Imagine you have to do a group project for class; the other people in your group seem pretty smart and outspoken. So, you step back and let them run the show. But as you are working on your project, you realize that it isn’t turning out that great.
You think about telling your group members that you want to make some changes but you are worried that they are going to get mad or make fun of you. You ultimately decide to keep your mouth shut. So when it comes time for your group to turn in your project you end up getting a bad grade.
This is a very common situation for people struggling to develop confidence or overcome insecurity. When you have a great idea or a strong opinion about something you back down simply because you are scared about what other people will think or say.
Often times we obsess about worst-case scenarios where everything that can go wrong does go wrong. In our heads, these scenarios seem absolutely terrifying even if the reality isn’t scary at all.
To answer that question let’s look at something called a cognitive distortion. Cognitive distortions are biased and often irrational ways to view the world around us which we accidentally reinforce on a daily basis.
They can create anxieties, doubts, and fears by building upon a foundation of faulty assumptions and misinformation. In other words, people over-exaggerate and overgeneralize all the time.
For example, let us say that you are on a stage giving a speech and someone in the audience laughs. A laugh can mean a lot of different things but in this context, your brain may automatically assume that they are laughing at you. Once you’ve decided that they are laughing at you all other logical options seem to disappear.
Another person very well could have leaned over and told them a joke but your brain is so stuck in this negative thought pattern that it won’t even consider any other possibilities. Since you probably don’t make a habit of second-guessing your own brain you end up feeling embarrassed, shameful and sad about something that may have had nothing to do with you.
If you are someone who struggles with anxiety and insecurity, you may jump to these disastrous conclusions a few times a day. It’s very easy to assume that every negative thing that happens around you is a product of your own failures and mistakes.
In fact, these feelings are so strong that your brain will do everything it can to avoid putting you in a similar situation. So, when you are thinking about talking to your group members about changing the project, your brain is worried about a worst case scenario that essentially doesn’t exist.
If you let them, these negative assumptions can completely control your life. So you need to learn how to identify and overcome your irrational fears. To help you do just that, here are 4 strategies you can use if you care too much about what other people think.
Also read: 5 Simple ways to make people like you
Next time you find yourself backing away from an opportunity just because you are scared about being judged take a minute to ask yourself this one important question, “What is the worst thing that could happen?”
Often times when we are panicking about that worst-case scenario we don’t actually take time to organize and think through our feelings instead our brains become a whirlwind of negative emotions like fear and shame that prevent us from making intelligent decisions.
When your brain is scared of something, it will always seek out the safest possible course which is usually to avoid the situation completely. If you are worried about messing up the speech, your brain will tell you not to give one.
If you are nervous about talking to new people, your brain will convince you are better off alone. But is that really true? By forcing yourself to answer the question of what is the worst thing that could happen you are making your brain analyze those emotional and often illogical choices.
Once you slow down and look a bit closer, you will realize that those negative outcomes either don’t make sense or aren’t actually that bad.
If you do mess up your speech couldn’t you just correct yourself and keep going? If you start talking to a new person and they are mean to you can’t you just leave and talk to someone else? Because your brain is instinctively programmed to protect you it will make these kinds of mistakes pretty often.
So whenever you notice your anxieties controlling your behavior take a few minutes to think it through and decide whether or not your fears are worth being afraid of.
When you step into any social situation, it’s tempting to believe that everyone in the room is watching you. For example, if you spill food on your shirt you might start panicking because it feels like everyone just saw you do something really embarrassing and will criticize you for it.
Phycologists have called this extremely common state of mind the “imaginary audience” since people frequently feel like they’re the center of attention, whether they want to be or not.
What most people don’t realize, however, is that everyone no matter how well-liked, talented or intelligent they may be is a person just like you. Chances are they have their own set of fears and insecurities that they are also worried about everyone else noticing.
So, when you are concerned about what other people will think, try flipping the situation around. If you saw someone else accidentally spill food on their shirt, would you think badly about them? Would you think that they are dumb, gross or clumsy?
99% of the time the answer is going to be NO! So why should you be worried when the same exact situation happens to you?
Imagine you want to become a professional artist, but up until now, you’ve been too scared to show your work to anyone. You are worried that people will hate or insult it, so you’ve always kept it to yourself.
One day you finally work up the courage to show a few paintings online. You get a bunch of feedback, some positive and some negative until one person writes a mean comment saying that you have zero talent and are wasting your time.
The truth is that people tend to hurt others like this when they themselves are feeling hurt in some way. This situation is especially common online because of how easy it is to stay anonymous and hide behind our computer screens.
When someone does bash something that you really worked hard on, it’s important to remember that it’s more of a reflection on them than it is on you. While this might seem like a very specific situation, tuning hateful people out is actually an important skill to learn. While you are working on stepping out of your comfort zone, there will always be people who don’t like you.
Now am not talking about people who offer you constructive criticism because negative comments are valuable to help you learn and grow. If someone tells you that you are making a mistake but is doing it to allow you to recognize and fix your own flaws that person is worth listening to. But there will also be people who simply want to see you fail. Life is full of them so you need to learn who to listen to and who to tune out.
One of the biggest reasons we spend so much time focusing on what other people think is because we believe our happiness depends on our relationships. We think that if we don’t win over the people in our class or at work then we are going to feel empty and left out.
These negative thoughts often stem from a deeper insecurity which tells you that you need to spend less time worrying about other people and more time getting to know yourself.
Even people with dozens of friends can struggle with anxiety and social fears because they’ve let themselves be defined by the people around them. You might have spent your whole life latched under close friends and family so you never develop the independence or self-confidence to stop caring about how other people view you.
Luckily, there is a very simple solution. Take some time to get to know who you are as an individual. Figure out what you really like and what your dreams are because you might discover that you are dramatically different person on your own. It’s much easier to overcome insecurity when you are being true to who you are. So, instead of letting your relationships define who you are let who you are define who you spend your time with.