How To Stop Worrying What Others Think

Worrying what others think nearly cost me the experience of a lifetime

There are two parts to courage, I am starting to realise. There is the first part, where you build up the courage to do something. This in some cases is easier than the second part.

The second part is having the courage to then follow through once your protective ego brain has kicked in.

And you realise you haven’t quite figured out yet how to stop worrying what others think.

I almost missed out on the experience of a lifetime because of the second bit.

Due to that conversation that you have with yourself.

You know the one.

The one where you talk yourself out of something.

Like the one I participated in last year along those lines.

 

As I stood on the edge of the boat, I felt the fear welling in my chest

“Just jump” I thought

“It’ll be OK”

“I can’t” I retorted.

“It’s too much.”

“Just do it, already” I urge through gritted teeth, to myself, standing on the edge of a wooden, glass bottomed boat.

 

The fear was getting bigger and bigger the longer I stood there. I was paralysed. I couldn’t move.

My heart was pumping.

Then I jumped into the clear blue, deep water.

 

You’d think this post is heading down a line of taking the leap, being brave, overcoming courage and all of that stuff.

Well, yes, and no.

 

Because after I was in the water a bit, I had another decision to make. This time though, there was an added factor.

The “what would people think?” factor. *gasp*

 

Think of what?

Let’s put it this way.

If I fall in water I can swim well enough to not drown as long as it isn’t too far.

As long as I am moving I feel comfortable enough.

I can’t tread water very well though.

It isn’t long before I feel the depths below calling and I am bouncing in the water like a demented space hopper on speed. And I start to feel a panicky discomfort.

There was an option. But the thought of it was …

 

Back to the story

Here I am, snorkel mask, flippers, and for a minute I am OK.

The treading water thing with flippers has added a whole new dimension of devilry.

I can already feel myself beginning to tire and my feet no longer feel like my own.

I clamber (if clambering in water is a thing) to the side of the boat.

I am holding on to the bottom rung of the ladder and this is beginning to feel very awkward.

The boat is bobbing, it’s hard to get a real grip, and in my mind I am frantically trying to decide what I am going to do.

Then I remembered. The guy said there were life jackets if people needed them.

“But I can’t!”

“Surely not?”

“What would people think?”

“They will look at me.”

“Or laugh at me.”

“They are all so young and carefree and they can swim”

“No one else is using one! I’ll be the only one.”

“They will judge me.”

A conundrum, indeed.

 

I am now clinging to the bottom rung of the ladder hanging from the boat, scared to get out of the water and into the boat, and put on a life jacket.

A few minutes ago I was standing on the edge of the boat with the fear of getting into the water and off the boat. Go figure.

I consider just getting back on to the boat and sitting and watching the others from there. I will tell my travelling companion and anyone else that asks that I wasn’t feeling too great. That’ll do it won’t it, a whole lot easier, yes?

Something about this whole situation wasn’t working.

 

Wasn’t this meant to be fun?!

I hung there like a barnacle burning in the sun. And I deliberated. With myself.

Was I going to miss out on the opportunity to have a fantastic experience because of what people would think of me? At this stage I was still in that place where it wasn’t about if people would judge me: it was about how much?

I stayed there.

I didn’t move.

And in the space of a few seconds I found myself asking a number of questions in my head.

I answered.

It was then I said, fuck it. No way.

I detached my crab-like grip from the ladder and pulled myself up, and without hesitation, in fact, almost proudly, chest out, I announced to the captain, “I want a life jacket”.

He handed me one.

It was strange. There was no sign of judgement. It was matter of fact, nonchalant, disinterested almost. Hmm, do mine eyes deceive me?

 

I put the life jacket on, and this time I launched myself from the boat into the water with aplomb.

Boom!

I felt really good.

I maneuvered easily.

I wasn’t sinking!

THIS. WAS. AWESOME.

I rarely use the word awesome because, well, I am not often truly awed by something.

This though, was worthy of all of my awe.

The clear water.

The vast variety of fish scattered across my vision for as far as I could see.

The feeling I felt of freedom, floating on the water, watching (other) people dive deeper over the corals.

The peace and tranquility was amazing.

In addition there were the shipwrecks, the turtles and the sea snakes.

 

And I almost talked myself out of this!

 

This was half a day swimming around the fantastic Gili islands near Bali in Indonesia.

I was here. It was happening. It was real.

It felt so bloody good, and I almost decided to sit it out on the boat because I was worrying what others think!

I also noticed that there was another guy who had gone back to the boat after me and he now had a life jacket too. And funnily enough, no one batted an eye lid with him either.

No-one cared. Everyone was just busy doing their thing.

Life can be like that.

 

What is courage anyway?

Courage is doing something despite the fear. Not in absence of it.

And I believe that most people actually have more courage than they realise.

I see this with clients. When the decision is sitting there in front of them, like mine was, standing on the side of the boat, they are ready to jump. And they often do.

But…

What happens then is they start to think. They start to think about what people might think of them. And the courage retreats like a tortoise into its shell.

Invariably, when they persevere though, they are pleasantly surprised that the response from other people was nothing like they had envisaged.

 

This screws with your decision making

What happens for many of us is this becomes a an automatic response, so much so that we don’t even notice anymore.

It is subtly blended into our decision making process as a valid measure.

Whilst considering the impact our decision may have on other people can be noble, not living our lives and not doing some of the things we want because of what someone else may think of us is plain crazy.

Stop to think for a minute about a whole life like that.

What it would be like lying on your death bed, lamenting what could have been, if only you hadn’t worried what someone thought (who is quite possibly dead now too at this stage).

Think about it.

How many things, no matter how big or small, have you stopped yourself from doing because you didn’t know how to stop worrying what others think?

Whoever they might be.

Your mother? Your partner? Your kids? Your father? Your neighbors? Your colleagues at work? The people at the local watering hole?

 

Stop. And think. Honestly.

Nearly every client I have worked with at some point brings in what other people think as an obstacle to doing what they want to do.

But once we delve into it, there is often little evidence to support it. As you can clearly see from my experience, I am not immune to it myself.

It’s there though. It even makes sense sometimes. And an awareness of it is very useful to have.

 

Here are the questions I ended up asking myself hanging from the side of that boat in Indonesia.

 

How To Stop Worrying What Others Think

Think of some of the things you have wanted to do that you have been putting off. Now, take a minute to honestly assess how many of them are you not doing because of what people might think?

1. Ask yourself how real are your thoughts on what you think people may think?

2. Review what evidence you have for this. How do you ‘know’?

3. What if they don’t think that at all? What would that mean?

4. What does it mean even if they do? Is this life threatening? Are you going to be an outcast?

5. Ask yourself how are you going to feel if you do it?

6. Ask yourself how you are going to feel if you don’t?

 

If you are going to live your life based on what others think, then you, the real you, is going to get lost in there somewhere.

You are going to remain in relationships that aren’t for you, or you aren’t going to chase the ones you really want.

You are going to stay in a job you hate rather than doing what it is you want to do.

You are eventually going to forget who you are and what YOU want.

 

Remember, if you are making your decisions based on what others think, chances are this is a habit, and isn’t confined to just one area.

Sometimes, you need to forget about what others might think and put on the life jacket. Now you know how to stop worrying what others think, it might actually go swimmingly well 😉

 

Share your story in the comments below. What situations have you had where you worried about what others would think? What did you do? How did it turn out?

 

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Main picture by Efren Rodriguez


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Showing 12 comments
  • Vishnu
    Reply

    Great stuff here Keith – I loved the writing and your takeaway message. How much of life are we missing out on thinking about what others think of us. As I’ve heard some quotes on this topic, people are too preoccupied with their own lives and issues to give 2 hoots about us but we spend all our time thinking what they’re going to think. They’re not thinking about us!! And even if they were, who cares, right? Lol If they’re preoccupied with how we’re living our lives, they need a life!! lol

    I’ve done so many things in my life that required me to go against the grain – it’s not always – ok, it’s never been approved by the people around me but I am glad I’m staying true to myself. Leaving my career in the law, quitting my job to write and coach are just some of the most recent things that people would think is a pretty far out idea but again, I’m glad I could stay true to my conscience.

    • Keith Clarke
      Reply

      Hey Vishnu! 🙂

      Yeah, that whole circle of me worrying about what they are thinking while they are worrying about what Marsha is thinking who is worrying about what Bob is thinking and so on :p

      I can see clearly where you have continued you to push against that Vishnu, but that is the word, push. It doesn’t always come easy and has to be a conscious choice. It is doable though 🙂 In many cases we are the sum of the choices we make and I think much happiness is found in staying true to yourself.

  • Kasia
    Reply

    Great post, Keith! As I was reading it, I kept thinking “nah, it’s not me. I don’t allow “what would others think” stop me doing things!”. But at the end of your post I realized that yes, I totally do that too – and in a very big area of my life like career – I’m so petrified to make a mistake and appear to be less solid or stupid even, that it brings a lot of paralysis. Slowly becoming more and more aware of this and moving through it with the help of my fantastic Coach ;)! Here’s to true courage.

    • Keith Clarke
      Reply

      It’s amazing how it can just creep in like that, Kasia, without us realising, isn’t it? True courage indeed 🙂

      Thanks for commenting!

  • Tim Brownson
    Reply

    At 20 we worry what people will think of us.
    At 40 we don’t care what people think of us.
    At 60 we realize they were never even thinking about us in the first place.

    PS. You wuss for wearing a Life Jacket 😉

    • Keith Clarke
      Reply

      So, you at the last one now? 😉 Congrats, Tim! :p

  • Razwana Wahid
    Reply

    Agreed with Vishnu – the interesting thing about what other people think .. is that they think mostly about themselves more than us. And yet … we assume they think about us.

    It’s taken me a long time to understand this, and yet there are still moments when I wonder how during something will make me look.

    What’s really going on underneath is me wondering what I think about myself (which is infinitely more important).

    Great to see that you went ahead with your venture anyway – and what an amazing experience it was 🙂

    • Keith Clarke
      Reply

      It was an amazing experience, Raz 🙂

      I agree that what we think about ourselves has a major impact. How much of that do we confuse with what we think is about other people? Hmmm

  • Sandra
    Reply

    Great post Keith, loved the analogies!

    I spent a week in Gilli Air January 2013 for my daughter’s 30th birthday. She is an amazing scuba diver. She dived with the turtles every day. I didn’t! I’ve tried it in swimming pools twice in the past, but can’t get past my fear of drowning, I can’t do the breathing through my mouth or being underwater. I wish I could, I would love to see the marine life.

    However, I DID snorkel at another island a short boat ride from Sanur, with Kim’s guidance – and I adored it! I was only in water that I could touch the bottom of though. I’d tried a similar thing to you in Fiji in 2002 and failed miserably – I got back into he boat! The water was so choppy I was too afraid.

    So it wasn’t about looking foolish for me. It was the drowning thing.

    One of my favourite sayings is ‘Most people are neither for you, nor against you. They’re merely thinking of themselves.’ It’s got me through many situations in life to date.

    Love that you went back for the life jacket and got to see all those amazing things – you’d have kicked yourself if you’d missed out 😉

    • Keith Clarke
      Reply

      Hey, Sandra!

      I spent most of my time on Gilli T (both times), but the snorkeling was around all three. We stopped for lunch on Gili Air.

      The drowning fear is definitely a bigger thing, I agree 🙂 Great you got to do some snorkeling though.

      And yes, so glad I did!

      Thanks for commenting

  • Mark Reagan
    Reply

    Those are great questions, Keith! Thanks for sharing this story. I’ve actually never been snorkeling, but it sounds like a ton of fun. Over here we tend to use “awesome” all the time. At my last job I helped a customer from the UK and to something he said I responded, “Awesome!” and he repeated it and looked incredibly bemused.

    • Keith Clarke
      Reply

      Hi Mark,

      Snorkeling is great fun (with or without a life jacket it would seem 😉 ). I would definitely recommend it in the right waters.

      Yeah, awesome is a little overused in my honest opinion, but I wouldn’t get hung up on it 🙂 I love the fact that your customer looked “bemused”.

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