How to Not Care What People Think of You – and Release Your People-Magnetic Self Into the Conversation
You arrive for a party at a friend’s house and open the front door. It seems all eyes are on you as you walk into the room. Nervous thoughts rush through your mind: “What are they thinking about me?” “Does he think I’m weird?” and “Is that person laughing at my looks?”
When you think others always judge you, you become socially awkward, talk less, and shut-down. This is essentially a social anxiety disorder. It becomes difficult to socialize, have fun, and make friends.
I often get asked how someone can overcome these thoughts where they worry what others think because I had the same problem years ago. I fretted over people’s judgments of me in conversations and general social situations. I stand at 6’9” (206cm) and attract attention where I go (at least that’s what my inner-voice told me). Some people go about their day as I walk by while others gawk. I’m tall, not deaf! I had thoughts like, “Why are they looking at me like that?” destroyed my ability to socially enjoy myself until I discovered a few secrets I will share with you in this article that transformed me into a confident, happy, powerful person.
Surviving the Brutality of People’s Thoughts
Why are you concerned what people think of you? Take time as you explore your concerns. Analyze your unexplored fears and anxieties. Read on once you have thought deeply about this question.
As you explore your worries and anxieties about people’s thoughts towards you, you will see the problem boils down to worrying if people accept or approve you. Your worries center on accurate mind-reading in hope of adjusting yourself to be accepted or approved by people.
Social acceptance is important for everyone. If our ancestors were rejected and ostracized from their tribe, it was a death sentence because they had to confront other tribes and animals while hunting and gathering food by themselves. It was near impossible to survive alone.
Your fears are a survival mechanism so it is okay to want acceptance, but because interactions and group structures have changed after thousands of years, you have outdated ways of thinking and behaving. What thoughts and beliefs helped humans thousands of years ago – even you last year – are unlikely to serve you well now. When you worry what people think of you, does it help you survive? Does it improve your conversation skills?
…chokes your social skills as you become unable to release your real, powerful self into the conversation.
If you think about thinking about people’s thoughts, you see the anxious process does more harm than good. It chokes your social skills as you struggle to release your real, powerful self into the conversation. When you try to determine people’s judgments towards you, your perception of their social judgments creates inhibition and blinds your natural, magnetic personality.
We worry what people think of us more than we know:
- You keep quiet in a meeting as you withhold your ideas in fear of saying the wrong thing and being rejected. From a survival perspective, the fear makes sense because you could be ostracized from the workplace and lose your job, money, and lifestyle. In reality, suggesting an idea will never cause such a drastic outcome (unless you say something absurd like, “Let’s steal from the poor”, but even then your coworkers will probably laugh-off your remarks).
- When you talk to your spouse, you know something needs to be said, but you keep quiet because you fear his or her reaction. From a survival perspective, this could ultimately result in a break up where your genes cease to pass onto the next generation. If you say what is on your mind, however, your relationship strengthens because you discuss what really matters. (Difficult Conversations is a great book for these tough conversations.)
- You avoid doing something silly or unusual in public because you fear other people will label you as “weird”. Some couples do not kiss in public because they worry what the viewing public will think. The same survival principles hold true again: the fear originates from being ostracized from society. No one is going to reject you – yet alone remember you – because you did something you consider an embarrassment.
If you do something people consider daring, they may put you down, but they will admire your courage. More often than not, something that is “out there” may not even be “out there” because we fathom what constitutes safety. Giving your opinion in a conversation is not going to determine if you live or die even if it appears daring to you.
Although it is uncomfortable to take action on something you are inhibited over, the return is greater than the initial expense. When you decide to not mind-read people in your conversations, your discomfort increases the same time your power increases. This is as certain as water grows a plant. Facing the uncomfortable makes you powerful.
Your Innate Gift of Mind-Reading
Our ability to infer a person’s mental state is referred by psychologists as having a “theory of mind”. The survival mechanism of mind-reading adapts you to diverse people. It is powerful if you know how to use it.
Researchers agree our theory of mind develops around two years of age. Toddlers can calculate people’s desires, intents, and thoughts. If a toddler sees a crying baby, she infers the distressed baby’s mental state. The toddler may tug her mother’s sleeve, pulling her to comfort the distressed baby. Up until then, you will not see empathetic children with mind-reading skills.
If you were like a baby absent of a theory of mind, you would continuously get in social and emotional trouble. A theory of mind helps you to do the closest thing to mind-reading as you dig into a person’s mind. You are able to see the intangible like: a young boy picked on at school feels hurt and alone; your partner comes home from work smiling, leading you to believe he or she had a good day at work; a depressed friend who recently broke up with her boyfriend leads you to think she needs space for recovery. Your inference into mental states helps adjust your behavior to better accommodate people.
Your inference into mental states helps adjust your behavior to better accommodate people.
What if, however, your friend who broke up with her boyfriend, wants to be comforted by you. Because you guessed she needed space, she would feel neglected, ignored, and more rejected. Inaccurate mind-reading causes relationship destruction.
Tell someone their destructive mental state or intent behind an action, such as, “You’re jealous because you think…”, and you will cause immediate trouble. This is what I refer to as “diagnosing” where we figure out people’s intents behind their actions, which gets us into arguments and detracts from our power with people. (I recommend you read the third chapter on diagnosing of my Communication Secrets of Powerful People for more information about this bad communication habit.)
You are no Magneto, Cyclops, Spiderman, Batman, or Superman, but you have superpowers. You can read people’s minds. Be careful with being consumed by this power, however. Over-reliance on your superpower can make citizens hate you.
Mind-reading also frustrates the beholder. We jeopardize our well-being from judgments because we have limited ability to infer someone’s mental state. A person laughing at a distance who makes eye contact with you may be giggling at a joke, not you. You think people judge you – a useful process when used correctly – but it too often sends you to mental imprisonment. You become anxious and constrain your real self from entering the conversation. Your theory of mind is too often an unreliable tool to calculate what people think.
You were given the ability to read someone’s mind so you could better adapt to the environment. Someone aggressively staring you down triggers thoughts of potential danger, allowing you to change to survive the threat. You can be over-reliant on this skill by worrying about people’s thoughts when there is no concrete evidence (such as nonverbal communication) that signal you need to adjust your behavior. What is used to survive and better connect you with people, separates you.
Approval Versus Acceptance – And Why It Matters to You
Let’s look at a paradoxical outcome seen in the following example of someone concerned about social acceptance and meeting a person’s expectations – and be sure to learn from this example. A guy is meeting his girlfriend’s parents for the first time. He worries about being “good enough” and living up to the high expectations of her parents. He does not want to break up with his girlfriend.
He has two extremes to choose from:
- He gains their approval.
- He gains no approval.
Let’s say the guy chooses the first option. In this situation the guy is determined to get the parents’ approval. He analyzes the situation, thinks, worries, and focuses on what the parents could think. He tries to mind-read the parents, which makes him anxious.
When the guy tries to calculate what the parents expect of him, he gets stressed and anxious. His continual analysis of the parents’ thoughts causes awkward behavior. He becomes fidgety, apologetic, and strangled from his natural self. He gets along great with friends, but when it comes to talking with strangers he feels awful.
In this first situation, the guy forward-thinks and screws his chances of gaining the parents’ approval because he is seen as needy and lacking confidence. The guy needs people to validate his identity, which ironically causes them to disapprove him.
When you need approval, people sense it as neediness then reject you. A weak self causes you to be rejected and makes you feel less worthy. The cycle continues as you develop an inferiority complex where you feel less than others.
People with low self-esteem who worry what others think, get their self-esteem from external sources. They feel good when others think good of them and feel bad when others think bad of them. This is why praise and compliments can be a dangerous communication barrier.
When you derive your powerful self from competence, capability, and self-responsibility – instead of external validation that moderates your behavior – you release your powerful self into the conversation.
In the second situation, the guy does not require the parents’ approval. If he finds something funny, he laughs. If he wants something, he asks for it. If he likes something, he says so. These behaviors are different to the first situation where the guy is fidgety, apologetic, and strangled from his natural self.
You may think “he can’t just ignore the parents’ approval of him because he’ll screw up!” The same thought drives destructive mind-reading: you think mind-reading people’s judgments helps your ability to adapt, but more destruction than construction occurs. Your confidence and self-esteem gets knocked down from the destruction of so-called “adapting”.
It is okay to want people to like you without their approval, but not needing approval is different from reckless behavior and not caring what people think of you. Having no need for approval does not mean you run down the street screaming and waving your hands above your head. Reckless behavior will have you cut from society by getting in prison or a mental institution. A healthy balance is possible. You can moderate behavior without needing people’s approval.
Beyond What People Think of You: How to Become More Powerful in Conversations
An elimination of harmful mind-reading is only the first step to not care what people think about you. Because you infer people’s thoughts to get along with people, the second step is to replace the anxious behavior with something to help you with people. Behavioral adjustment to get people to like you is what mind-reading poorly achieves.
In our example, once the guy does not require his girlfriend’s parents to validate if he is good enough for his girlfriend, the battle is half won. He still needs to adapt. He needs to do things like be polite, friendly, joke around, and other things to gain the parents’ acceptance.
Acceptance differs from approval. Seeking approval passes a test to grant yourself permission to be who you are. It is about being “good enough” to meet someone’s standards. On the other hand, acceptance for our purpose builds a positive response to something that is offered. When you seek acceptance, you have a strong sense of self that you present to people, and whether they accept it is up to them. Should people not accept you, it does not diminish your self-esteem because your powerful self comes from inner worth, not external validation. Approval and acceptance are valuable terms you need to reread, understand, and burn into memory.
If you are to be powerful with people, you must build acceptance by doing things people favor, such as starting interesting conversations, making a good first impression, and using other effective communication techniques. Grow yourself and adapt to situations, but do not feel people must validate your reality. Work towards acceptance, but do not worry for approval. Powerfully confident individuals do not require people’s approval at all. They are concerned about people in their life, but they do not limit or inhibit themselves. They seek acceptance without approval.
Once you know the difference between acceptance and approval, and how to build acceptance, release your spontaneous self that attracts people in conversations. Dr. Maxwell Maltz in The New Psycho-cybernetics writes about self-consciousness and releasing your powerful self into the conversation:
The reason some people are self-conscious and awkward in social situations is simply that they are too consciously concerned, too anxious to do the right thing, and too fearful of saying or doing the wrong thing… If these people could let go, stop trying, not care, and give no thought to the matter of their behavior, they could act creatively, spontaneously, and ‘be themselves’… Your creative mechanism cannot function or work tomorrow – or even a minute from now. Only right now.
The paradoxical effect of releasing yourself in the conversation discussed by Dr. Maltz is that people accept you when you stop trying and start being. We fear revealing our true self into conversation, but when we unleash it, people feel it and become attracted to our authenticity.
The guy in the second situation who does not require the parent’s approval, feels confident and others see it. The parents are more likely to accept him. When you rise above the need for people’s approval, your confidence soars, worrying vanishes, and fear of how others see you stops. You are happy with who you are and what you can do.
It surprises me that the purpose of worrying what people think of you is to get them liking you. It is Zen-like that when you trash such thinking, you achieve its goal.
How to Be Free in the Present Moment
The Power of Now
Follow these tips to pull your mind from the past or future into the present:
- Accept your present feelings. It is okay to feel what you feel.
- Avoid self-criticism.
- Notice bodily sensations. An awareness of your body draws your mind to the present.
- Focus fully on your partner’s words and body language. You cannot predict the future when your mind is occupied with present information.
A great pianist never anticipates, when performing, every detail needed to play a great song. The pianist allows himself to be enthralled in the moment as his natural playing abilities shine through his music. His focus in the moment makes people accept and like his music.
In a conversation, do not anticipate people’s thoughts towards you, then your natural, powerful personality will be seen. You will behave freely as you do with friends. Act as if no one thinks about you because few probably are. Turn-off the imaginary spotlight you see on yourself and you will be amazed at your high self-confidence. Your new-found confidence will radiate into your conversations as you free yourself from inhibition and release your real self.
Be in the now as you surrender yourself to the moment.
I want you to live in the present moment instead of anticipating the future. Be in the now as you surrender yourself to the moment. People’s reactions do not matter because all that matters is how you respond right now.
Your thoughts about people’s thoughts towards you is an outdated way of thinking that destroys your ability to make conversation. Make the shift to act boldly, build internal sources of validation, gain acceptance (instead of approval), and live in the present moment by not anticipating people’s judgments. You will be unconcerned what people think of you as your powerful self releases into the conversation.
(Learn to become authentic, confident, and people-magnetic with the Big Talk Training Course, which will help you confidently socialize. Learn more about this breakthrough course available for download here.)
Joshua Uebergang aka "Tower of Power"
Joshua Uebergang, aka "Tower of Power", teaches social skills to help shy persons build friends and influence people. Visit his blog and sign-up free to get communication techniques, relationship-boosting strategies, and life-building tips by email, along with blog updates, and more! Go now to http://www.towerofpower.com.au/free/