Imagine for a moment that everyone was not that interested in you. That everyone was neither bothered or amused by anything you said, did, wore, ate or drove. What if you learned that the brief glance a stranger gave you on the street that day was not because they were judging the way you sipped your coffee or critiquing your hair. What if the look they gave you was just a look?
But we replay those looks in our mind and conjure up stories using limited information. We rely on out of date templates created from past experiences and convince ourselves they apply in the present. We jump to conclusions based on erroneous short-cuts that our brain uses because our brain likes to conserve energy. We keep running the same software and don’t pause to reprogram our thinking. If that person looked at me, they must have been focusing their thoughts on me, right? And if they were looking at me, surely they were judging me? Because after all, you are the centre of the universe, yes? Everyone that glances at you finds you important enough to think about, to evaluate, and to judge. I giggle to myself compassionately because I know just how much my own brain has recycled these templates.
You see, I spent a huge chunk of my adolescents and early adulthood consumed by what others thought of me. I worried about how I came across to others. When engaging in conversation, I would concentrate more on what to say next instead of truly listening. I would think about what I was going to say back and how I was going to say it to sound clever or more likable. What a disservice I was giving that person and what a disservice to myself. But that was what I knew then. I believed that if I was perceived positively then people would like me. If people liked me, then they wouldn’t think I was weird or strange (and I certainly felt weird and strange a lot of the time!). I just wanted to fit in. We all do. But I clung so tightly to this pursuit of everyone liking me instead of spending time learning how to like myself.
And there is nothing wrong with wanting others to like us. We are hard wired to prioritise belonging. But wouldn’t it be amazing if from an earlier age, we learned of the liberation that comes from knowing how to like ourselves first? We would free up so much headspace. We would free up so much heart space too. This space would bring on opportunities for genuine connection with others. It would allow us to create a sense of authenticity in how we speak, feel, and act. And it is this realness which is what people are drawn to the most anyway. So when you are genuine with others, you generally end up having people like you without even trying! People are drawn to those who are humble and confident within themselves. People are drawn to those who are not afraid to be real – to show themselves without filters. People are drawn to this because this is what they themselves are searching for too.
Let’s gently remind ourselves to stop trying so hard. To stop striving in making the world like us and instead, learn to fall in love with ourselves first. That is how the world will end up loving you. Let’s give ourselves full permission to throw out the assumptions. Let’s laugh at ourselves for a moment and enjoy the silliness in thinking that the world revolves around us. A look can be just a look. And worst-case scenario, even if someone does have a negative thought about you, so what? Have you never had any negative thoughts about people you see? We judge. We all do, all the time, and it’s ok. It does not mean that because we judge, we are malicious and wish harm towards that person. It means that we have fleeting thoughts about people, their hair, demeanour, clothing or voice just like we have fleeting thoughts about trees, cars, buildings, the weather, and food. Our brains filter and categorise our surroundings all the time. We judge and label our environment because that is how our brain has always kept us safe and alert. But a negative judgement does not, no matter how much your brain prefers short-cuts, equate to a catastrophe. It is not the end of the world if you have a negative thought about someone or if someone has a negative thought about you. You will not die.
With all that you have already lived through and the enormity of your valuable life, do you really believe that a fleeting negative judgement about you will have an enormous impact on how your life continues to unfold? If someone happens to judge you, do you truly believe that that moment will be something you will still be ruminating over in 10 days, 10 months or 10 years? Do you really think you are going to wake up in the middle of the night, sweating profusely and replaying that time you were drinking coffee and some one looked at you when they passed by? Do you really believe that with all the experiences life gives you, the pleasures, the adventures, the friends, family, jobs, children, pets, achievements, successes, challenges, and changes, you will lay on your death bed and think back to that terrible moment at the cafe? It almost seems laughable doesn’t it? And so we should enjoy laughing at ourselves more, with kindness and understanding, in that we are all the same. We all get caught up in this cycle at times. But let’s not waste any more precious time on this.
So, the next time you notice yourself coming up with a negative story about what someone is thinking of you when they glance your way, just thank your brain for trying to be efficient in using its short-cuts. Then, pause, smile, and remind yourself that you have the power to choose. You have the power to decide whether you are going to focus on this story or create a new template. In that moment, turn your attention to what really matters to you, in how you want to live your life and how you want to be feeling. Remind yourself of your meaningful pursuits, your goals, and your intention to put energy, thought, and time into things that make you feel most alive, joyful, purposeful, and fulfilled. And if that feels too hard, start by taking three slow, long, deep breaths. Our brains create new templates more easily when they are relaxed. In relaxation we can empower ourselves to see the bigger picture.
Much love to you,