Care about peoples’ approval, and you will always be their prisoner. – Lao Tzu
There’s a lot of valuable advice that we should listen to. There are also a lot of comments that we should ignore because they senselessly bring us down instead of lift us up.
That social media post got 185 positive reactions, but instead of beaming with pride and accomplishment, we focus on those 2 negative comments.
We got a ton of compliments on that project we successfully finished, but that one negative comment hit us like a sniper’s bullet. It’s been stuck in our minds the entire week.
As we stroll into that party, our minds begin that downward spiral of worry. We worry about how we look, what we’re going to say, how people will interpret what we say and a list of other ridiculous concerns.
Why do we care about what others think?
Caring about what other people think about us is hardwired into us thru evolution. It helps us develop a sense of belonging.
This increases the chances that we’ll form attachments with our fellow humans and produce more humans.
This need for belonging is so strong that humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow added it to the hierarchy of needs.
We also need approval. Our need for approval from others began when we were young kids. We fought for our parents approval. Then we needed approval from other family members, teachers, friends and countless other people.
The need for belonging and approval continues throughout our life.
What happens when we care too much?
Caring what others think about us helps us form strong emotional bonds with our fellow humans.
It improves our emotional intelligence. It helps us create stable relationships, families and communities.
Sound, practical feedback lets us know when we’ve done something good and when we’ve done something wrong.
But when we care too much about things that don’t empower us, it can cause a lot of problems.
Being obsessed with what others think can destroy your identity. It can make you change your beliefs and values whenever they’re not aligned with the beliefs and values of others.
When you change yourself to please others, it kills your authenticity. It can make you set your sights lower, dream less and no longer honor your core values.
It can make you become an inferior version of yourself.
Caring too much about what others think can make you start playing it safe, not take risks and settle for less. You’ll fear failing, being laughed at and having less friends.
It can make you keep your mouth shut when it should be wide open.
It will make you put up with things that the authentic version of you would never allow into your life.
If you head down this path, you’ll never get that dream job, start that dream business, find the best relationships or reach your full potential.
You’ll lose your direction in life. You’ll be like a ship that has no rudder or compass. It simply floats around the ocean randomly, moving in different directions, depending on which way the wind is blowing.
You’ll be dependent on other peoples’ compliments for validation. You’ll become a human chameleon whose likes, dislikes, opinions and identity changes to match what other people want.
What happens when even the people you’re trying to please say terrible things to you? You’ll fall apart because you’ve put your self-worth in other peoples’ opinions of you.
Another problem is that you’ll be less effective because your self-consciousness will make you extremely anxious. This high level of anxiety will lower your ability to perform under pressure.
You’ll be so worried about saying the wrong thing, you’ll be a nervous wreck at that job interview.
Your mind will go blank. You’ll have difficulty speaking effectively. You probably won’t get the job.
You’ll have a hard time talking to that attractive woman because you’re scared shitless about saying the wrong thing.
Your awesome personality will be hidden behind a dull mask of conformity.
How to care less about what others think
1. Be authentic.
From the day we’re born, people try to mold us into who they think we should be. As we get older, we resist being shaped like a lump of human clay.
But society uses shame, social pressure and our natural inclination to conform to try to mold us to its liking. This turns many of us into people pleasers. It makes us hyper-focused on what people are thinking about us.
Don’t let the world mold you into what it wants you to become. Become who you were meant to be. Be your authentic self.
Being authentic means using your unique set of gifts, strengths and talents to do the things you love. It’s living a life that’s aligned with your core values and beliefs.
Don’t follow the beaten path. Carve out your own path.
Create an authentic life that you’re proud of.
2. Know that you don’t have time to worry.
Look back at all the time you already wasted caring too much about what other people think about you.
I’ve squandered many years caring too much about other peoples’ opinions of me. It was one of the biggest time killers in my entire life.
Realize that your time on this spinning globe is short.
You don’t have time to give a shit about other peoples’ negative opinions about you. People who are in their 70s or 80s realize this. They could care less about what people think about them.
Would the 75-year-old version of you care about the useless comments people direct at you? Hell no. And you shouldn’t care either—no matter what age you are.
Follow the wise words of Steve Jobs:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice.”
3. Realize you can’t please everyone. So stop trying.
It’s impossible to please everyone.
The simple reality is that not everyone will like you. No matter how nice you are. No matter how hard you try to please everyone.
There will always be someone out there who will criticize you, make fun of you or think you’re an awful person.
The sad thing is that many of us try to please people who don’t even have the courage to try to live an amazing and inspired existence. Yet these cowards and keyboard warriors are quick to judge those who are trying to live extraordinary lives.
Marcus Aurelius insightfully said:
“You want praise from people who kick themselves every fifteen minutes, the approval of people who despise themselves.”
Stop trying to please everyone. Focus on pleasing yourself and those you truly care about.
4. Don’t let strangers run your life.
Think about it.
Why do we want approval and validation from people we don’t even know? Why should I care what this guy thinks about me when he knows almost nothing about me or my life?
If you want to listen to the advice of trusted friends, family members or others, that’s fine. But don’t let the words of people you don’t even know make you feel bad.
5. Don’t take it personally.
I used to get so upset when someone at work said something rude to me. Then I got bent out of shape again when I saw that someone made some negative comments on a Facebook or LinkedIn post I wrote.
I don’t know why they said something offensive. Maybe they suffered a lot of trauma or abuse earlier in life. Maybe they had a bad day, a bad week or a bad year.
Don’t take what others say about you personally. When they say unnecessarily hurtful things about you, it’s a reflection of them—not you.
6. Ignore comments that don’t empower you.
People will criticize you, put you in categories and give you an endless list of things you need to change about yourself.
Although there are people that we should listen to, sometimes even the people closest to us that have the best intentions will say hurtful, inconsiderate or disempowering things to us.
Only pay attention to comments that empower you.
Only take into consideration those things that will make you a better, stronger, smarter, healthier and more insightful human being.
All of us should try to be good, compassionate humans who will make this world a better place.
Be nice. Be kind.
Don’t stop caring about everything everyone says completely. Don’t completely stop taking advice from your doctor, accountant, family members, friends or other trusted people in your life.
Be very careful about which comments you take seriously.
Don’t change your identity to please others.
Don’t change your values, beliefs, goals, dreams or passions for other people.
Only pay attention to comments that empower you.
Remember that you bucked the odds just by being born. There’s no one else like you in this world.
Be that awesome, unique person you are.