8 Reasons To Stop Worrying About What Other People Think, According To Philosophy
When you worry about the opinions of others, you hand them your peace of mind.
“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” — Aristotle
When you worry about the opinions of others, you hand them your peace of mind.
You are the captain of your life, the chooser of your fate, the architect and builder of your unique, fleeting, and precious existence. It is yours, not someone else’s — yet we so often allow what others think (or what we think they might think) to direct our actions and our lives rather than our own values and sense of purpose.
It is a disservice to ourselves.
It is a disservice to others.
It is a waste.
I used to let my fear of what other people think back me into a corner. It becomes a prison, like any comfort zone, and it is not to your advantage to stay in it. Why? Because who you are capable of becoming, and the great things in life you desire, are out there, waiting — but to reach them, you must expose yourself to the uncomfortable, and that includes the criticisms and opinions of others.
We can all do ourselves a favor by reducing the headwinds against success by not paralyzing ourselves or slowing down for fear of what others may think.
We are players on a global stage, eyes are on us, yet we must perform as if no one is looking, create without fear of rejection, do without the worry of what someone might think. Philosophy has much to say about this, for most philosophers have faced a generous helping of criticism themselves.
Caring too much about what others think is a detriment to your achievement. Here are eight reasons to do the opposite, according to philosophy.
1. Worrying About What Someone Thinks Gives Them Control Over You — Control They Do Not Deserve
“Any person capable of angering you becomes your master.” — Epictetus
When you worry about what someone thinks, you instantly put yourself subservient to them. You lower yourself and submit your peace of mind to them on a silver platter — you let their very thoughts, which you cannot even tell or see, turn your courage to water. And for what?! Is this not ridiculous?!
“If a person gave away your body to some passerby, you’d be furious. Yet, you hand over your mind to anyone who comes along, so they may abuse you, leaving it disturbed and troubled — have you no shame in that?”
Do your enemies deserve such power over you?
Do total strangers deserve such power?
You’d be ashamed to let them do whatever they want to your body.
You should likewise be ashamed to let someone take your mind and wring it like a wet cloth — and that’s what we do when we terrorize ourselves with what others think about us. As the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said long before the age of Epictetus, “Care about people’s approval, and you will always be their prisoner.”
2. Living According To The Opinions Of Others Means Living A Small Life
“If you live in harmony with nature you will never be poor; if you live according to what others think, you will never be rich.” — Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Living according to the thoughts of others — real or imagined — is a recipe for a regretful life.
What others think about your life and what it should be is small compared to what YOU can think about your own life and what it CAN be. Jim Rohn once said that you need to make your own life instead of relying on, or letting, others craft it for you, because guess how much someone else has planned for you?
You are worth more than that. Living according to what others think is not to your advantage. Metaphorically speaking, it’s more like shooting yourself in the kneecaps.
3. They’re Not Thinking What You Fear They’re Thinking
“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” — Lucius Annaeus Seneca
How often have you walked by a stranger and worried they were thinking something negative about your physique or your clothes or your height or the way you walk?
Now, how often do you think you were right?
Truth is, they were most likely not thinking about you at all, and even if they were, odds are you’re not a mind reader. Yet so many people torture themselves, acting as if THEY KNOW EXACTLY what so-and-so was thinking, what negative things were being thought about them, and how terrible it all is. In truth, they’re projecting their own self-consciousness into the imagined thoughts of others.
As Lucius Annaeus Seneca taught, we suffer more from figments of our imagination than from reality.
4. Love Yourself Enough To Cherish Your Own Opinions Too
“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.” — Marcus Aurelius
Part of self-love — true self-love, not narcissism — is in caring about your own opinions. What do you think? How do you feel about it? What is your opinion? While it is not the only thing you should consider, it is something you must consider, because you matter, and therefore your own opinions matter too.
5. It Separates You From Tranquility Of Mind
“The tranquility that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do. Not to be distracted by their darkness. To run straight for the finish line, unswerving.” — Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor and philosopher, was at the helm of the Roman Empire through some very tough times, and as his station entailed, the thoughts, opinions, words, and deeds of others could be overwhelming — so he taught himself to stop focusing on them, and instead focus on what he was there to do, on his duty, his actions, and his legacy.
How much more productive and focused and at peace would you be if you did not worry about what others think, say, or do all the time? But to focus on what you can control: what YOU think, say, and do.
To avoid distractions.
To keep going towards your goals.
To the finish line, unswerving.
6. It Wastes Your Two Most Precious Resources
“Don’t waste the rest of your time here worrying about other people — unless it affects the common good. It will keep you from doing anything useful. You’ll be too preoccupied with what so-and-so is doing, and why, and what they’re saying, and what they’re thinking, and what they’re up to, and all the other things that throw you off and keep you from focusing on your own mind.” — Marcus Aurelius
When you catch yourself worrying about what others think, realize that you are investing in that counterproductive anxiety of your two most precious resources:
Focus and Time.
We only have so much time.
We are only as effective as our focus.
The caveat? Unless it affects the common good. Sometimes the opinions of others are important, and sometimes it is right to spend time and focus on them — but many times it is trivial. Don’t waste your precious resources on something as banal as worrying about what some stranger thinks about your polo shirt.
7. They Are Their Own Critics Too
“Enter their minds, and you’ll find the judges you’re so afraid of — and how judiciously they judge themselves.” — Marcus Aurelius
The people whose opinions you fear are great at judging themselves too.
Everyone whose thoughts you worry about is human. They are like you — they judge themselves as harshly if not harsher than they judge others. They are their own critics, and they, too, worry about what others think.
With that in mind, why be so afraid of their thoughts? Why be so vulnerable to the opinions of others when they are vulnerable too? Marcus Aurelius put it this way:
“You want praise from people who kick themselves every fifteen minutes, the approval of people who despise themselves.”
From that perspective, it feels silly to put so much weight on the thoughts of strangers and enemies. We are all human. We are all insecure. We are all trying to figure it out. So next time you feel inclined to worry about what someone else is thinking, keep in mind that they may be worrying about the very same thing from you.
8. If You Do What’s Right, What Others Think Hardly Matters
“Does it make any difference to you if other people blame you for doing what’s right? It makes no difference.” — Marcus Aurelius
You will face criticism and ill-meaning thoughts for doing what is right. That is how the world is. To take a stand, to do what’s right, to be good — these things have in many cases become acts of courage and rebellion in and of themselves.
So be it.
If you are doing what’s right.
If you are doing your best.
If you are taking into account useful criticism.
If these are so, negative and demeaning thoughts and opinions are hardly important to begin with. What does it matter what those critics think of you? Are you upholding your values? Are you doing the right thing? Are you making this world a better place? Are you being a hero and not a villain?
You can do everything right. You can do the very best. You can work miracles. Guess what? Someone out there will still have something negative to think about you. C’est la vie. It doesn’t matter. Here’s what matters from your standpoint:
“Someone despises me. That’s their problem. Mine: not to do or say anything despicable. Someone hates me. Their problem. Mine: to be patient and cheerful with everyone, including them. Ready to show them their mistake. Not spitefully, or to show off my own self-control, but in an honest, upright way.” — Marcus Aurelius
If you are on the right path, the judgmental thoughts of others are puffs of air.
So today, focus not on what others may be thinking, not on random opinions, not on unhelpful criticism or what your imagination says they are thinking. None of that. Instead, focus on what you can control, and what Marcus Aurelius valued as true fortune: good character, good intentions, and good actions.
(This article was originally published in Mind Cafe)
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