over again.
Yet how often is this ever true? The answer is not frequently. It’s only natural that we be the focus of our minds, but this can trick us into thinking everyone else is focused on us, as well.
When you find yourself fixating on what others might be thinking of you, take a moment to remind yourself that you cannot control how other people think or feel. Instead of worrying over someone else’s business, brainstorm ways to adjust your emotional mindset. For example, if you’re worried people think you’re rude, put your energy into doing something kind. Refocusing yourself like this will help you let go of your worries and give you a sense of accomplishment. Anxiety and self-doubt are a fast ticket to chronic underachievement³, and you deserve better.
There’s nothing productive about ruminating on the opinions of others. It may take time and practice, but you can break your brain of this destructive habit.
(1) Morrison, M; Roese, N (March 2011) Regrets of the Typical American: Findings From a Nationally Representative Sample