Read this article on The Good Men Project (my first published article on their site)


What will other people think? This holds a lot of people back.
First it doesn’t matter what others think

Since the beginning of socially organized Homo sapiens we have an instinctive drive to care about what others think of us. We are constantly seeking approval from others. When we are children we seek the approval of our parents, siblings, and other family members. Approval meant that they love us. Approval meant that we were good boys and girls. Approval was rewarded, and disapproval was punished.

Fast forward to adulthood. Now we seek approval from friends, who doesn’t want to be popular? We want our friends to like us. Rejection from friends is harsh, and unpleasant. We seek approval from our boss at work. Approval means we will get us a raise or promotion. Approval may help us get on that new project, or the move to the office with better opportunities to succeed and move up in the company. Approval from the opposite sex means better opportunities for dating and relationships.

It seems that everything we do in life is driven by the approval of others. It’s understandable that to some extent approval is useful. We ask our friends and family for their opinions all the time.

There comes a point where seeking approval holds us back. If we try to seek approval at work with our boss, we can be perceived as a brown noser. Seeking approval with a potential new date can appear to be weak and show insecurity, definitely an unattractive quality. Approval seeking in life can prevent us from taking the next step towards success. It can make us nervous and cause anxiety.

Let’s re-frame for a minute what we are doing when we seek approval. For one thing we want to be reassured that we are making the right decision. Approval from others can be used like a compass, more approval means we made a good decision, less approval means we made a bad decision. In this case let’s swap out “approval” for a more accurate description of what we are doing, getting feedback. We can get feedback from others regarding the decisions we make, and use that feedback to help guide us into making the best decision given the circumstances.

Technically speaking we are going to use a feedback loop. This is a system where we make a decision, then get feedback from others. The feedback is evaluated by ourselves and we use it to make changes to our original idea. Those changes affect the original idea – we give it a tweak – then get more feedback. It’s like driving a car. We look at the road, then decide to turn the wheel a bit to the left or right. We look at the road again and repeat this process until we reach our destination.

The feedback we get from others we need to take with a grain of salt. How much do we respect their opinion? I’m sure you would value more highly the opinion of a professional vs. a random person. You will value opinions of people who have your best interests in mind vs. others who would love to see you fail, or those who are indifferent to your plight.

The other side of the coin to approval seeking is trying to win favor with someone. We want them to like us or endorse our choices. Be careful here because you can’t please all of the people all of the time. We need to break our addiction of feeling that others approve of our choices.

Strategies for overcoming what others think of you, aka approval seeking:

Internal locus of control – We generate our opinions from within. Simply disregard everything coming from outside your own opinion. The following strategies are used in conjunction with Internal locus.

Dig for gold – You can listen to criticism then decide if it has useful information in it or if it simply does not serve you. Sift good advice from the opinions. Opinions are like sphincters, everybody has one. Keep the good nuggets of advice, toss out everything else. Constructive criticism is a good thing. The last thing you want is for everyone to be fake nice to you, giving you no useful advice to follow up with.

Go Spock/Data – remove all of the emotion from the interaction. Someone says your guitar playing sucks. Receive this with curiosity as Data would, and ask how does it suck. You may find that your guitar is out of tune or some other technical thing and become better from using the useful part of the feedback. Filter out the emotion, that is unnecessary and counter productive. Don’t take the feedback personally. There will be some times where the other person is trying to get your dander up, don’t give them the satisfaction by reacting. Practice good sportsmanship and stay cool under pressure.

Stop mind-reading – We tend to assume the worst. Rather than thinking the room hates your performance, assume the best – that everyone loves you. People are more concerned with themselves so most of the time they are not even thinking about you!

Exposure theory – the more experience you have in any given situation, the more confident you will feel, and the more competent you will become. Getting rejected at the bar on the first approach can really suck. Funny thing is the 10th rejection becomes routine and not a big deal.

With competence comes confidence – If you do something well, you will feel like you are giving a performance. Chances are if you have skills then you will win them over.

Don’t dwell on failures – People love to replay epic failures in their heads. I guess it’s like watching a gruesome accident scene, where you are the leading actor. Evaluate failures, extract the lessons from it (you paid the tuition, learn the lesson), and move on.

A little ego goes a long way – Sometimes it helps to switch on the big ego. When necessary, think your poo don’t stink. You’re da’ man! Being sensitive has its time and place. Sometimes going macho can help. Use it wisely.

Get some grit – sometimes it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. We all go through bad times. Grit is that ability to take a punch and get back up. Perseverance through adverse times. This is a skill that can be grown through practice. Have a thick skin. Suck it up cupcake! I see a vision of R. Lee Ermey every time I think of this.

When I teach dance I always notice that many new dancers are wallflowers because they are afraid that others are watching them when they dance. I tell the newbies that nobody watches the beginners (unless they are hotties), people tend to watch the advanced dancers or just chat among themselves not paying attention whatsoever to the dance floor.

Know that in interactions you hold just as much power as the other person does. In the workplace your boss is relying on you to do a good job and make the company money. In dating you need to be evaluating the other person just as much as they are evaluating you. Nobody should hold more power than the other.

One more thing to consider – if you are causing a stir then maybe you’re doing something right. Remember that artists enjoy if you love or hate their work, they consider it a fail if you are unaffected or indifferent.