Let’s start this shindig by clarifying what that title does and doesn’t mean.
Learning how to stop caring what others think doesn’t mean…
…totally disregarding other people’s feelings.
…being an asshole.
…going it alone.
Learning how to stop caring what others think does mean…
…freedom from excessive caring and worry that turns into anxiety.
…freedom to take charge and create your best life – whatever that may look like for you – without letting what other people think hold you back.
And what makes me an expert on this topic? The fact that I used to be a total doormat. If you picture my life as a house, then I was a doormat in that house. A doormat that other people would step on on their way to take whatever they might be in need of. My time. My attention. My brain capacity. My patience. My concrete acts of service. It was all there, door unlocked, freely available for the first taker.
All because I cared too much about what they might think. I was afraid they would call me selfish. I was afraid they would call me mean. Inflexible. Stubborn. Stupid. Bad. A bad person. Worthless.
So I cared. I got an A+ for caring.
But that’s pretty much all I got. I got that one A+, but with it came an F for well-being, F for happiness, and eventually, an F for will to live. I hated my life. I hated my life, because my own well-being and happiness were always on the backburner, my days driven by other people’s agendas.
Fast-forward to today.
Today, I have graduated from doormat to a door. A good solid door with a double lock. People no longer enter my life at will. People’s judgments and opinions no longer enter my life at will. They ring the doorbell and I look through the peephole before I decide what and who is worth caring about.
I’m in charge of my own life.
In this article, I want to share with you the exact steps I took to get where I am today. The steps I took in order to stop worrying about other people’s judgments and opinions and to put the focus on myself and my own life.
How To Stop Caring What Others Think And Focus On Yourself
1. Figure Out Who You Are And What You Want In Life
I kinda feel like I’m harping on about this same thing in every article on this website. But it’s something that’s so important it deserves some harping.
I believe that knowing yourself and then bringing your life into alignment with that knowledge is nothing less but the key to happiness.
When you are walking the path that you know in your bones is the right path for you, you will lose interest in anybody else’s path and whatever they may be yapping about while they are on it.
If you want to focus less on others, then make your own life so interesting that it demands your focus.
Create a vision for your ideal life.
Make it so enticing that nothing else matters.
And those other people over there on that other path?
Just. Not. Interesting.
2. Establish Non-Negotiable Boundaries
Think about the ways in which caring too much about what other people think has hurt you the most.
Does your excessive caring lead you to spend time on people and activities you get nothing out of and consequently lead you to have less time for people and activities that are more rewarding?
Does your excessive caring lead you to overcommit and take on more responsibility than you can realistically handle?
Does your excessive worry make you a perfectionist in areas of life that, come to think of it, you don’t actually give two shits about?
Does your excessive worry hold you back from expressing your creative side?
Does your excessive worry paralyze you and stop you from following your dreams?
Whatever it is – whatever is valuable to you right now that you are not accessing because of the excessive caring – draw an imaginary boundary around it that cannot be crossed. No matter what.
My life used to be dictated by other people’s agendas. Other people’s needs. Other people’s preferences. I was so consumed by worrying about other people that I didn’t take good care of myself. And this is how caring too much about what other people think has hurt me the most.
Nowadays my own agenda rules. In particular, I made a firm decision that I would never again compromise taking care of my own basic needs for other people’s benefit. I won’t set myself on fire to keep other people warm.
Here are my valuables:
- A minimum of eight hours of sleep every single night.
- An hour of exercise every single morning.
- Three healthy-according-to-my-definition meals every single day.
- Several hours of alone time to recharge several times a week.
- Several hours of writing time every week.
I imagined my valuables as pieces of furniture in my house. The same house where I graduated from doormat to door. 😉 And then I imagined myself building a tall fence around my house. That’s the boundary that cannot be crossed.
It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about my valuables. They can think I’m inflexible and anti-social and weird. They can think that all they want. But they can’t penetrate the boundary. The fence is too tall and I added some barb wire and a barking dog that only listens to me.
They can’t penetrate the boundary. They can’t take away the health and happiness I get from my valuables. Because I keep my valuables safe. No matter what.
3. Become The Boss Of Your Own Life
I’m typically not too into the “fake it till you make it” mentality. When I’ve tried to fake it in the past, I haven’t usually made it.
But here’s an exception. In this one case, I’m going to advice you to fake it till you make it.
I started acting like I was the boss of my own life before I felt ready. I started acting like I was the boss of my own life when I was still terribly worried about what other people think and when I was still mired in self doubt.
I agonized and worried about it, but I did it anyway.
I started living my life guided solely by my own values and by my own goals. The ones I had decided were the right ones for me.
I graduated from doormat to a door. I started guarding my valuables.
I started saying no to people and activities that were draining, which gave me more time to say yes to people and activities that brought me joy.
And you know what? Terrible things didn’t happen. The world didn’t come to an end.
Quite the opposite.
I started experiencing the kind of calm and happiness I had never known before.
If I had waited until I felt ready, I would probably still be waiting.
The feeling of not caring came after taking action. When I actually experienced the rewards of living life in alignment with my own truth, it gave me the firm conviction I had wanted to feel. The conviction that I knew what was best for me and anybody else’s opinions on this issue were of little significance.
4. Learn To Care Selectively
Letting go of excessive worry over what other people think doesn’t mean never listening to another person’s point of view again. Sometimes other people can actually be helpful. The trick is learning to tune out unwanted judgments, while remaining open to valuable insights.
Instead of being the doormat and letting any old knucklehead’s real or imaginary judgments determine the course of your life, be the door and be in charge of determining who is worth paying attention to. Before you open the door to just anyone, learn to ask some screening questions:
- Is this person capable of seeing things from your point of view or is this person simply seeking validation for their own experience?
- Does this person know the full story or is this person making a lot of inaccurate assumptions?
- Does this person have your best interests at heart and does this person recognize how your best interests might be different from his/her best interests?
- Is this person an expert in this specific area?
- Has this person overcome similar obstacles as you?
- Does this person have similar priorities as you?
- Does paying attention to this person move you forward in your life?
And my all-time favorite question of all questions:
- Is this person living the life you want to live?
There are two ways to use these questions.
First, whenever you feel the worry rising because you are afraid of someone’s judgment, try to remember to intercept the worry by asking these questions. In all honesty, it will probably feel really awkward and it won’t do much to alleviate the worry the first few times. But the longer you stick with this practice, the more it will start helping. Questioning the judgy person’s motives and expertise will become so automatic that this mindset will take over before you have a chance to get all tied up in knots with worry.
Second, actively look for people who pass the screening questions. In real life, online, in books. The more you are able to find voices that are actually worth caring about and the more you fill your consciousness with those voices, the less you will care about the negative chatter that is holding you back in life.
5. Send Judgments Back To Where They Came From
Let’s say you are feeling judged by Someone. Let’s say you ask the screening questions above and the Someone doesn’t pass and you keep the door closed to guard your valuables.
But instead of leaving you alone, the Someone is still there carrying the judgment. Hanging out, standing right outside the fence where you can still see him, not leaving.
For these pesky situations, I have one more trick up my sleeve.
You can send the judgment back to where it came from. You can judge people back!
For example, let’s say I’m afraid that the Someone will think I’m a selfish asshole for declining to participate in this or that Socialathon in order to attend to my valuables. I could cave in and participate when I don’t want to. Or I could simply judge the Someone back:
- If the Someone is really going to think that I’m a selfish asshole for wanting to take care of my own needs, then the Someone is a selfish asshole for asking me to sacrifice my needs for a Socialathon I’m not interested in.
Simple but kinda revolutionary, right? 😉
It works wonders. And since you and I are not assholes, we don’t even need to voice these judgments out loud to anyone. We can just do this whole exercise in our imaginations and go on living our merry lives without the Someone holding us back anymore.
To learn how to stop caring what others think is not a war that can be won in one battle. You will make some progress and sink into worry, make some progress and sink into worry, over and over and over again. But each time you climb out of the worry hole, it will be just a tiny bit easier.
And if there ever was a war that’s worth fighting, this is it.
Because once you are in charge of your own life, you will be unstoppable!