How to Stop Worrying About What Other People Think of You

Yesterday my husband took me out to dinner. As we were waiting for our food he mentioned that a client wanted...

Yesterday my husband took me out to dinner. As we were waiting for our food he mentioned that a client wanted him to change cell phone numbers, and asked me my opinion. To answer his question the way I had understood it, I asked him how much this was going to cost. When he heard my question, he looked at me in disbelief. For him this had nothing to do with money, but with the fact that he didn’t feel like carrying two cell phones around.

I was so intrigued by how differently we had perceived this situation, that it made me realize how biased we are in our assumptions of what other people think. And this in turn reminded me of my past, and how different I am now to the anxious and fearful person I used to be.

As a perfectionist, and people-pleaser I spent a big part of my childhood and adult life worrying about what other people thought of me. On a daily basis I would replay conversations in my head, wondering if I had said or done the right thing. When I was in high school, and later at University, whenever a group of students would stand together talking, if even just one glanced my way, I would immediately assume it was me they were talking about – and probably not in a good way.

Then later on in life, my excessive worry caused me sleepless nights over little conflicts, and friendly disagreements. Any action coming from me that I deemed imperfect would trigger a worry spiral I could hardly get out of.

This constant anxiety was exhausting, and often depressing too.

So yesterday when I understood that I had totally misinterpreted my husband’s question and assumed I knew why he was asking for my opinion, I not only realized how far away my worry days were but also – and more importantly – the incredible dichotomy that existed for many years between what I was worrying about, and what people were actually thinking.

Of course the road to the (almost) worry-free life I’m living now was a bumpy one. The change didn’t happen overnight. But what I want to share with you today, and what I hope you’ll get out of this post, is that there is a way out of your anxieties and into a more peaceful life. I know, because I’ve been there.

And here are five things that helped me to get there:

#1 Don’t assume you know what someone else is thinking

The cell phone example above is a beautiful illustration of how our thinking works – and how wrong we are! We almost always assume we know how other people think and feel, based on our own feelings and thoughts. When we’re cold, we automatically assume everyone around us is. When we’re hungry we often think everyone is ready to eat. When we’re sad we even think the Sun doesn’t shine as hard as usual. You get the picture.

The first thing to do to worry less about what other people think of you is to realize that you’re most probably wrong about your assumptions of what they’re thinking.

#2 When you think you know, go for the best option not the worst

Although the previous point is a very valid one, it’s also hard to do. We are all – always – alone with our thoughts, and our emotions. Just like everyone else is alone with theirs. So assuming we know what someone else is thinking is the normal thing to do. But every time we do we also have the choice to pick the kind of assumptions we make. As a people-pleaser, and perfectionist I always assumed the worse because that’s what I was focusing on. But since what I thought was probably wrong anyway, I might as well have assumed the best.

The second thing to do to worry less about what other people think of you is to reformulate your negative assumptions into positive ones. Instead of worrying about how silly you looked, or how stupid what you said was focus on how wonderful everyone thinks you are. They were probably not thinking about you anyway. Oh but wait, that’s the next point!

#3 People lead busy lives

I lead a busy life, and I bet you do to. In fact, everyone lives a busy life. When you look at the statistics, they’re staggering. On average a worker now produces in 11 hours what a worker in the 1950’s produced in 40. I know, right? The good news is that busy people don’t have a lot of time to spent thinking about other people, and if they do it’s probably not for long.

The third thing to do to worry less about what other people think of you is to remember how busy everyone is, leaving very little room to think about you.

#4 In doubt, ask

Sometimes the worry is all over you. You’re trying to follow tips one, two, and three but nothing’s working. Whatever you do, you keep on tossing and turning that conversation in your head, wondering about the other person. If you’re anything like me, you might even have a few imagined arguments with them in which you’re telling them how it is. Great! You know why? Because if you can’t get it out of your head, it might be time to get it off your chest.

The fourth thing to do to worry less about what other people think of you is to ask them about it. Although this might feel daunting to you now, I promise it will release at least parts of the fears, the worries, and the anxiety that you’re currently experiencing.

#5 Trust, love and appreciate yourself more

And finally, living a zen life is an inside job. I have found no better remedy to anxiety, and worry than to learn to trust, love, and appreciate myself more. The more you do that, the more self-confidence you’ll have, and the less you’ll worry about what other people think of you. Because in the end all that matters is what you think of yourself.

What do you think? (Let me know in the comments below, I’d really love to hear from you!)

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