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Work Smart

How To Stop Worrying About What Others Think Of You

The search for constant external validation may be hindering your success.

How To Stop Worrying About What Others Think Of You
[Photo: Flickr user Edson Chilundo]

We all want to be liked, but if you find yourself spending too much energy thinking about what others think about you, you may be creating an unhealthy pattern that can be debilitating to your success.

While it’s normal to care about what others think, problems can arise when the only way you can measure your success is through the eyes of others. And the truth is, we concern ourselves about what others think about us far more than others actually think about us.

Here’s how to avoid the worry:

Understand Why We Worry

"It’s only natural that you’re going to start taking the signals that you see and hear about what people think about you," says Nihar Chhaya, executive coach and president of the leadership development company Partner Exec. After all, humans are social beings, and what others think of us does contribute to our self-identity. Caring about others' opinions of us can stem from childhood tendencies to look for external validation from parents and teachers.

But as an adult, deciding that what people think has to validate what you do can have you obsessively worrying, and that can be restrictive to your success. "If everything that happens to you is based on someone else giving you the thumbs up or green light, then you’re going to be at the beck and call of external factors," says Chhaya.

Recognize The "Spotlight Effect"

People critique us a lot less than we think they do. Often, what we perceive as our weaknesses feel more severe to us than others think they are. "As human beings with egos and an innate self-awareness of our own feelings, actions, and thoughts, we tend to notice and greatly exaggerate our flaws while assuming everyone around us has a microscope focused on faults, mistakes, and slip-ups," says Melody J. Wilding, workplace psychology coach and professor of human behavior at The City University of New York Hunter College. The truth is, others don’t notice our flaws nearly as much as we think they do, because they’re too busy noticing and exaggerating their own flaws.

Develop Your Own Story

Take some time to reflect and develop some self-insight so you can develop your own internal story as a counterweight to the story you believe others have of you. Often what you think others think of you is your own inner critic speaking to you. We can overcome that inner critic by providing ourselves with evidence to the contrary.

Question Your Inner Critic

So you think your coworker hates you, but do you have any evidence that’s true? While you may not want to go up to them and ask point blank whether they hate you, Chhaya says you can approach a conversation about the topic by asking how they feel about working with you, and whether there’s anything you can do to make it easier for the two of you to work better together. This can help you validate what you think they think of you, and sometimes shut down that inner critic that makes up stories in your mind that are often harsher than the reality.

Build Your Discomfort Muscle

We can never know with certainty what someone else thinks about you. For many, this constant worry about what others think about us is uncomfortable. No one likes to sit in a room with someone they think has negative feelings toward them. One way to resist the emotional impact of the "spotlight effect" is by continuing to place yourself in uncomfortable situations. If you fear being judged by others, participating in a toastmasters' group, for example, may be a great way to experience being in the spotlight and practice taming your inner critic.

Accept A Modicum Of Self-Doubt

It’s normal to have some amount of self-doubt and worry about how we are perceived by others. In fact, Chhaya says a small amount of worry can be a positive thing. "It can make you more empathetic or more intuitive, because you are tuned in to the signals of those around you," he says. People who care about what other people think are, in general, better listeners, more flexible, and more aware and, Chhaya says, can make better leaders.

Related: Are You Making The Right Impression?

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