What Are They Thinking?

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Are you constantly thinking or worrying about what other people think about you?  It may stem from being insecure or it may be a result of perfectionism and wanting everything about your world to be perfect.  Whatever the reason, I think it happens to all of us at some point in our lives or careers.

It starts as teenagers wanting to be accepted by our group of friends.  The hair cut, the clothes, the book bag or gadgets all were chosen with the hopes we’d fit in and not be a social reject.  Then as young adults wanting to attract that perfect mate we try to get in the head of the opposite sex and start thinking about what they want us to be.

A little bit of thinking or planning ahead is good and keeps us from the extremes.  Especially in front of bosses or while sitting in church.  Sometimes it’s good to plan ahead what we’re going to wear and how we’re going to act or react in a certain situation.  This is normal.

It becomes extreme and detrimental to your mental health when that’s all you think about.  Or when you change your actions or behavior and compromise your health or happiness because you’re too concerned about someone else’s perception of you.

Having grown up in a preacher’s home and then working the better part of my adult life in government, I’ve spent a lot of time obsessing about what other people are thinking.  As a child we were told to be seen and not heard.  The preacher’s children, especially the daughter was supposed to be perfect.  If not, the elders of the church might take a dim view of the pastor and how he was raising his children.  That carried over later into the government job where most projects or activities were performed with the public and elected officials looking over your shoulder.  The perception of the special interest groups was always a concern

I learned early what to do and how to fit in to get along.  I’ve lived in a glass house most of my life and know how it feels.  But somewhere along the years I started to relax and not care what others were thinking or saying.  We never really know what they’re thinking anyway.  How people perceive you may have more to do with them than with you.  Here’s some helpful advice in order to live a life not worrying about What Are They Thinking:

  1. Just Be Yourself.  It’s human nature to mimic other people.  This starts out young and is all part of learning.  But God made us all different for a reason.  He has different plans and goals for each person.  He doesn’t want all leaders or all preachers or teachers.  He needs us all as individuals doing our own jobs while loving and caring for each other.  Be You!
  2. What They Think is not Your Problem.  They (whoever “they” are) only know a small part of the real you.  No one knows everything about you.  What someone else thinks about you will not be the entire truth because they don’t know everything about YOU.  Don’t give them that much credit.  Nobody knows you but you and God.  What He thinks about you is all that matters and He loves you because He created you in His likeness and died for you.
  3. Accept Yourself for Who You Are.  There are always things about ourselves we do not like and we all have doubt about how to change those things.  I always try to incorporate the Serenity Prayer when I start to have doubts about what I can do.  “Lord, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can and the Wisdom to know the difference.”  What others think of us is truly something we cannot change and therefore should not concern us.
  4. Different is Sometimes Better.  At work we were always challenged to think outside the box.  Those who developed the untried strategy were rewarded.  Some of the century’s best art and music have come from those artists who were not concerned about doing it exactly like others.  They dug deeper and reached out further to connect to their specialness and therefore produced those works of art we enjoy today.

Just remember there will always be someone who will not approve of you or your actions.  Accept the fact that you will never please all the people all the time and by trying to do so you endanger your own mental health.  When you’re able to let go of this approval seeking you will be released of so great a burden and then free to go live your life on your own terms.

There’s a famous quote that says: “We would worry less about what others think of us if we realized how seldom they really do.”

So, go make some changes and stop worrying and start living.