One thing people consistently ask me about is how I don’t worry about what other people think. Some assume it's a built-in superpower that you either have or you don't, and for the people-pleasers out there, it can feel nearly impossible to get to the point where the opinions of others have little impact on what you say and do. The good news is that it's not a superpower—anyone can learn to care less, and in a healthy way. The bad news is that you have to practice at it to get it right.
I was not born with this ability. Like most everyone else, I learned that it's important to keep some opinions to yourself for the sake of another. And it's undesirable to make comments or take action that may rock the boat a bit too much. We spend years of our lives with the reinforcement of this message through family members, school and, ultimately, our professional associations. Best to eat your words rather than risk upsetting the apple cart. After all, is it really worth the headache the disruption causes?
Yes. A thousand times yes.
I have no idea where this notion that we should seek to skate through life unscathed came from. If you take a few minutes to reflect on your own life, you will undoubtedly see that the events that shaped you and moved you forward the most were some of the most challenging you've ever faced. Like it or not, discomfort triggers our growth and expansion. We are able to see that in hindsight, but desperately avoid discomfort through our choices, even if the boat-rocking that ensues brings about some really positive change for both the boat-rocker and boat-rockee. In fact, the "oh-shit-I-don't-have-a-choice" moments tend to facilitate the greatest change, as if we need to be backed into a corner to do what needs to be done.
When it comes down to it, we care about what others think because we want to avoid being a trigger for someone else. But what if they, and you, really need that trigger to move forward in a positive way? Why do we assume that being triggered or triggering is a bad thing? Sure, it can be a bit messy, but I'll take messy any day of the week over bottled up feelings, walking on eggshells, and eating my words ad nauseum for the rest of my life.
A huge part of this fear is the gratification cycle and our unwillingness to sit and stew in something. I bet if you believed that your words or actions would translate immediately into the outcome you desire, you wouldn't hesitate. But of course, what will happen next is unknown. You don't know how people will react and the weight of that uncertainty trumps any potential benefits. You can't wait for it. It's too much to bear.
It doesn't have to be that way. You can make the choice to speak or act even if it's uncomfortable. It's required homework if you ever want to be free of the chains of other people's opinions.
Instead of focusing on the doom and gloom, apocalyptic scenario of your world burning down to cinders if you dare to make such a move, consider the positives it will bring to YOU, not the impact it will make on someone else. If you have to, write it down. Make a list of ‘pros’ in black and white, and whenever a ‘con’ sneaks in, you can also jot it down. But make an effort to set aside the programmed thinking and focus on the potential positives.
Take a deep breath. Then do or say the thing you're afraid to say or do.
I know, I know. "But it's so hard!" you're saying to yourself. Cut it out. You create your reality through the words you say, so say something better than it's hard. Tell yourself, "It will be freeing for me to make this choice." Or whatever you need to say to put the spin on it that you need. Understand that the ONLY way to stop caring so much is to fight the deeply ingrained habit to hold it in, and make a move even when you don't want to.
Start with something relatively easy. Don't run out and tackle the biggest beast in your life where this has been an issue for you. Start small. Pick an area and commit to saying what you've been wanting to say sometime in the next 2 weeks. Remember: Immediate gratification may not occur, you can't control the reactions of others, and just because it's triggering doesn't mean it's bad or wrong.