How To Care Less What Other People Think Of You

 

A big key to living a happy and fulfilling life: Care less what other people think of you.

Which is great advice and everything, but much easier said than done. It’s not like you can flip a switch in your brain and become suddenly immune to the opinions of others.

But there are things you can do, that anyone can do. Practical things. I’ll recommend several in this post.

I figure I’m qualified to write about this since I used to be disturbingly preoccupied with other people’s opinions of me. And now I’m not. I generally speak my mind and pursue whatever adventures take my fancy. Insults and criticism have a minimal affect on me. I live my life how I want, not how other people expect me to. I’m much happier this way.

But before we get to the good stuff…

A Disclaimer

I purposely didn’t title this post, “How To Stop Caring What Other People Think Of You.”

You don’t want to stop caring, not altogether. Caring isn’t a bad thing. It matters what your friends and loved ones think of you. It matters what your clients and colleagues think of you. Sometimes it even matters what complete strangers think of you. You need the feedback of others to know if you’ve gone too far, to know if your behavior is unacceptable. You have to live in society after all, so you have to compromise a little. You can’t always do exactly what you want to do. You have to consider how it affects other people.

So the goal isn’t to stop caring. The goal is to care less. You want your sense of self-worth to be less dependent on what other people think of you. You want to become less needy, less approval-seeking, more self-assured.

Interestingly enough, you’ll find that when you become those things, people will naturally tend to think better of you.

Alright, let’s dive in…

10 Ways To Care Less What Other People Think Of You

I’m writing from personal experience here. Below are the things that have worked for me. Your results will vary. Pick whatever resonates with you and give it a try.

1. Know your values

First and foremost. You need to know what’s important to you, what you truly value, what you’re aiming for in life. Once you know who you really are and what you’re all about, what other people think of you becomes much less significant.

Last weekend a few friends were heading out for the evening and invited me along. All I really wanted was an early night so I could go running the next morning and get a good chunk of work done before noon. So I told my friends thanks but no thanks. There was some good-natured insistence on their part, but I held firm and they eventually relented.

A younger me wouldn’t have done that. He would have given into the peer pressure, not wanting to disappoint anyone. But these days I know myself and my priorities a lot better. I’ve learned that the most important person not to disappoint is myself.

How do you go about figuring out your values? Try the exercises listed here.

2. Practice breaking social norms

I broke a lot of social norms as part of my Random Acts of Courage experiment. In the space of a week, I did such things as…

  • Asked a stranger for a piggy-back ride
  • Offered free hugs to strangers
  • Sang loudly in the street
  • Walked the wrong way down an escalator
  • Asked for a freebie at a coffee shop

All sounds so silly, right? But doing all those things helped me build up a strong immunity to what people thought of me. I got all sorts of strange looks and several people made no secret of the fact that they considered me a fruitcake. But nothing bad happened. Despite breaking so many social norms, the world kept on spinning just the same. I had a blast that week and made a heap of new friends.

3. Flirt

Working on my flirting skills has helped me immensely in terms of caring less what other people think.

By making myself go and try flirt with literally hundreds of attractive women in the past twelve months, I’ve gotten rejected literally hundreds of times. It wasn’t too long though before I got to the point where I stopped taking rejection personally and just started having fun with each interaction.

Yeah, it’s terrifying at first, but I definitely encourage you to give this a try. Think about it: If you can walk up to a ridiculously hot member of the opposite sex, get rejected, and then just shrug it off… that’s powerful.

4. Blog

Start a blog and write what you really think on there. Share your views on controversial topics. Write personal stuff that’s likely to polarize people.

I’ve been pretty outspoken on my blog, and responses from critics and trolls has helped me build a thick skin over the years. Critical or insulting comments used to really get to me in the early days, but now they’re no big deal. I’ve learned to separate the emotional content of a comment from the valid points that are made in it.

It’s gotten to the point now where I long for more critical comments. I start to feel a little uneasy when most of the responses to something I write are of the I-couldn’t-agree-more variety. As Mark Twain once said…

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

But back to the point: Blogging helps, especially when you blog about controversial stuff and welcome critical comments. You learn not to take the criticism personally.

Along these lines, I also recommend video blogging. This helps you grow more accepting of your physical appearance and care less what other people think of it. I couldn’t care less anymore if other people think my ears are big. I think they’re damn sexy.

(P.S. If you want to get started blogging, here’s how you do it fast and for free.)

5. Become self-employed

I’ve been pretty lucky in the past to work for some pretty cool employers, but even when your employer is cool, you still have to be careful to speak and act in a way they approve of. For example, I doubt I could have continued to work for a Jesuit university while writing openly about such topics as incest, masturbation and flirting in Amsterdam.

In traditional employment, you’re constantly concerned about what your boss thinks of you. Because if he/she doesn’t think good things, well, there goes your livelihood.

But with self-employment, you don’t have to worry about office politics. You don’t have to toe the company line or keep your opinions to yourself. Your business can be an expression of your true self.

6. Surround yourself with masters

Surround yourself with people who are very self-assured and don’t care much what others think of them. They’ll rub off on you.

A friend of mine in New Orleans was a big, positive influence on me. All I did was hang out with him every so often and observe his behavior. I saw that nothing bad happened when he voiced his (often strong and controversial) opinions. In fact, people seemed to admire him for being so honest and direct, even when they disagreed with his views.

I find it funny that so many of us admire people who can always speak their minds and be themselves, no matter the company, yet we worry about what others will think of us if we were to do the same.

7. Build competence

Competence breeds confidence, so get to work on yourself, develop some skills, learn more things.

Those days when I let procrastination or laziness get the better of me are the same days I care too much what other people think of me. In contrast, those days when I knock a significant chunk off a big project or learn some cool new skill… those are the days that I feel really good about myself and don’t need anyone’s approval.

Build competence, gain confidence. You won’t need external validation to feel good about yourself.

8. Put yourself in the spotlight

Over the last few years I’ve tried improv comedy, stand-up comedy, and public speaking. These things do wonders to kill self-consciousness.

Actually, anything that gets you up on a stage and performing in front of people is good.

9. Travel

If you’re looking for something that helps combine many of the above tips, travel is as good as it gets. You’ll come to know yourself better, accidentally break countless social norms in foreign countries, meet great role models, build competence in many different areas, and feel more inclined to step outside your comfort zone and do things you wouldn’t try at home.

You’ll feel it when you return from a long trip away: you’ll be more self-assured, more mature, less concerned with what other people think of you. Good times.

10. Your best tip

What’s helped you care less about the opinions of others? Share in the comments. Would love to hear from you.

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42 Comments

  1. I think it’s important to respect their views sometimes, though not always.

    “I” maybe the one who’s wrong and the one who comments on my action/thought might be right. In such an instance caring about the other person’s thought might make us a better person. They might be showing us a completely new view of the world. So imho we should be careful not to let everything pass over our heads.

    But, again, if my brain and heart agrees with what I do, then of course I will not give a damn to what others say!

    Cheers and good luck!

    • Absolutely, hence the disclaimer. It’s a fine line to walk, between being fully self-assured and being conscious of how your behavior affects others. Sometimes you shouldn’t care, and other times you really should.

  2. Thanks for writing this. You’ve threaded together a lot of different thoughts I’ve had recently as I’ve been trying to improve my writing and web-development skills. Somehow the clarity that provides is comforting!

    I have to parrot your tip #9 – especially if you travel in places where you stick out like a sore thumb. People staring at you can actually become quite normal.

  3. This is a great post man. I strongly belief that knowing one’s values REALLY helps. Also, blogging, and most importantly video blogging definitely help A LOT!

    I made a video while walking down a crowded street the other day and I lost my focus when there was this guy walking in the same direction as me. Kind of like, I knew he was listening (or could hear me.. I’m assuming he cared) and it grabbed my focus. You did a good job holding focus with all those people around.

    I have a similar post like this brewing in my drafts. A great reminder. Keep on rockin’ Niall Doherty!

    • Knew you’d be able to relate, Matt.

      It’s really hard not to be self-conscious while recording those videos out in public, so easy to get distracted. One guy who does a great job of staying present with the camera and his audience is Sasha Daygame on YouTube. Look him up!

  4. I couldn’t disagree with you more on all your points.

    Ha, just wanted to make sure that you’re paying attention and that you don’t “find yourself on the side of the majority”.

    There comes a time when you’ve refined your thoughts extensively and have attracted a very specific audience that it may seem that your ideas are on par with the majority, but that can be deceptive as I’m sure that at least 90% of people aren’t in tune with your thinking yet.

    However, I like how you still remind yourself to push the boundaries. It prevents you from becoming complacent.

    • Let’s disagree to agree.

      …or something like that :-P

      But yeah, you’re right about the specific audience. I’m hoping it doesn’t become so specific though that all the constructive critics are weeded out!

  5. Again, this is something I need to work on myself. I try my best to be as honest as possible in my day to day dealings with people but sometimes I’m still self-conscious of things ( then again, who isn’t from time to time? )

    However, I’ve noticed over the past year I’ve just being giving less of fuck on many things that once made me self-conscious. Maybe it could be the whole Toastmasters experience rubbing off on me as I’ve given some rather personal and honest speeches in my relatively short time there. If that’s the case, then one my aims when I joined is being accomplished! :D

    On the topic of blogging, I do have experience with it from before I started my current blog. It’s actually one of my elephants in the room. Maybe I should write a post about it.

  6. Hi Niall,I think you underestimate the Jesuit university that you mention in #5. Incest, masturbation and flirting are all topics I think this Jesuit university would welcome knowledgeable and educational debate on. It makes me wonder if you ever really knew this place. You surely would have encountered disagreement on some of your opinions, but I don’t think you’re looking for everyone to agree with you anyway and neither is a university. One of the ways you really dissect a topic is to debate its merits and its pitfalls. One question you might ask yourself, why were you not brave enough to test the waters when you were here? Were you afraid of being rejected? Now, that you’re living on the road and not tied to one place. Is it easier to express your opinions because you don’t have to stick around to take in the full aftermath or awkward conversations that might ensue following a real dissection of your opinions or topics of debate.

    I dealt with this issue a lot as a newspaper reporter. It was a lot easier to write about topics that weren’t on my “beat,” per se, because I didn’t have to continually deal with the same sources over and over again on a daily basis if I pissed someone off. It was a lot harder to cover the same topic all the time when I was a political reporter because if I pissed off the mayor or civic association president, I still needed to go to them for information in the future, so I had to work on not burning bridges.

    • Hey Crystal. Thanks for the comment.

      “why were you not brave enough to test the waters when you were here? Were you afraid of being rejected?”

      Without a doubt, yes. That and I know how many small-minded people can confuse someone’s personal views with the views of his/her employer, and I didn’t want to risk misrepresenting the university, especially since everyone there had been so good to me.

      Those fears may have been more in my head than reality, but they’re fears I no longer have to worry about now that I’m not depending on an employer for a paycheck (or a visa, for that matter).

      “Is it easier to express your opinions because you don’t have to stick around to take in the full aftermath or awkward conversations that might ensue following a real dissection of your opinions or topics of debate.”

      Definitely easier, but I try to resist that urge to run away. This blog helps keep me accountable, because whatever I write stays up there on the web for everyone to see and critique. Not as brave as sticking around in person, but the best I can manage for now.

  7. “Insults and criticism have a minimal affect on me.”

    “affect” should be “effect”…

    Most ironic criticism ever ;)

    I would never recommend this tip to anyone, but when I went through a lot of physical pain in my life, I would have pretty much done anything to get out of it. Never mind any social anxiety or caring what people thought about me.

    If I can somehow access that mindset without the actual physical pain, life is good. It’s much more difficult to sustain it. And that’s the key, here. At some point in my life, I have done all 10 of these tips (to various extents). But the progress that I make can easily go away when I don’t practice for a while.

    • Thanks for the correction :-)

      I feel you on the continuity thing. That haunts me from time to time as well. A few weeks ago I was in a really social mindset and found it really easy to get talking to people and didn’t care at all what folks thought of me, but inevitably I’ve come down a bit from that high.

      I think I’m getting better though at pushing myself into that state whenever I want. Takes a bit of effort and anxiety, but I can usually flip the switch when needed.

  8. Thanks for talking about this. I woke up this morning so fed up. Living in rural Ireland there is always someone giving out about someone and it really annoys me when people gossip and get offended over people not conforming to the social norm. People are very quick to judge and although I try to not let it bother me sometimes I can get caught up in the worrying what other people think trap. But your writing has reminded me of something I used to help keep me from this worry. Dr Wayne Dyer says “It’s none of your business what other people think of you!” From now on I’m going to try and remember this and live more in the moment. So thanks for sharing:)

  9. What, you don’t flirt with unattractive women, WELL! (hee hee hee!)

    I have never seemed to quite fit in anywhere and I have not worried so much about what people thought. I do practice politeness and humor, but if someone doesn’t like the way I dress, or the life I lead, it’s none of their business anyway.

  10. i actually credit my extreme introversion and even some social anxiety to this ‘not caring’. while there is a point of social anxiety that comes from caring TOO much, i also get to the point where i become numb of caring.. buddhist non-attachment philosophy also helps. and the fact that i don’t have many close friends because of said introversion and social anxiety is a plus for the ‘not caring’ department :D i actually prefer it.

  11. I found dressing up as a giant boob, at a rock festival was pretty effective. It was for breast cancer awareness or more specifically encoraging men and women alike to know their boobens. The same as anything to begin with, it was scary as you like but after I while I got use to it, felt confident as even missed the boob when it was gone!

  12. I’m always shocked by your willingness to take on such taboo topics as incest and one-night stands. I definitely don’t have the strength to deal with the inevitable flurry of criticism and online trolls who would lash out against anyone who speaks about those topics.

  13. I find making an effort not to show off in a crowd is a huge reminder that I don’t need to care so much what other people think. Sometimes I’ll be in a group of people and will start airing some opinion or bit of knowledge I have about something in a way that isn’t exactly good communication and is essentially sort of like public ego-massaging. I always feel lousy after doing it because I think to myself, “What was that all about, anyway? Who was I trying to impress?” As long as I know I’m intelligent and have something to offer, it can wait for the right context.

  14. I’m to the point where daily I’m always thinking about what people may think of me if I do this or that, or if I say this. I’m always trying to please others by what I think they like to impress them. But your 10 ways don’t seem too “just do it, and it’ll happen” I’m glad I found this, if I hadn’t I’m sure down the road I would have become isolated and lonely.

  15. Hi Niall,

    In part 4 you invited some disagreement and quoted Mark Twain, also one of my favourites. So I hope you won’t label me a troll for disagreeing with this post.

    My objection to several of the things you suggest is the detrimental effect it could have on others. For example, if you lay down in a department store someone might think you need help. When it turns out you are just messing around that person might think twice about stopping for someone else stretched out on the floor next time.

    Something similar happened to me when I was young and stupid. I pursued my girlfriend through a train, both of us pretending I was a stranger harassing her. At last a brave man got up and told me to leave her alone. My girlfriend told him, ‘It’s okay, he’s my boyfriend’. The man sat down, a bit embarrassed, but not nearly as embarrassed as I am every time I think of it.

    Call me picky but I don’t want to be hugged by a stranger. The hugger might be Fred West for all I know. I want to be hugged by people who genuinely like me, not by some random person who wants to show the world how whacky he is and is using me as a prop.

    The philosopher Kant said, “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction.” If everybody started going down escalators the wrong way it would be chaos, so presumably you are not recommending this for everyone. But of course, if everyone did it then you would have to go down the escalator the correct way, otherwise no one would look at you. And the point is to be looked at.

    Men who chat up random girls in the street make things more difficult for men who sometimes need to get information about which train to get on or which street to go down. If you keep flirting with pretty east Asian girls then there will come a time when they think, ‘Wow, western men are real arrogant show offs. The next one who comes along I’m just going to blank.’ This affects me directly because I live in Japan and I know what some western men are like, and so do the girls.

    Let me tell you what I think the real problem here is. Yes, acting in a whacky way does make you feel better, but only at the expense of turning other people into pawns in your own private psycho-drama. And caring too much about what people think of you is just one aspect of a much bigger problem: you are too self-obsessed. I don’t know you, but I would guess that you not only care too much about what others think of you, but also care too much about getting ill and dying, or wondering whether you are happy enough etc. etc. Someone who has their eyes fixed so firmly on themselves will inflate every little insult and morsel of praise.

    Of course this doesn’t mean that people who look out at the world want to get ill or die or never think about whether or not they are happy. It just means that it is in proportion.

    My point is that even if you cure yourself of caring too much about what others think, you are still left with the bigger problem of self-obsession.

    So is there another way to care less what people think without becoming annoying and treating people like extras in a play about me? Yes, there is and it’s very simple, though not necessarily easy. It is to turn your eyes outward and at the world and think less about yourself.

    If you look at people who do this, say Albert Einstein, whose thinking was consumed by his science, you will find that he was both modest and didn’t overly worry what others thought of him.

    Hope you don’t mind the honesty,

    Rob

    • Hey Rob,

      Thanks for the comment. I don’t consider you a troll at all, and I appreciate the honesty.

      If you don’t mind though, I will take your points with a grain of salt. As you say yourself, you don’t know me, and I believe this is the first time I’ve seen a comment from you on my blog. I’m not sure if you’ve been a long-time reader or if this is the first and only post you’ve read here.

      But to address some of your points…

      “if you lay down in a department store someone might think you need help. When it turns out you are just messing around that person might think twice about stopping for someone else stretched out on the floor next time.”

      Agree with you here. I actually wrote before how that was one challenge I didn’t feel particularly good about. Not a good example for me to share in the above post, and I’ll remove it after I’m done responding to you.

      Re: that Kant quote…

      I’m not a fan of that Kant quote. If you follow it literally you could argue, for example, that nobody should drive a car because if everyone in the world drove a car it would be nothing but gridlock.

      “And the point is to be looked at.”

      No, the point is to get over the fear of standing out.

      “Men who chat up random girls in the street make things more difficult for men who sometimes need to get information about which train to get on or which street to go down.”

      I don’t go up to girls on the street acting crude or arrogant or disrespectful. Some girls do react timidly of course, but that’s even before they know why I’m trying to attract their attention (for all they know I could be looking for directions). Usually when they realize I’m hitting on them, they’re more flattered than anything, even if they’re not interested. If you find women out in public timid, I think it would be more appropriate to blame all the rapists, muggers and touts out there in the world.

      “you are too self-obsessed”

      Guilty as charged. Working on it.

      “I would guess that you not only care too much about what others think of you, but also care too much about getting ill and dying…”

      I can’t say I worry much at all about getting ill or dying. I accept that some day I’ll turn to dust and nobody will remember my name. I’m okay with that.

      “Someone who has their eyes fixed so firmly on themselves will inflate every little insult and morsel of praise.”

      By that metric I’m not very self-obsessed at all, since I don’t take praise too seriously either, especially if it’s from someone who doesn’t know me very well.

      “So is there another way to care less what people think without becoming annoying and treating people like extras in a play about me? Yes, there is and it’s very simple, though not necessarily easy. It is to turn your eyes outward and at the world and think less about yourself.”

      Love this point. A glaring omission from my post above. Thanks for writing that.

  16. Niall,

    Very good answers. It does you credit to reply so sensibly to a sometimes overly aggressive and critical post. I might make a point of coming back here in future.

    Rob

  17. Thanks for your post. I printed it out for myself to read and re-read on a daily basis, as thinking what people might think about me kills a lot of happiness.

  18. Hello Cocopop,

    I’m cyberparanoid so I’d rather not give name and email address.

    Today someone made a joke.

    Someone wanted to give my dog a treat, and I said he needs to sit first, otherwise he will get arrogant (wink wink, I said it rather lightheartedly, tho I was kinda serious)

    Then someone else commented: Just like its owner.

    It was said with a smile.

    I was confused, took it seriously, like in all jokes made towards/about someone there is a core of truth to it, so I asked myself outloud, “Am I…?”

    Then I felt deeply hurt and cried for a couple of hours while walking the dog.

    How to get over being so sensitive?? This is sick. Got therapy and pills and all that but this just won’t change.

  19. Hi Niall,

    Just chanced upon your blog and it’s fantastic!

    I would say that the best thing that’s personally helped me with this is forcing myself to think in the moment. The cause of caring what other people think is usually an over-active imagination. But most of the time people are thinking of themselves, not of us! So to put this imagination to rest I force myself to put my all into even the very minute actions I am doing at this moment.

    Hope this adds to the conversation!

  20. Hi,

    Thanks for the read. I have a question I’d like your opinion on…
    We unfortunately live in a world where looks shouldn’t matter, but do. I happen to be with someone who finds me attractive – yet I put effort (whether right or wrong) into my appearance (exercise, eat healthy, grooming etc). My SO has a heart of GOLD and I love him, but he has openly expressed his opinion that he doesn’t care how he looks, and that others shouldn’t either. Although I agree, I can’t help feeling embarrassed sometimes when with friends or family… as if he is an extension of myself. He often wears clothes that do not fit, appears disheveled, and he is quite fat. Furthermore, it is starting to affect my attraction to him. Am I wrong in wishing he looked a certain way? I know it’s shallow, but I feel like the society we live in makes it almost impossible not to care. What’s your take on this?

    • Hi Claire.

      Good question. I don’t think your partner is bad or wrong, just sounds like you have different values. You invest in your appearance and your health, that’s obviously important to you, but not to him. That’s going to cause some problems.

      Personally, I couldn’t be with someone who didn’t take care of themselves physically. And I’d like them to dress nice as well. I don’t feel bad or shallow about wanting those characteristics in a partner. Physical attractiveness is important to me in a relationship.

      Actually, rethinking my values point for a second: Could it be that your partner is simply making excuses for being lazy? Would he be as attracted to you if you followed his lead and fell out of shape and dressed sloppily?

  21. I actually ran across this post while looking for ways to care less about my job. And while this post didn’t help me with that, it did occur to me that I don’t (for the most part) care what people think of ME. I do care about people and their feelings and try not to be insensitive, but I find that if you like who you are and what you believe in, the rest just falls into place.
    You aren’t unwilling to change, you just aren’t willing to change to please anyone else, therefore the opinion of others takes on an entirely different perspective. It then becomes a point of consideration.