Imagine, decades from now you are lying on your deathbed, contemplating how you’ve lived your life.
While you are lying there, do you think it will matter what others thought about the decisions you made in your life? Or do you think you might regret what you did or didn’t do because of this very reason?
The fear of what other people think is one of the biggest fears out there.
In fact, in the bestselling book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”, by Bronnie Ware, a nurse who spent many years caring for people in the last few weeks of their lives, the most common regret the dying shared with her was,
"I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me".
But how can we gain this courage to break free from the shackles of other people’s opinions and live true to ourselves? That’s exactly what I’d like to talk to you about in this blog post.
To prevent the thoughts and opinions of others from negatively impacting our lives, it is first important to become aware of how much they influence our choices and decisions.
It can be easy to dismiss that we are not concerned about what others think if we don't let it affect the big decisions we make in our lives.
However, many may not even be aware that the reason they make certain decisions or behave a certain way is subconsciously influenced by this fear. And this was very much the case with me.
Over the last few years, I used to believe that I never let other’s thoughts or opinions affect the big decisions in my life. While that was true to a large degree, I never realised how much I let what other people may think impact how I lived my life until I took a three-month solo trip.
I began to observe how this fear would influence how I behaved, showed up and expressed myself around others. And over time, all of these can have as much impact if not more than the big decisions one makes in life.
Moreover, for the first time in my life, I realised just how much of my mental energy and time was consumed regarding ”what will others think”? (Even if they were complete strangers that I would probably never see again in my life)
This would make me indecisive and even dismiss considering certain possibilities or doing certain things.
As with letting go or changing anything, awareness is the first step. Being aware begins by paying closer attention to our thoughts and inner mental dialogue, especially before making decisions.
Keep the big picture in mind
Far too often in our lives, we lose sight of the big picture. That no matter what you do or don’t do, it still doesn’t change the fact that you are going to die one day and so is everybody else.
We all forget this from time to time. But it’s worth reminding ourselves now and then.
Taking the analogy of the deathbed and applying into our present life is one of the best ways to prevent other people’s opinions from influencing our behaviours and decisions.
This very realisation was what helped Steve jobs make the big decisions in his life, as he said in his Stanford Commencement address,
"Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart".
Take responsibility for your life
Opinions. Our world is full of them. People are going to have an opinion about everything. And those people will include the ones you love like your family and closest friends. (whose opinions we tend to place on a pedestal)
However, at the end of the day, they cannot live your life for you, and neither are they responsible or to blame for the way your life turns out. You are the one who needs to live through the result of your choices.
Let go of trying to please and satisfy others
Our natural human instinct is to please, satisfy and seek acceptance from others. But, trying to please everyone all the time is an impossible task and not to say a severely limiting way to live life.
People who lived impeccable lives and dedicated their lives to the service of others, be it, Buddha, Gandhi or Christ were not able to please everyone. Even the greatest works of art, music and cinema will have its share of critics.
Accept the fact that you won’t be able to make everyone happy all the time and allow this realisation to sink in deeply. This is completely liberating because you won't be hard on yourself when you aren't able to and neither will you take it as your responsibility to do so.
If you want to live a life true to yourself, you will need to make peace with the fact that it may mean letting go of seeking acceptance and validation from even our closest friends and family.
We cannot be true to ourselves if we don’t know what we want in the first place.
However, clarity may not come overnight. Therefore we must actively seek it and make space for it in our lives. It may be hard to come by if we are surrounded and bombarded by other people’s opinions, but, the journey to clarity begins by making it a priority to focus on ourselves.
The more we are clear about what we want, the less we are likely to be swayed by other people’s expectations and desires for us.
Let go of the big Illusion
Our mind may often tend to believe that the world revolves around us, and everybody is waiting to judge the decisions and choices that we make in our lives.
However, the truth is nobody judges us as much as we judge ourselves. And we often mistakenly assume others judge aspects about us that we judge ourselves. But others are often lost in their head with their worries and self-judgements to have the time care about how we are living our life.
There’s an interesting piece in the book Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert which captures this succinctly
"We spend our 20's and 30's so worried about what everyone is thinking about us. Then we get into our 40's and 50's, and we finally start to be free, because we decide we don't give a damn what anyone thinks of us. But you will not be completely free until your 60's and 70's, when you will finally realize this liberating truth — NOBODY WAS EVER THINKING ABOUT YOU, ANYHOW."
"People are mostly thinking about themselves. People don’t have time to worry about what you’re doing, or how well you’re doing it, because they’re all caught up in their own dramas. People’s attention may be drawn to you for a moment (if you succeed or fail spectacularly and publicly for instance), but that attention will soon enough revert right back to where it’s always been — on themselves. "
Completely letting go of what will people think maybe impossible and that’s okay. What we need to do is prevent it from letting it limit how we lead our lives.
It is not the easiest thing to do because it would mean going against our natural tendencies, but it is surely the path to a more fulfilling life. However, once we’ve got the proper perspective and clarity about what we want, it makes it a whole lot easier to go against the grain of our conditioning.
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