“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” ~ Bernard M. Baruch
We often live our lives based on what other people think. Or, more correctly, we often live our lives based on our perceptions of what other people think. Think about it, how many times have you gotten dressed, looked in the mirror, and suddenly it’s no longer just you in the room? There’s a chorus. “Those shoes are too colorful,” says your mom. “That shirt makes your arms look big,” says the “best” friend. “That tie is so last season,” says the fashion-forward well-meaning neighbor. You return to your closet to find something a little less questionable. Sound familiar?
This is just a small example, but many people allow others to sit in the driver’s seat when making decisions from something as small as getting dressed to as large as what career to pursue, who to marry, how to live life. Somewhere along our own personal road we get hijacked. Our thoughts, feeling, wants and needs all take a back seat to what we believe others want for us. We develop a well-tuned censor that keeps our inner thoughts, well … inner.
I was reminded of this recently while contemplating my living situation. The building I live in is going condo. I have no intention of buying the space I rent. As I was thinking about what kind of space I would consider moving to I found myself getting anxious over what “people” would think if I moved into a smaller space. Would they think I’m failing? Would they think less of me because I’d consider a “lesser” space. Then it dawned on me. What “they” think means absolutely nothing.
In the article, “10 Things I Learned From People Who Survive Cancer,” Dr. Lissa Rankin cites as the Number One lesson: Be Unapologetically YOU. She says that people who survive cancer tend to get feisty. “They walk around bald in shopping malls and roll their eyes if people look at them funny. They say what they think. They laugh often. They don’t make excuses. They wear purple muumuus when they want to.”
Think about it this way: You only get one chance at life. Are you going to let what other people think make it less enjoyable?
Here are a few tips to help take control of the steering wheel next time you find yourself censoring your thoughts, allowing your wants and needs to be hijacked by a back-seat driver:
- Understand that what other people think of you says more about them then it does you.
- Understand that feelings are transient. Your friend may turn up her nose at the colorful shoes you just bought, but a month later she may be wearing a similar pair. Or, you run into a friend five minutes after you got into an argument with your significant other and the friend asks, “How’s your girlfriend?” “Oh my gosh, she is being so difficult.” Had you run into the friend after your girlfriend made a beautiful dinner for you your feelings for her would have been very different.
- Recognize that people who don’t obsess about what other people think tend to see the bigger picture. They are not stuck in the minutae which allows them the freedom to see the forest between the trees.
Like anything else it takes practice to quiet all the back-seat drivers. Here are a few exercises that will put you on the road to listening to your inner self.
- Acknowledge Yourself — articulate to yourself your wants and needs. Say them out loud. Write them down. As Eckhart Tolle says in A New Earth: Awakening To Your Life’s Purpose, “… don’t be concerned with how others define you. When they define you, they are limiting themselves, so it’s their problem. ” Those definitions are irrelevant. Do you want to wear the colorful shoes? Wear them. Put the brakes on the definitions you and others adhere to you.
- Keep an accomplishment book next on your nightstand. Before going to sleep each night write down three things you accomplished that day and how you made them happen. You will start to recognize that you do much for which you don’t give yourself credit.
- Create pleasure in small things. Watch a sunset, enjoy the waft of clean sheets, revel in the joy of a conversation with a close friend.
- Make a list of the things for which you are grateful. You will find that the mere activity of making this list quells the impact that others have on your decision-making.
Keep at it and you will find that your decision-making will begin to reflect your wants and needs rather than the attempt to appease and satisfy others. You will be happier, less stressed and more attuned to your own self. As the saying goes, “Dance like nobody is watching.”