“It is not uncommon for people to spend their whole life waiting to start living.” ~Eckhart Tolle
A few months ago, I found myself on the busy streets of London’s Covent Garden.
It was a mild Friday evening in the capital and the masses were out celebrating the end of the working week, looking forward to the weekend ahead.
But that’s not why I was there.
I’d come to Covent Garden on that day for a special project.
For most of my life, the fear of what other people thought of me had kept me trapped. It had prevented me from reaching my full potential and from enjoying life to its fullest.
I couldn’t bring myself to dance in public for fear that people would point and laugh. At work I was unable to voice my opinions for fear they’d be thought stupid. And at my lowest point, even walking down the street became a struggle, as my mind ran wild with images of people talking about and laughing at me as I went by.
I lived a half-life. I knew I was missing out. I also knew I had so much more to contribute to this world. But I was paralyzed by the fear that if I put myself out there I’d be ridiculed and rejected.
And so the “real me” remained cocooned somewhere inside. I knew she was there, I knew who she was, but fear kept her trapped.
But sixteen months ago, things began to shift. Filled with an increasing sense that I wasn’t living my purpose and a vast emptiness from the lack of meaning my life seemed to have, I quit my corporate office job in search of answers, determined to live a more fulfilling life.
I made a commitment to myself then to face each and every one of my fears and to find a way to reconnect to the real Leah and let her out into the world.
The last sixteen months of my life have been challenging, as I commit every day to living a little further outside my comfort zone. But being in that space of discomfort and crossing the threshold from fear into courage has led to the fulfilment I craved as I realize just how much I’m capable of.
I’d by lying if I said I no longer gave a second thought to what others think, but for the most part I can push past that to do the things I know I need to do.
And so it is that I arrived in Covent Garden, in the hope of now encouraging others to free themselves of that fear of what others think and embrace life in its entirety.
And so there I stood, on the crowded streets of London that evening, holding a sign handcrafted from old cereal boxes, saying:
“How often does the fear of what other people think stop you from doing something?”
The reaction to this simple question left me gobsmacked.
People stopped and took notice.
Some smiled knowingly, acknowledging that their own lives had been affected by the fear of what others think.
Some nodded with something of a sad look on their face. Perhaps there was something they really wanted to do but were being held back by that fear.
Others engaged in conversation, sharing their stories of how the fear of what other people thought had touched their lives or how they’d learned not to care so much.
That day, I experienced for the very first time the extent to which the fear of what other people think affects our lives—all of our lives. What might we be capable of if we could let go of that fear?
I went home that evening having learned some valuable lessons…
You’re never alone.
Too often we suffer our fears in silence. We believe ourselves to be the only one.
Everywhere we look we seem to be surrounded by confident people.
But I’ve come to realize that everyone—those who appear confident or shy; extroverts of introverts—we all, each and every one of us, are struggling with our own fears.
When the fear of what other people think is holding you back, take a look around and remember, everyone is living with his or her own fear. You are not alone.
By confronting your fears, you help others confront theirs.
More than anything, when you stop caring what others think and set out to achieve your goals and dreams, you give others the power to do the same.
Someone is always watching and wishing they had your courage. By stepping up to your own fears, you really do help others face theirs.
Be vulnerable and honest. Being open about your fears and confronting them head on could be the greatest gift you ever give.
What you think they think isn’t the reality.
Those people over there? The ones you think are talking about you? Judging you? They’re not. Really. They don’t have time. They’re too busy worrying about what people are thinking about them!
And even if they were looking at you, judging you, talking about you, you can be almost certain they’re not saying the awful things you imagine.
Instead, they’re envying the color of your hair, your shoes, the way you look so confident.
What we think people think of us usually doesn’t come close to the reality.
Freedom from the fear of what others think is possible.
The fear of what other people think of us is like a cage.
Over time you become so used to being inside that cage you eventually come to forget what the outside might be like. You resign yourself to living within its walls.
By taking deliberate and purposeful action to overcome the fear of what others think of you, you slowly regain your freedom and escape from the confines of the prison you’ve created for yourself.
And life outside that cage? It’s pretty awesome!
It’s a place where you can be the person you always knew you were meant to be.
And that, being fully self-expressed, being everything you know you are, fulfilling your greatest potential in life, well, that’s the greatest feeling you could ever know.
Don’t let the fear of what other people think stop you from living the life you were born to live.
Photo by PhObOss
What I Learned When I Stopped Caring About What Other People Thought of Me
We care too much about what other people think of us, and it prevents us from doing the things we want to do, or being who we truly are.
From what we order at a restaurant to the workout we do in the gym, sometimes we care too much about what other people think, and adjust our actions accordingly. Will they judge me or think I look stupid we wonder, and we may do something other than what we want based on what we assume they’ll think.
You’ve done it, and so have I. As a personal trainer I’ve had clients tell me they didn’t want to deadlift at the gym because they were afraid of “looking stupid.” We may dress a certain way because it’s how we assume others expect us to look. How much of our lives have been affected because we care too much about what other people think (or what we assume they think)?
The solution is simple, but not necessarily easy:
Stop caring about what other people think and actively live your life.
I committed to practicing that strategy and here are 10 things I’ve discovered.
1. This is the most obvious benefit: life is better when you’re not so concerned about how other people will view you for your actions, choices, and decisions. There’s great freedom from doing what makes you happy; being authentically yourself. Whether this is something as simple as how you dress, the career path you choose, or anything else. When you’re true to yourself and don’t allow the assumed thoughts of others dictate your choices, life possibilities expand, and your joy increases.
2. We’re overly concerned with what others think of us, and don’t even realize it. Once I stopped basing many of my choices off of what I expected other people to think, or how they might react, I couldn’t help but notice that many do what I used to: make choices based on the concern of others’ opinions.
Here’s a common example: have you ever chosen a meal at a restaurant based on what everyone else at the table ordered? You’re at a restaurant known for its incredible brick oven pizza but everyone ordered a grilled chicken salad. When it was your turn to order instead of saying, “Margarita pizza, please,” you went along with the crowd and echoed, “I guess I’ll have the chicken salad too.”
I’m willing to bet you’ve done this (I have too); research has shown that our drink and meal choices are influenced by what people around us order, so you’re not alone. The solution is simple: order what you want regardless of what everyone else is having. It may feel strange at first if you’re used to going along with the crowd, but it gets easier over time.
So next time, get the pizza if you want the pizza.
3. Many people don’t care nearly as much as we think they will. I can attest to this. I used to be overly concerned with how I dressed. I’d wear what I thought other people expected me to wear. Come to discover, they don’t give a damn. Many times we expect people to have a greater opinion over our choices than they do, likely because they’re concerned with their own lives and choices (and may be overly concerned with what youthink about their choices!).
Next time you find yourself being self-conscious or worried about what someone else may think of your choices, remember that you’re likely blowing things out of proportion. Don’t allow fear of the what-ifs prevent you from doing the things you want to do.
4. People like you more. When you don’t base your life choices on what you assume other people might think, people are free to see the real you. This authenticity — raw beauty stripped of the facade — is illuminating. Those who already like you will begin to appreciate you even more.
This leads to genuine, lasting relationships. I’ll take this over superficial, small talk acquaintances any day.
5. People who didn’t like you in the first place still won’t like you. You may not see this as a benefit, so allow me to explain. If someone didn’t like you when you were trying to be what they wanted or expected, they may still not like you once you stop caring what they think. This, in my opinion, is a good thing. Not everyone will like you; get over it and let these people fall to the wayside. You don’t need them in your life.
As I always say: better to be disliked for who you truly are than loved for what you’re pretending to be.
For a personal example, years ago I considered changing my southern drawl because I’d been made fun of repeatedly and some declared me ignorant because of how I speak. I’ve been called everything from hillbilly, redneck, to just straight up stupid. At one point, I was ready to trade in my southern twang for what others claimed was a more appropriate, educated-sounding vernacular.
Then I realized I was going to change something about myself, not because I wanted to, but because I cared about what other people thought more than what I wanted. In the end, I decided that if people wanted to judge me by the way I speak that I wouldn’t care; after all, it would be a reflection on them and couldn’t offend me unless I allowed it to.
I’m pleased to say my southern twang remains firmly gripped to my tongue. It ain’t goin’ anywhere, y’all.
6. You establish a clear idea of what you want to accomplish. Once I stopped caring about others’ opinions, my personal goals and desires became much more apparent. I was free to pursue my passions without the burden of wondering What will they think of me and adjusting my course.
Now, I know what I want to do in the immediate future, and I have a better vision for the distant future as well. I now ask What do I want to accomplish and What feels right to meinstead of wondering What will they think of me.
7. Some people suck. Some people will always judge you. Some will always gossip about you. Whether you do what they think is right or do what you want, they will always be there to criticize your every decision. These same individuals likely don’t follow The One Rule to Not Suck at Life (i.e., don’t be an asshole), so they’re allowing their true character to shine forth.
Some may forever be assholes, but others may be inspired by your actions — when you begin to do the things you want to do and not caring what they, or anyone else, think. Regardless, there will always be negative people in this world and someone will always judge you for something. Therefore the only logical solution is to remain true to yourself, do the things that feel right to you, lead the life you want to live, and realize with some people you can’t win, so don’t waste your breath trying.
And, remember: don’t complain about things you can’t change. A simple solution is to shut-up and do something.
8. You experience less stress. Trying to be something you’re not is exhausting. Dictating your choices on the assumed thoughts of others is suffocating. When you are yourself, this stress melts away. Interestingly, I didn’t realize how much unnecessary stress I was experiencing from being concerned with what other people thought of me until I quit doing so.
Life is stressful enough; let’s not increase it by being overly concerned with what other people think.
9. Integrity abounds. What you do is in line with your values. I respect others who hold true to their values (even if they’re different than mine) more than those who bend at the whim of society or other people.
You can act with integrity and live a meaningful life, or you can get ping-ponged back and forth constantly making choices that other people want you to make. You can’t have it both ways.
Know what you want. Do what feels right to you. Don’t be afraid to explore. Hold firmly to your integrity.
10. Growth becomes easier, and enjoyable. With each passing year, my life experiences increase, and I get a bit smarter. This accumulating experience and knowledge, coupled with actively living my life and not allowing the assumed thoughts of others control me, has allowed me to grow as a human.
My viewpoints on certain issues have evolved over the years, but any changes made to my values or opinions happen because they’re important to me; I’m not basing my values on what I think other people want, or expect. As a result, my growth as a woman and human is easier and enjoyable — I change certain things because I want to and because they’re important to me.
In summation, life is better when we actively live our lives and don’t allow what other people think (or oftentimes what we incorrectly assume other people think) dictate our choices. Be authentically, unapologetically yourself and stop caring about what other people think. When you do, you’ll reap the 10 benefits explained above, and likely many more.
If you enjoyed this article you’ll also likeThe Ultimate Guide on How to Stop Caring About What Other People Think And Live The Life You Want.
Nia Shanks writes at NiaShanks.com (a.k.a. Lift Like a Girl). Her goal is to help women become the best version of themselves using simple, no nonsense health, fitness, and lifestyle information.
This article originally appeared on NiaShanks.com.