As some of you may know, I fancy myself somewhat of a modern day stoic. Stoicism has been around for ages and it is a take on life that makes life a whole lot less miserable. One of the main principles of stoicism is that you don’t care about anything that’s going on outside of your head, especially if you don’t have any influence on it. This applies to a multitude of things and although I agree with this old axiom, I think there’s a multitude of instances where we should care about stuff outside our control, as long as we have enough influence to make a difference. Today I want to share a bit about handling what others think of you, and how not caring about this will give you more peace of mind.
You can’t control what others think of you
The only thing we have control of is what’s going on in our own mind. We are responsible for our own thoughts and behaviour towards others. This means that others are in control of their mind and their thoughts as well and you have zero influence on that. Sure, you can do all kinds of things to make someone like you and have good thoughts about you, but in the end, their view of you will always be different from what you think, or want them to be. In other words, it is impossible to control what others think of you, although being nice goes a long way to influence their thoughts about you.
What’s more important is the people who have a negative view of you, for whatever reason and somehow, their view of you affects you. You want them to like you, but for some reason you can’t. And these are the people that probably most bother you. Why can’t Karen from HR like me? What did I ever do to her? Well, maybe it wasn’t anything in particular. Sometimes people just don’t like you, for whatever reason. Or maybe it’s because you stole her lunch from the office fridge that was clearly labeled Karen’s lunch, don’t touch!:P Or they might just hate all people, like a good misanthrope, or maybe they just don’t like the looks you’re giving them. You have zero control on this and realizing this can be a good first step towards acceptance of this fact. Not everyone will like you, even though it is almost ingrained in our nature that we want everyone to like us.
Stop getting onto the thoughttrain to “People don’t like me”-ville
An important part of meditation is not giving attention to your thoughts. Recognizing that you’re thinking, observing this fact and then letting go of the thought. I find that practicing this makes it even more easy to let go of thoughts like “Why doesn’t person X like me?”. It also helps that I no longer feel a a need to have fictional conversations with people who clearly don’t like me for whatever reason, or trying to figure out why exactly this is. All these kinds of thoughts are fruitless and even if you think you’ve gone of all the different options in certain conversations they’ll always be different in real life. I know, because I used to be a heavy overthinker.
I know it’s not easy to stop our thoughts from taking us for a ride. But recognizing that we are thinking makes it a lot easier to let go of them. Especially if you’re thinking in what-ifs and if-only type of thoughts. Does that mean that we should stop caring entirely about what people think of us? Well, no, of course not. I still think it’s important that Bren and my best friends and family think well of me, but the only way you can achieve that is by not being a total douche and just being a nice person in general. And you can only achieve that by being genuine and doing things for others without expecting anything in return. Unless it’s a business transaction where you agreed upon service X for payment Y, you should never expect anything in return. The simple fact that you’re doing something for someone you love or like should never be with the intention of being rewarded for it, or to keep it close to the subject of this blog, you shouldn’t expect someone to like you more if you keep doing them favours. That’s a perfect way to end up becoming a doormat and you really don’t want to become one.
Letting go of the urge to be liked
When I was in my twenties I used to go to a lot of parties and I had dozens of “friends”. Even at that age I was already making a clear distinction between my best friends and people who I considered friends, but I knew would never reach that same level of deep connection as my best friends. Time can only be spent once and you have to carefully choose how to spend it and on whom. At least, that’s how I think about this. But back then, I wanted to please everyone and so I would rarely miss any party, for fear of missing out (I’ll write more about “FOMO” in a future article), but mostly because I didn’t want to let other people down.
Skip forward to 2021, where I had my burn-out and finally could admit that I was doing it wrong all this time by cramming my schedule full of appointments just to please my friends. I knew that this approach was exhausting and I was finally able to admit that it is okay to so “No”. In this modern day and age it is very easy to get busy really fast. But honestly, people will understand if you are honest and say “No” to coming to their party. If they don’t, that is their problem, not yours. You can always say that you’re really tired and need some time for yourself and that you’d love to see them at some later time. Very often this is even better, because you can just meet 1-on-1, giving you both the time to catch up. This is something that you can’t really do at parties, because there are a lot of people around and the one throwing the party is often occupied all night long talking to everyone, and keeping the party going.
The best kind of people are those who understand that you’re a human being and that you can’t always be there all the time, because you also need time for yourself. And if they get angry, or frustrated, don’t question yourself, but them. It always says more about them than it does about you, remember that. If you have a legitimate reason for not wanting to go, and that includes a need for rest, then just be honest. They might not like what they hear, but at least they’ll know you are an honest and genuine person and that’s better than sacrificing your own (mental) health just to please them. Sometimes you have to put yourself in first place, so everyone can enjoy your company for a long time to come.
What truly matters is what you think about yourself
So, hopefully I’ve given you some food for thought. In the end, what matters if whether you think well of yourself. If you’re a decent human being, you can always look into the mirror knowing you’ve been true to yourself and that you don’t care too much about what others think of you. I know I said you shouldn’t care about what others think, but there are a few exceptions, like your spouse, friends, family and children. The ones you are willing to invest time, effort and love into. But with just the right amount of not caring about what everyone else thinks about you, you should save yourself a lot of energy and most importantly time. Thinking in what-ifs and if-only thought patterns is a big waste of time. Surely it can be nice to fantasize sometimes, but I’m referring to the overly negative ones whenever something went wrong and you wish you’d done things differently, or you wish the outcome of a certain event had gone different from your expectations. Always keep your expectations low, and you’ll rarely be disappointed. There are just too many factors outside of your control, most of the time, anyway. But there is always one thing you have complete control over and that’s your own thoughts and if there’s one thing that really helps me it’s not caring about the wrong things and giving just enough fucks about the things that are important to me. I’m happy I’ve reached this point in my life pretty early on, because I know a lot of people my age (I’m 40) and over are still struggling to find ways to deal with stuff like this and I always find it hard to offer any solid advice, but I hope I manged to do that in this blog! Did you find this read helpful, or do you have any tips of your own? Please let me know in the comments below! 🙂