How To Not Care What Other People Think
(Hint: You Can't)
The safety of the tribe
Not caring what other people think seems like a prerequisite for success. It is truly going your own way, doing your own thing, you being you, right? The ideal of the independent thinker, not held back by convention, a true visionary.
It is also impossible. A ridiculous fantasy that just serves to distract you from the path to real satisfaction and happiness.
It has been said that humans are social animals. But that is not emphasizing the importance of other people enough.
Individually we are weak and fragile. Our killer app isn’t our intelligence per se, it is how our intelligence allows us to harness our collective power. An individual caveman is in danger. A caveman with their tribe is a force stoppable only by another caveman with their tribe.
That supposedly “independent” thinker? How do they eat? How do they clothe themselves? Are they truly rejecting each and every system of thought and tool that has gone before them? And if so, isn’t very rejection also dependent on the work of those previous thinkers, though in opposition rather than alignment?
No one creates success from a blank sheet of paper. Every true visionary learned from other people even if they later added to that knowledge in novel and revolutionary ways.
All this means that caring about what other people think of you is normal. We are hardwired to avoid being kicked out of the tribe. It’s impossible to change.
Feelings are real but are not reality
So does this mean we doomed to be dominated by our fear of being embarrassed in front of other people?
Not at all.
First off, feeling something and acting on that feeling are two different things. Just because there is no possibility of your being able to stop caring what other people think doesn’t mean you have no control.
One pathway to deal with this caveman need for tribal approval is to ignore the discomfort that arises when you are doing something contrary to what other people think.
Just suck it up. Stop trying to figure out how to make the uneasiness go away and just move forward anyway. Push through your discomfort and be brave.
It also helps to realize that though you are hardwired to deeply care what other people think, that doesn’t mean you are accurate about what other people think.
Other people only see your actions. They do not see you as you are inside, not your motivations, be they base and noble. So they can’t actually judge you for that.
That voice in your head that pushes you to avoid shame is really your own words in other peoples’ voices. It’s your own self-criticism in the guise of what you imagine other people will criticize you about.
In reality everyone has these fears and insecurities. So take solace and comfort in the fact that other people also worry about what other people think. They worry about what YOU think.
And since you already know that in general you spend more time thinking about yourself than you do about other people, remember that they do too. People are most often too concerned about themselves to bother judging other people and even when they do, it is usually motivated by something internally.
Find your tribe
But this is just addresses your own internal conversation.
We regularly encounter people who actually are naysayers. Some of these could ostensibly be well-meaning but ill-informed. But quite often they are talking you down because they are unconsciously afraid that your success will shine a light on how their own insecurities are holding them back.
The coward is more afraid of courage than of danger because danger is a good reason to run whereas courage puts a lie to all their excuses.
So “other people” exist, their criticism is real. But you still have control. Because, who are these “other people”?
Are they people you respect and want to emulate? If they are, then their opinion matters. If they are not, then it doesn’t. Simple as that.
Caring about the opinion of people you respect or who have similar values or goals as yourself is encouraging rather than discouraging. Even if that feedback is negative, it will help you to be more effective in walking your path towards those same goals.
So go find those people. Be ashamed of things that really are shameful rather than things that are different from the way idiots think they should be.
Fundamentally, we have drives and we have choices. Caring for what other people think is an instinctual drive and cannot be turned off. But we are not doomed to make choices solely based on these instincts.
Since you cannot help but worry about what other people think, make sure that your “other people” really exist rather than being your own insecurities in a different voice. and make sure that these actual “other people” are worthy of being listened to in the first place.
Go find your tribe and be courageous.