"What you think of me is none of my business"

Many of will be attracted to the sentiment expressed by the title of the best-selling book with this title. The concern of "what are others thinking of me?" is our most common and invasive worry.

I'm too influenced by what others think (of me)

I often hear this complaint, especially here in China. Even Byron Katie classifies "what others think of you" as other people's business, and not your own business. But I doubt that even she would have us adults return to the mentality of a two-year-old who has little awareness or concern about what others think (except as it might affect an immediately unwanted consequence).

Built into our DNA

We humans evolved for several million years within the daily company of our tribe members, who usually numbered less than a hundred people. Survival without the support of our tribe was unlikely and so being concerned about how they viewed us and felt about us was essential. Those whose DNA did not stimulate this concern got eliminated...they did not become our ancestors. 

Our environment changed radically, but our DNA did not

In today's world, unless you practice violence against your "neighbor," your survival (and that of your progeny) is pretty much guaranteed. "Looking good" is not the problem that it was for pre-agricultural humans. In fact, the opposite is often the case. Indulging in our desires to look good, to be approved of, and to avoid blame is not uncommonly more costly than beneficial, especially in the long-term. We will sacrifice thinking for ourselves, taking care of ourselves, going for what we really want, and being more fully self-expressed...all in order to "look good." 

Yet "looking good" is necessary to get much of what we want in life

If we don't look good, how can we get a good job? If we don't look good, how can we attract and keep a mate? If we don't look good, how can we have friends? It's obvious that looking good is essential to having a great life.

When to "look good" or when to "not look good"?

The conflict we often feel regarding looking good is fundamentally a Now-Next issue, often exacerbated by a Oneself-Others issue. Such conflicts are symptomatic of a lack of Now-Next integrity and/or Oneself-Others integrity (which most often includes not choosing courage).

Let's take an example regarding loaning money

Your cousin asks to borrow $750 from you. You can't make the excuse that you don't have it, but you don't see how you would be taking care of yourself (and even your long-term relationship with your cousin) if you lent her the money. On the other hand, you're concerned about your cousin (and possibly others) blaming you or being disappointed in you if you don't lend the money. And, even beyond that, you have a belief that "I should take care of my family."

Considering the short-term only, in order to "look good" both to your cousin and to yourself, the best response seems to be to lend her the money. Yet, long-term this presents several probable costs and risks: 

  • You train your cousin (and possibly others) that you can be a good rescuer.

  • If your cousin does not pay it back (or pay it back on time), she is likely to feel guilty (defensive) and you are likely to feel anger (resentment).

  • You reduce the money buffer you have available for other possible contingencies.

Looking good in the short-term often makes you look worse in the long-term. 

If you make a promise in order to look good now, without consulting with your Next and Oneself, then you'll either:

  • end up tolerating to keep the promise, thereby damaging your relationships with your Now, with your Oneself, and with the person you made the promise to, because you will resent them on some level

  • or end up breaking your promise, thereby damaging your relationships with your Next, with your Others, and with the person you make the promise to.

If you say "yes" in order to look good now, without consulting with your Next and Oneself, then you'll either:

  • end up tolerating the condition you said "yes" to, thereby damaging your relationships with your Now, with your Oneself, and even with the person you said "yes" to

  • or you'll go back on your word, thereby damaging your relationships with your Next, with your Others, and especially with the person that you had said "yes" to.

If you don't make a request in order to look good now, without consulting with your Next and your Oneself, then you're less likely to get what your Next wants, you won't be prioritizing your #1 job, which is to take care of yourself, and you could even be damaging your relationship with the person you didn't make the request of.

Now-Next integrity combined with Oneself-Others integrity resolves any conflict regarding "caring what others think"

Yes, it's natural for us to be concerned about what others think of us. That concern, however, needs to be put in the context of thinking long-term as well as short-term, taking care of yourself as well as taking care of others. 

Good technique (combined with courage) can help.

For example, when someone asks me to do something that I don't see how to do it and still take care of myself, instead of saying an abrupt "no," I might say, "You know, a part of me would like to say 'yes' to you. But currently, I'm not seeing a way to do that and still take care of myself. Do you have any ideas?" Most often the requester fully understands and withdraws their request. Sometimes they come up with a modified request that is able to allow me to take care of myself at the same time. On rare occasions, they will insist that I sacrifice myself for what they want, implying it is my duty or obligation. I lightly say, "Sorry, how am I supposed to do that?" or perhaps, just, "No, thank you."

Related links:

NNI toolkit

OOI toolkit

Undoing fear


Undoing guilt

Undoing shoulds


Two-faced toxicity

Why did God put you in your body and mind

Partnership Conversation

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