by Niall Doherty

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.

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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