Many people, including myself, waste a lot of energy worrying about what other people think. The worry then influences choices we make every day, from what to wear, to whether or not we should speak to a stranger, to whether we try something new. After all, if the only person I’m trying to please is myself, it hardly matters what I put on, or if I can’t do a pose in yoga class. But someone else might think I look foolish, and for some reason, I allow myself to be controlled by that fear.
But, as I read recently, what other people think of me is none of my business. So why am I giving it so much importance? After all, I am on my own path, and everyone I meet is on their own. My thoughts have grown out of my experience. The things I see are colored by my thoughts. When I interact with someone, I bring my whole life prior to this moment to the table. Your thoughts, your past, these will always be mostly a mystery to me. I will make assumptions about you based on my path, and you will do the same for me. Therefore, my opinion of you says much more about me than it does about you. I have to assume the reverse is also true.
The book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz explains this so well. The second agreement is “Don’t take anything personally.” When I follow this tenet, I am released from worry about the opinions of others, because what they think of me comes from their path. But how I react to it comes from mine. When someone cuts me off in traffic, or doesn’t like my haircut or my latest blog post, it’s my choice to become angry or upset. But the reality is, it’s not personal.
Imagine a life lived with this attitude. I wouldn’t require the praise of others to feel good about myself, and their slings and arrows would have no power to bring me down. I could also release a lot of “shoulds” from my mind, because most of what I think I should do is really about trying to please someone else. But because I’ve lived my life worrying about what other people think, it takes monitoring and practice to recognize when I’ve started to become self-centered, believing everything is about me. I have to remind myself again and again that I have no control over someone else’s opinion, only my own. Then I can refuse to accept their judgment, and I don’t absorb their negative energy. I continue on my path, and allow them to go down their own, knowing their choice has nothing to do with me.