“The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages.” ― Virginia Woolf
Most of us spend our entire lives imprisoned by what we imagine other people are thinking about us. We leave the house everyday feeling like there is a spotlight bearing down on us. We make even the smallest choice (such as ordering a muffin at Starbucks) with anxiety and shame. (“I bet the barista is thinking someone as fat as me should cut back on muffins.”)
But here’s the funny thing: I bet the barista is so busy thinking about what YOU are thinking of HER that she doesn’t have a spare thought to spend on your personal choices. That’s the irony. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”
On the one hand, this could be a sad thought: No one is really spending too much time obsessing over you and your choices. But I personally think this is such a liberating idea: How amazing to realize that there is NOT a spotlight on you. You aren’t center stage with a judgmental audience measuring and criticizing your every move. The chairs are empty. The only person watching is you. The only one who need to make to applaud is you. The only one who gets to pass judgment on your performance is you.
That’s an awesome discovery to make, and it’s sadly one that most people do not make until they are well into middle-age or beyond. But there’s a difference between discovering that realization and then living that truth.
Here’s how to turn off the spotlight and start living with freedom and vulnerability:
1) Make this your mantra: “What other people think of you is none of your business.” Does this mean that you should live your life carelessly and behave rudely or without consideration of others? No. But being invested in public opinion and stressing over what people say about you is not the same thing as living life nobly. You can make choices that are compassionate, thoughtful and fair without doing so for other people’s approval. You can make those choices because they are the right thing to do and because they are choices you can be proud of–choices that your audience of one can applaud for.
2) Learn to observe yourself without judgment. The next time you are struggling in a social situation, take yourself out of the equation. Don’t think ego-based thoughts like “I am such a loser, I can’t believe I just fell on my face in front of my whole office” or “This conversation is so awkward, I can tell that my date doesn’t like me.” Instead, be an observer of your situation. Really imagine that you are sitting in a chair watching yourself on that stage. Now make it your goal to radiate deep, unconditional love up to that person (you) on the stage. I want you to send so much love and peace to the person up on there that it makes them stop in their very tracks. Remember this: You are not the performer. You are the observer. You are the changeless, eternal, powerful force that is watching your life unfold.
3) Remember that the other person is another you. In Mayan culture, there is a saying “Lak’ech Ala K’in,” which means “I am another yourself.” That person sitting across from you at that job interview? The cashier at the supermarket? Your next-door neighbor? They are all versions of you, and you are a version of them. We are all made up of the same energy. As scientist Neil DeGrasse Tyson says, “We are all connected; To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.”
That’s kind of incredible, isn’t it? Every single person you interact with is connected to you in intangible but powerful ways. So when you feel yourself getting anxious or cringing at something silly you said, think of this: The person listening to you…is just another you.
4) If you are really stuck in “What must people think of me” mode, I encourage you to go to the NASA website and check out some of the images from the Hubble Space Telescope. These absolutely indescribably breathtaking photographs will instantly shift you from ‘ego mode’ to ‘Holy Moly, who cares if I accidentally burped on my date last night? There’s freaking nebulas out there!”
Check out this video if you need a ‘The universe is AWESOME’ fix right now:
5) Be kind to yourself. Don’t feel guilty or ‘un-spiritual’ if you can’t stop stressing over other people’s thoughts. Instead, ask yourself what the experience has to teach you, and what silver lining you can find in the situation. For example, being so tuned into other people’s thoughts likely means that you are a very empathetic and emotionally intelligent person. It probably means that you care deeply about other people’s well-being and that you have a high standard of social responsibility for yourself. But what good will all that empathy and compassion be if you cannot extend it to yourself? What powerful changes can you make in the world if you are so busy fretting about your latest social snafu? How can you become the person you were meant to be if you are so busy hating yourself for being the person that you are?
So go ahead. Get out there. Be yourself. Your wild, wacky, weird self. No one is watching but you. And you deserve a fine show.