Opinions of Others

Why do most of us put so much stock in the opinions of others?  I think if you really look at many of the decisions you make in your life, they are driven by a desire to gain recognition by others, or avoid others having a bad opinion of you.  The sad thing is that we often just hurt ourselves by doing this- we may waste time and money on activities that benefit us in no way other than impacting the thoughts of others.  What’s even more sad is that we often delude ourselves in thinking we have more impact on others than is really the case.

For example- let’s say you buy a car designed to impress others, thinking they will think better of you.  But ask yourself, how often are you actually impressed by someone else with a nice car?  Perhaps you actually think negatively of them!

Another example- you try to lose weight because you think you’re fat, but perhaps your weight is fine and nobody ever thinks you are fat?  If your weight is actually healthy, then why go through that?

One key to happiness is reaching the point where you really don’t care what other people think, unless of course their approval will have some real impact on you.  For example, ensuring your boss thinks well of you is important, as their decisions can impact your career.  But for most things in our life, we should trust our own opinions rather than others.

This issue relates to four of the lessons in the excellent book The Four Agreements. namely how we make assumptions about what people are thinking, and then we take it personally.  This book and it’s successor The Fifth Agreement I recommend very highly.

Another pitfall is to avoid taking risks if your primary fear of failure is that someone will think poorly of you for having failed.  This is usually an unfortunate misconception- most people with some sense of what’s important will value you more for having tried.  Besides, the more valuable a challenge is, the more likely you are to fail as part of the process of learning and achieving that goal.  If you can clear your mind of caring what anyone thinks, you can just focus on what YOU want.  Isn’t that more likely to lead to happiness?

It’s really easy to spot people who simply try to please you, they will always agree with you and never take a controversial stance.  They think they are pleasing others, but more often they are boring, add little value, and lack self-esteem.  Don’t be that person, stand by your opinions without regard as to whether others will agree with you.

This doesn’t mean you don’t listen!  To the other extreme are those that believe their opinion must be the truth, and there is no point in listening to another angle.  These types may not be negatively impacted by the opinions of others, but they live in a fantasy world of their own perfection, thinking others admire them when more often than not it’s not the case.  Don’t be that person by having an opinion, but being open to listening to opinions of others, and with respect.  You then may or may not change your opinion, but whether you do should be based upon your assessment of the truth, and not because you want to please them.

Remind yourself that the opinions of others are simply brainwaves passing through someone else’s brain, and of no consequence unless it’s going to result in some action that benefits or hurts you.

As a test, start monitoring your actions and conversations for the next day or two, and ask yourself whether you’re letting the opinions of others influence you, and if so should you?  Again, sometimes it makes sense to do so, but not always and it should be your decision.

On this note, it matters not to me whether you agree with my points in this article, however I certainly would enjoy hearing your thoughts on this topic, as it would be interesting and I may expand my own thinking in this area.

Do riches make one happy or miserable?

An Austrian millionaire is giving away £3 million after coming to the conclusion that his riches simply make him unhappy.  He’s giving it all up for a much simpler life.

This is a story to really think about.  So many of us seek more money and things our entire life, equating happiness to obtaining more of it.  Are we missing something about happiness? 

I think the important thing to realize is that most everything in life comes down to our beliefs, attitudes, and thoughts, this is no different.  Perhaps if he had more control over his own beliefs and thoughts, he could find happiness without forcibly removing the thing he is too obsessed about.  I enjoy money and things but I”m generally pretty happy with what I already have, I think that’s the key.

It’s illuminating that he would say future money “prevents happiness to come”, as it demonstrates his mental link between happiness and money.  Take a situation where someone has a problem with loving to eat rich foods, and they are overweight.  Do you correct the problem by removing the food, or by changing the obsession with rich foods?  Do you remove an obsession with gambling by getting rid of the places to gamble?  Hardly, you have to change your own beliefs, attitudes, and thoughts.

I don’t fault Mr Rabeder for his decision, it take a lot of courage and represents an important step in recognizing the source of his unhappiness, however I hope he can find something to fill the gap which isn’t just as false.  What’s positive about what he’s doing is that sometimes a drastic change is what it takes to jolt one out of their rut, and get a fresh start at all levels (physically, mentally, emotionally).

Bottom line, if you’re obsessed about something you think brings you happiness, but doesn’t, rather than try to eliminate the thing you’re seeking, find the internal beliefs that need to be change.  For example, if you discover you have a belief that “I’ll be happy when I get a new car”, then you need to re-define that belief to something like “I’m fortunate to have a car”.  This doesn’t mean you don’t create a goal to have a new car, but simply means you’re redefining your attitude about your NOW.

How to Deal with Setbacks

Frank’s Story

The quarterly sales figures just came in; Frank had just learned that his marketing plan had failed dismally. He had been so sure his idea was a winner and that it would lead to a much needed promotion that would allow him to finally move his family out of that dump they were living in. Frank pondered his situation, and started thinking about who must have messed things up. Perhaps it was sales, they clearly must have misunderstood his plan. How could he ever get ahead when working with incompetents like that? Or perhaps it was his boss to blame; maybe his boss had never spoke to the director of sales like he had asked, to tell the director his marketing plan was the top priority.

Next, Frank started planning how to explain these numbers to his boss. He figured he would first explain how most likely sales had messed up, and then add that the Sales Director just didn’t get the idea. He would conclude by adding that if everyone would just try harder, next quarter’s numbers would be better, as the marketing plan was definitely a good one. Otherwise better off just giving up on the plan, why stay with a sinking ship?

Frank went home for the day full of anger and frustration, the plan was such a failure.

Marty’s Story

The quarterly sales figures just came in; Marty had just learned that the figures didn’t meet his goals, sales were down considerably. While disappointed, he was happy to finally have feedback as to whether his marketing plan was proving successful. Marty pondered the situation and started planning his next steps, no use focusing on the setback. He first decided that the sales reps might have some useful experience from the field as to why the plan wasn’t working, and perhaps a few tweaks might make it better. He would quickly schedule a meeting with the sales team to ask for their ideas and feedback on his marketing plan. He would also conduct some more market research surrounding his marketing technique. Marty figured that he was one step closer to a marketing plan that could give him his much needed promotion; he knew that with enough persistence he would get there and he’d get his family a better place to live.

Marty decided to hold off meeting with his boss until he obtained feedback from the sales team and did some quick market research, so that he could go to his boss with a high level plan, which described the weaknesses of the current plan, and how they could be corrected for next quarter. He wouldn’t take it personally as his boss had reviewed the plan and agreed it was promising, but he would take personal responsibility for making it better.

Marty went home a little disappointed that the plan hadn’t worked out perfectly, however he had known all along the risks inherent in a first attempt, and at least slept well knowing he had his next steps planned out and thus one step closer to his goals.

The Differences

Consider how Frank and Marty faced the exact same situation, but reacted very differently. Imagine yourself in a similar situation and ask yourself how you would react? Which person is more likely to get the results they want in the end, and which is more likely to earn the respect of their boss and the sales team?

Frank quickly moved into blame and excuses, and assumed his plan was perfect and others needed to change and take action. He let himself fall into a mindset of failure, letting emotions of anger take hold. Quite likely his attitude of blame would gain even less support by the sales team, and his boss may lose confidence in him, leading to even less chance of a promotion, perhaps even outright cancelling his marketing plan. Frank also held on to the concept of “just try harder” rather than accepting that maybe something in the plan itself needed to be adjusted, part of externalizing all responsibility for what happened. Basically Frank’s attitude and actions were ruled by his emotions and ego, not by clear thinking as to what will give him the best results, both career wise and emotionally.

On the other hand, Marty didn’t see the results as “failure”, rather that he simply didn’t achieve his goal. This helped him avoid the resulting negative emotions. He also avoided blaming anyone or serving his ego, he knew he was the owner of the plan, and had to take full responsibility for it. He also accepted that he would not have all the answers, so planned to get feedback from those that would. Most likely the sales team would appreciate being asked, and be more supportive next quarter if some of their own ideas had been incorporated. Marty also planned to come to his boss with a proactive plan to improve the numbers, which would reassure his boss that he is accepting responsibility and dealing with it. In general, Marty maintained a positive attitude, and persistence, and went into the marketing plan knowing all along it might not work out perfectly the first time.

Next time you face a setback, don’t even think of it as “failure”, rather as a “challenge”. Ask any successful person how they deal with a setback, and you’ll most likely find someone that acts like Marty, not Frank.