Before you dig in, you may want to read Part 1: Do You Care Too Much About What Other People Think of You?
We all have those moments: worried about what people will think of you or your work, or whether they will like you.
Who hasn’t been there?
Theres always someone who offers the well-meaning advice to stop caring so much about what other people think. Usually with the cliché
What other people think of you is none of your business.
Let’s take a look at this advice for a moment.
Why This is Bad Advice
First, is it even true?
We also hear all the time that “people do business with people that they know, like, and trust.”
If you believe this, then it seems that whether people like you matters a lot to your business. Whether you run your own business or you are more traditionally employed, being liked is essential for your “survival” in your business or workplace.
What people think of your work seems to matter a lot if you’re in the business of selling your work. And, in some way, we are all in the business of selling our work. If your work involves creating from within your being, then whether people like your work often feels like a referendum on you.
Second, this “advice” — and the general advice that you should stop caring what others think about you — doesn’t tell you how to do that.
It’s not like you can just flip a switch. If only it were that easy, we’d all walk around truly free of the suffering that comes with caring about what others think and whether they like us. (This, by the way, would shatter the economy, because so much of what we buy and do is predicated on the belief that it will help us gain approval and win friends.)
All that said, there is a way to stop caring what people think of you or to stop wanting people to like you — or at least to stop caring/desiring this so much.
A quick note here: wanting people to like you and caring what people think are technically two different things. But, as you’ll see below, they are very much related. So when I talk about one, I’m referring to both.
Why You Care
The chronic anxiety about what other people think is a habit. And a prerequisite to breaking any habit is to create awareness of what triggers that habit and how the habit serves us.
So before we can discuss “how” to stop caring so much, it’s important to understand why we care so much in the first place.
(1) Pain/Pleasure Principle
Obviously, you care because maybe your business or job feels dependent on people liking and approving you and your work. And if you believe that to be true, then you have no incentive to change how you feel.
This is simply a function of the pain/pleasure principle, which tells us that we do things that bring us pleasure and will help us avoid pain:
People like you/approve = you have a job/business = stability/certainty = pleasure
People don’t like you/don’t approve = job/business at risk = uncertainty/instability = pain
But let’s go a little deeper.
(2) The Human Need For Love
As discussed in Part 1, the wanting to be liked is built into our DNA. This is a product of evolution. Our ancestors survived in tribes, and we developed this “longing to belong,” as meditation teacher Tara Brach calls it.
The need for love is one of our core human needs.
Tony Robbins, in an adaptation of Abraham Maslow’s theory, defines love/connection as one of the six basic human needs. As Tony often says, we need love, but in the absence of love we often settle for connection.
In a similar way, we may confuse approval or respect with love. We want to “get it right” and avoid “doing it wrong” so that we can get approval, and we equate this approval with love.
This is not a conscious thing. It’s not like your boss says, “good work,” and you walk out thinking “he loves me” (or maybe you do, but that’s a different topic). It takes a lot of digging deep to become aware of what we substitute for love.
Years ago I realized that I was constantly seeking respect as a substitute for love. I’d make sure to let people know about my impressive credentials and accomplishments to earn their respect, subconsciously equating that with love. I earned respect, but still felt empty inside. Because respect isn’t love. And neither is approval.
This dynamic creates our suffering
Zen priest Edward Espe Brown teaches,
If you confuse approval with love, you will have this kind of endless problem. This is because even with all your efforts, you’ll never be able to earn enough approval to gain the love that you have always wanted. There’s no possibility of ever producing enough correct behavior. You might garner approval or recognition, but love is missing, compassion is missing.
(3) Validation of Worthiness
The real issue here is not simply that we want other people to like us or love us. It’s that, deep down, we believe that if we get enough outside approval, and if enough people like us, we will suddenly feel worthy of love and approval from ourselves.
Edward Brown writes that people who perform well are often the loneliest people, because the better your performance, the less people see you. He writes,
Why would I want people to like me and approve of me anyway? Well, with enough approval, I might be convinced to like and approve of myself. If enough people like me, then maybe it will convince me that I’m likeable.
Here’s the problem we face:
When do we reach the point at which external love and approval convinces us that we are worthy of our own love and approval? How much is enough? How many people must like you or approve of you before you believe you are worthy?
As Brown teaches,
You will never get enough evidence of other people’s approval to persuade you to love yourself.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that in this lies the secret to how to stop caring what other people think about you.
How to Stop Caring What Other People Think About You
If what we’re really seeking is evidence that we are worthy of loving ourselves, then the solution is simple:
Love yourself first.
When you love yourself, when you approve of yourself, you will naturally stop caring so much about what other people think.
What you seek already lies within. Recognize that you are worthy of love as you are, without having to do anything or accomplish anything or prove anything.
Ironically, this is also the way to have people like you. What you give to yourself is what you give to others. And what you give out to others returns to you, multiplied.
So it’s that simple: love yourself first.
- The Most Important Point: Zen Teachings of Edward Espe Brown, edited by Danny S. Parker, (Sounds True, 2019). ↩