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.