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How to Stop Worrying About What People Think Of You

The #1 regret of the dying is…

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

Most people worry WAY too much what other people think. The problem is… Most people don’t realize this until it’s too late.

I used to care what people think, too.

Today, I live life shamelessly… and I’m still the same, good person.

What changed? I’ll explain.

“I Feel Like Everybody’s Watching Me”

It all started with a weird, recurring dream I had as a kid:

Not exactly a nightmare. But still, this dream haunted me for years. For a while, it happened almost every night…

My mom would put me to bed, shut off the light, and walk out the room. I remember wondering every night:

“Where did she go?”

Well, in my six-year-old mind, THIS is where she went:

The Control Room

The Control Room

The Control Room.

In my dream, this is where all the parents met when the kids were asleep.

The control room had lots of cameras and screens. One for every kid. In the control room, the grown-ups could watch what the kids were doing at night. And they could see what we did during the day.

For example…

I once lit a fire on the porch. I thought I’d put it out but… I almost burned down the door. Oops. My mom knew right away what happened. But how? My only explanation was that she must have seen it in the control room.

Of course, this was all in my head. I was a young kid. And sure enough, after a while, I didn’t have this dream anymore.

HOWEVER…

The sense of constant observation was still there. The feeling that there’s someone watching me ALL THE TIME stuck with me for years.

The result? I became an awkward teenager with literally ZERO confidence. I’m not kidding. I could barely hold a conversation.

Looking back, it makes sense:

I had no confidence because I was constantly worried that the people in the “control room” could see me mess up, misbehave, or fall down. So, it’s no surprise I had to build my confidence by practicing.

But even after I built my confidence to the point where I can walk into any room and take control of it…

There were still times when I did things I didn’t really want to do. Why did I do them? For no other reason than to please other people.

I had the idea for Social Triggers 2 years before I started it.

Why did I wait so long?

I was running a different blog and making good money. But when I explained what I did to my family… they didn’t get it.

So, I got a “real job.”

Nothing wrong with that. But the truth is, the only reason I did it was to please my family. It’s also the reason I stayed in that job for an extra year after I already realized I hated it.

I was miserable.

Yeah. This is what ALWAYS happens when you do things you don’t want to do… JUST to please other people.

How Being a “People Pleaser” Will Sabotage Your Success and Happiness

When you constantly worry about what other people think there’s one thing that’s inevitable:

You become a people-pleaser.

The problem? You can’t live a full life this way. Worse even. You’ll self-sabotage your success and happiness at every turn.

Here are some signs you’re people pleaser:

  • You apologize… even if you did nothing wrong.
  • You don’t know how to say “no” to anything or anyone.
  • You stay in toxic relationships because you don’t want to hurt their feelings.
  • You’re upset at yourself for missed opportunities.
  • You still remember stupid stuff you said in 3rd grade.
  • You constantly ask “What do you think?” (instead of making your own decisions)
  • You feel like people take advantage of you.

Now, it’s one thing to worry about what your family and friends think. But what about COMPLETE STRANGERS?

Just picture this…

You’re at a bar. There’s a band playing. All you want to do is dance. Do you get up and dance? Or do you sit and wait?

“Maybe someone else will start dancing. Then I’ll join.”

Hmm… watch this video:

Who do you think is having more fun? The guy dancing? Or the people watching?

Dancing is just an example. If you don’t want to dance, don’t dance. Dancing is just a fitting example because most people are afraid to do it in front of others. I mean, let’s face it, most people only dance when they’re drunk. We sing in the shower… Rock out in the car… as long as no one’s around!

Just like me sticking around in a job I hated…

You rob yourself of happiness because you worry about what other people – even complete strangers – think of you.

Or what about looking ridiculous in public?

Since I share my daily vlog, I can’t afford to get sick. So I wore this on the plane:

Sorry, can't afford to get sick

Sorry, can’t afford to get sick

Would you have risked getting sick? Because you might look ridiculous in public? Then you’re probably worrying too much about what other people think of you.

But it’s not just about these small joys and troubles, like not dancing or looking ridiculous in public…

Living life this way has serious consequences in the real world.

For example, it’s just as bad for your career.

Say you’re at a networking event. You want to introduce yourself to the main speaker. But he’s talking to a bunch of other people already. You don’t want to be rude. You can’t just go over there an interrupt, right? Everyone’s going to think you’re a jerk!

So you slide out the side door. Let’s just hope no one saw you standing there awkwardly while you were debating what to do… Great. You just missed another opportunity to build an influential network.

Do you see how NOT putting yourself out there is crippling your success? All because you worry about what other people think.

Ugh.

Obviously, this is stupid. So WHY do we let opportunities slide because of what other people might think of us?

More importantly:

How can you STOP worrying about what other people think?

The first step is to understand…

The Psychological Reason Why We Care What Others Think of Us

So why do we even care what other people think?

The psychology of self-verification explains it.

In short:

We all have a story we tell ourselves about who we are.

(I’m not saying you actively made up a story about yourself. “Your story” is just the natural result of all your past experiences. It’s the sum of all your beliefs about yourself. It’s who you believe you are.)

The thing is, we also want to avoid cognitive dissonance. That is, we’re wired for consistency. So we look to verify (or confirm) our story in the real world. Which means…

We desperately want other people to believe our story as well!

This is true for you, me, and everyone else. Whatever you believe about yourself, you want others to believe it, too.

When the world “verifies” our own story it’s comforting. When the stories DON’T match is when we get uncomfortable…

Here are some of the most common examples of this:

  • If you believe “I’m a funny guy” you need people to laugh at your jokes.
  • If you believe “I’m very intelligent” you constantly try to prove how smart you are (or get embarrassed when you make a mistake).
  • If you believe “I’m not selfish” you want others to notice your good deeds.
  • If you believe “I’m a hard worker” you don’t want anyone to catch you being lazy or browsing Facebook.
  • If you believe “I have great taste” you don’t want people to know you actually love listening to Britney Spears.
  • If you believe “I’m a nice person” you get a sense of pride when you hold open the door for someone.

We all tell ourselves the SAME stories.

And the #1 story is:

“I’m a nice person.”

In fact, 98% of people believe they’re “nicer” than average.

Paradoxically, this is the most harmful story you can tell yourself.

Hold on, what?!

How is that a problem?

I’ll explain…

In your story, you’re a “good person.” So you do what pleases others, so you can continue to tell yourself that you’re a good person…

And when you do something just for yourself, you feel guilty.

Over time it starts to wear you down. You start to wonder, “Hey why am I doing all these things I don’t really want to do?” and “Why am I NOT doing the things I actually want to do?”

Now…

The truth is, most people ARE good and honest people. My personal data shows that there are only about 2% certified *ssholes 🙄

But it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not!

Research shows we can feel embarrassed, guilty, or ashamed based on other people’s perceptions – even if their perceptions are WRONG.

To illustrate, imagine you’re at the gym…

Do you even lift, bro?

Do you even lift, bro?

You’re recovering from an injury, so you lift “baby” weights. In reality, you’re much “stronger” than it looks right now. So, the perception people will get when they see you working out is wrong. Yet, you might still feel embarrassed to workout with the lighter weights.

Or imagine this:

You’re out with a friend at a restaurant. Your friend starts cussing out the waiter for no reason. It feels like everyone’s looking over at your table. “Look how RUDE these people are!” Maybe no one actually noticed. But again, you might feel embarrassed… even though YOU didn’t do anything wrong.

So should you not go to the gym? Or never go to that restaurant again? Just because what other people MIGHT think? And it’s not even true?

Of course not! That’s exactly the kind of self-sabotage you need to avoid.

The good news is:

You just took the first major step. You now understand WHY you might feel and act this way. I hope this is as much of an Aha-Moment for you as it was for me.

Now let’s imagine and work towards a life WITHOUT these constant worries…

Imagine Living Without the Constant Fear of Criticism

I run an online business. My face is plastered across the internet in hundreds of youtube videos, blog posts, and podcasts.

Could I do this if I still worried about what other people think?

HECK NO!

Look…

Some people LOVE me.

Some people HATE me.

Even though people say “the customer is always right”, look at how I deal with bad customers.

In short…

I don’t let people push me around. And I don’t let other people’s opinions about me dictate what I do or don’t do.

But remember, I wasn’t always like this.

So imagine for a just a moment…

What would YOU do if you didn’t worry about other people’s opinions anymore?

  • Would you finally promote your art?
  • Would you finally create a course to teach what you know?
  • Would you finally start consulting?
  • Would you finally take a road trip by yourself?
  • Would you finally go after your dream?

No more “But people are going to notice if I fail.” What if you lived without the constant fear of criticism?

It’s a truly liberating thought.

The truth is:

Those who master the “subtle art of not giving a f*ck” live their best lives – without regrets. They’re the ones who make an impact. They’re the ones who change the world.

So…

It’s time you stop caring so damn much!

How? Start with accepting TWO facts…

Fact 1: Some People WILL Judge You

Yes, some people WILL judge you.

For EVERYTHING you do.

But just like I can’t please everyone with my videos… You can’t make everyone happy – so stop trying.

You better just accept it now. Someone probably thinks you’re rude, stupid, or ugly. How’s that affecting you right now?

I don’t mean how does it make you feel in your own mind. I’m talking about: How does this actually affect things in the real world? Outside of your own brain?

That’s right: Not at all.

So get over it and move on with your life.

You should probably be much more concerned about Fact #2:

Most people don’t care about you at all…

Fact 2: Most People Couldn’t Care Less

That’s what’s so funny about this:

Everyone’s worried about what other people think about them. Which means: No one’s actually thinking about other people. LOL.

Remember, everyone’s got their OWN story they need to verify. So, most of the time when you’re worried about what other people think…

They’re caught up in their own sh*t.

That is to say: Strangers don’t care about you nearly as much as you think.

As Seth Godin points out, we’re all impostors in one way or the other:

Everyone who is doing important work is working on something that might not work. And it’s extremely likely that they’re also not the very best qualified person on the planet to be doing that work.

Yeah, you just spilled your coffee in front of everybody at Starbucks. But people will have forgotten about it by the time they order their latte.

So, if you’re going to worry about what other people think, at least focus on the people that matter, okay?

Who Are You Trying to Impress Anyway?

Anyone who’s going to judge you based on pettiness is not worth your time.

If someone thinks less of you for your ambition, I don’t know what to tell you other than the joke’s on them.

So…

Don’t let the opinions of the naysayers hold you back.

Instead, focus on the people who are there to support to you. Focus on the people who will give you honest and constructive feedback. Focus on the people that actually care about you…

…and forget what anyone else thinks.

I know – easier said than done!

That’s why I want to share some steps you can take TODAY to stop worrying about what people think of you.

Step 1: Desensitize Yourself

The best way to get started?

Desensitize yourself.

I’ll give you an example:

My friend Tim Ferriss recently grew a goatee, and people ripped into him!

Now here’s what’s weird. Tim says, “I think I look better without it.”

So why did he do it?

He did it to train himself not to care about the reactions.

Tim makes the point in this cool interview with Marie Forleo:

When you train yourself in the little things, then you stand a chance of being courageous when you need to be for the big things.

This is exactly the approach I used to become more confident in social situations.

So, think about the story you tell yourself. Then, do something that intentionally goes against it. Maybe you wear an ugly shirt. Maybe you walk extra slow across the crosswalk. Maybe you talk to a stranger.

They key is…

You start small and build from there.

Doing things that are slightly embarrassing is a great way to practice ignoring what people think. As you get better, you can move on to bigger things.

Step 2: Never Ask “What Do You Think?”

Yes, there are bad questions and…

“What do you think?”

…is the WORST question you can ask.

Get out of the habit of asking it. Don’t ask it at work. Don’t ask it at home. Just don’t ask it. Definitely don’t ask me “what do you think, Derek?”

First of all, it’s a horrible question if you want actual, constructive feedback. There’s a much better way to get that. Check out my video on how to ask great questions here.

But there’s another reason it’s a no-good question. Especially if you already worry too much about what people think…

It’s pretty simple:

If you want to stop RELYING on other people’s approval, you need to stop SEEKING other people’s approval.

I’m talking about small stuff here. Like when you’re sending an email… you don’t need five other people to look it over. I’m sure it’s fine.

Look…

I’m not saying don’t get feedback from other people. But you don’t need approval for every mini-decision you make. And if you really want feedback on something that matters, ask a better question.

“What do you think?” is usually a well-intentioned question. But it’s probably a sign of unhealthy perfectionism, too…

Step 3: Strive for Excellence… But NOT Perfection

It’s a universal desire to be admired.

We all want to achieve great things. And we want people to notice.

That’s why I often say you need to be the exception.

However…

What too many people hear is:

“You need to be perfect.”

And that’s where things go wrong because…

Perfectionism is the ENEMY of excellence.

If I waited to make videos until they were perfect… I would have never made a single video. And I would have never even had the chance to GET BETTER.

But it’s not just me. Studies have found that perfectionists are more vulnerable to feelings of shame and embarrassment. Especially, if you’re trying to be perfect in the eyes of others.

Good luck with that!

Look…

Whenever you’re trying to get better at something, there will always be a “gap” at first. Meaning, you’re not as good as you’d like to be. Whether you’re…

  • Learning a language (“I’m not fluent yet!”)
  • Creating content (“My videos don’t look pro.”)
  • Improving your social skills (“I suck at small talk!”)

Well, this gap is totally normal. Ira Glass explains it best here:

THE GAP by Ira Glass from Daniel Sax on Vimeo.

So how does this help you?

Well, it means you can stop striving for perfection. Instead…

Your only goal should be to do better than you did last time.

If you keep doing that, you’ll eventually be excellent. It’s all you need to do. It’s all you CAN do. Just keep doing the work.

Oh and by the way…

No one but you is keeping track of your failed attempts.

Step 4: Question the Rules

Do you really want to let your thoughts about other people’s thoughts affect the way you live your life?

Because that’s essentially what you’re doing when you worry about what other people think of you.

I bet your answer is a resounding “NO!”

Look, if someone thinks you’re crazy for “not buying a house,” or starting a business “after 40”, let them have their thoughts. Who makes these rules anyway?

Who says you HAVE to go to college?

Who says you have to buy a house?

Who says you can’t start a business after 40?

As long as you’re not intentionally hurting other people, it should be YOU who makes those decisions. No one else.

When you start to challenge some of these arbitrary rules of society, it will be easier to break free from other people’s thoughts.

Step 5: Step Out Of Your Ego Bubble

I had a crazy dream about a control room.

But your life isn’t the Truman Show!

Your life is not the Truman Show

Your life is not the Truman Show

Seriously.

Thinking that the world revolves around you is kind of insane!

So step out of your ego bubble.

In the movie, Truman eventually breaks free. He sails to the edge of his fake world. And walks off the stage. You can do the same.

STOP thinking the world revolves around you’ll start to live a happier, more successful life.

Now…

These are the changes I made – and I stopped worrying about what other people think. I hope this will help you, too.

Remember:

If you try to please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing no one. Least of all, you won’t please yourself.

Finally…

Do you know someone who worries too much about what other people think of them? If you think reading this might help them, please share it with them now.

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4 comments Leave a comment
Pearl

True

Brian

Great article. Very detailed and helpful. So much good stuff that I should re-read it to remember the good parts. Thanks Derek.

Tony W

This was an interesting read. I have lived my life proudly professing I did not care what people thought of me. I just realized that may not be true.
I, more importantly, care about projecting my well crafted story. Why? Maybe because I really did care what people thought of me.

Dario Zadro

Great post and reminder of how so many of us get caught in the “approval” trap way too often. We’re taught from a very young age to seek our parents approval (don’t touch that, you can eat that, etc). The first step and breaking the approval cycle is to break it with family and friends, as you briefly pointed out. Before long, those same people will be asking instead! Most importantly, breaking the approval process starts with kids…let’s empower them to not seek approval. I definitely encourage confidence in my daughter every chance I get! Thanks for your insight.

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