How to stop worrying about what others think of you

I used to always care what everyone else thought about me. Friends, coworkers, family, and worst of all: strangers. I was miserable. Getting over the fear of judgment was one of the best things to ever happen to me.

By Ed Latimore Last modified

Do you care what other people think about you?

I think we all do, to different extents.

And the more we care, the worse off we are for it.

Most of us are severely underachieving in life, because we’re worried about fitting in and looking good. We all want to find our own version of greatness and fulfillment — we want to be true to ourselves — but a lot of us are held back by other people.

Just a few years ago, I was paralyzed by fear of what other people thought about me.

I used to spend most of my free time getting drunk and watching sports because I wanted to fit in. I was a regular at the bar with all the other regular people, and I could talk football stats for days, but I was nothing.

I was afraid to dress well because I was scared of standing out.

Photo of Ed Latimore holding a beer at a house party, looking pretty unhappy.
At a house party circa 2007. Do I look happy?

I wanted to fit in and be “normal” like everyone else. Normal people don’t stand out, which is also why they never make a notable impression. I didn’t realize this because I cared too much what other people thought: I was scared of judgment.

If you’re like 99% of the people reading this article, you’re the same way.

There’s a part of you that wants to break free. To muster up the internal confidence to break free from the self-imposed prison of fitting in.

The other part — the stronger part — wants to keep you a prisoner. Who cares about freedom? It’s safer inside your little cell. At least you’re getting fed, and at least you have a bed to sleep on. It’s comfortable.

Of course, there are some good aspects to this internal fear:

Without societal norms constraining human behavior, society would fall apart. If everyone acted on their whims, impulses, and desires without regard for the external world, we would have anarchy on our hands.

But let’s be real.

Most of us don’t secretly want to kill everyone around us, or walk around naked in the streets.

We want to better our lives. We want to do something meaningful with our short time on this planet. For sane people, the alternative to the self-imposed prison cell isn’t a Mad Max type scenario, it’s things like:

  • Living a disciplined and healthy life
  • Doing fulfilling and meaningful work
  • Building relationships with people you actually like
  • Acting based on your core values and beliefs
Bruce Wayne, played by Christian Bale, trying to escape the prison he's been put in by Bane in the Dark Knight Rises.
Most people stuck in their mental prison are more like Bruce Wayne than the Joker.

These are things that you’re forgoing when you spend all your life worrying what other people are going to think about you.

In other words:

If you want to live a fulfilling life that you can look back on without any major regrets, you have to get out of your prison cell.

So how do you do that?

Carrying out a prison break isn’t easy. Especially when the prison is an invention of your own mind. And definitely not when you haven’t seen the outside world since you were a little kid.

But unlike a real prison break, you don’t need an escape vehicle, you don’t need explosives, and you don’t need a shovel. (Hell, you don’t even need to break any laws to do it.)

You only need two things:

A why, and a how.

The human mind is very adept at rationalizing things. We’ll rationalize pretty much anything if it saves us from facing our problems, which can be a very painful process. This might’ve carried with it some evolutionary benefits, but in the 21st century it’s seriously preventing us from reaching our full potential.

That is why we need to understand and be convinced of things on an intellectual level, before we can take steps to improve. We need reasons and arguments: they’re the equivalent of our escape plan. The “Why” comes before the “How”.

Quote by Friedrich Nietzsche: "If we have our own Why in life, we shall get along with almost any How."
Nietzche knew: the Why is more important than the How.

Why you shouldn’t care

Are you emotionally invested in making sure your neighbor, coworker, or the complete stranger standing in line at the grocery store are making good life choices? Do you worry that they’re not doing what’s best for them?

Probably not.

Conversely, no one gives a shit about you either. They’re all too busy minding their own business (probably worrying about what you think about them), to care.

So why should you give them control of your life?

Why are you doing things for their sake? You only have this one life, why give it away to someone who doesn’t care about it nearly as much as you do? They already have a life.

There was once a guy who came into my boxing gym.

He wasn’t a bad fighter. In fact, he won his first 8 amateur bouts. On his 9th bout, he was beaten soundly and embarrassingly. This happens to all fighters — especially in the amateur levels, where you’re supposed to learn by losing — but he decided that it was too much.

He invited a bunch of girls to come see him fight. I remember him talking to me before the fight, joking about how he would have to sneak out because these different girls didn’t know each other. I don’t think the girls affected his performance, but losing in front of them ruined his ego.

I know what that’s like. I’ve been crushed in front of millions in a boxing match. The physical blows heal more quickly than the ego, but one thing that slows down the process is caring what other people think.

He called the trainer the next day and told him that boxing wasn’t for him. This kid may have have had a promising future. He was doing well and just went up against someone with more experience. But he was too worried about what people thought of him after the loss to continue with his training.

He didn’t care about the thing in itself. He didn’t want to work on the invisible process. He only wanted to be liked and adored. He cared too much what other people thought about him.

You have to stop caring what people think so that you can stop focusing on external outcomes like status and social validation. Those things are outside your circle of control, and they don’t lay the foundation for an excellent life full of real achievement.

So there’s your “Why”. Your reason for change.

Now put it into practice. The first step is the hardest: you need to get over the psychological barrier of fear. Start out small, by keeping the stakes low.

Hell, it could be something as simple as wearing two different colored socks to work. Before you go outside, write down the worst thing you think could happen. Is it that someone’s gonna point and laugh at you? That you’re gonna get fired? Whatever it is, write it down. When you come back from work, write down what actually happened. Then you will see just how exaggerated and unfounded your fears were, and hopefully muster up enough courage to do something a little ballsier.

Once you’ve won enough small battles, you’ll wake up one day to realize you’ve won the whole war.

Until next time,

autograph
And next, read this: No one gives a shit about you (& why that's great news for you)