“I’m really struggling with this one class I teach,” my friend told me over lunch.
I nodded, knowing how stressful the last year has been for her in regard to this class.
“I recently got feedback and was told that my music should be more like another instructor, but…” and she paused, “a funny thing happened after that class. I was approached by one of my regulars and do you know what he said to me? He said, ‘You’re best when you do you.’ It was so simple, but it hit me deep. How can I be anyone else but me?” she proclaimed.
It was as if the weight she’d been carrying over this class – the stress and worry of this one thing – had been lifted off her.
You’re best when you do you.
How often do you stop yourself from showing up as you? How often do you doubt yourself and not make the playlist, wear the outfit, order the entrée or do “the thing” because of what someone said or what they might say? How much of your day do you get caught up in other’s opinions worrying about what they might think?
It’s something we’re all guilt of to greater or lesser degrees. Whether it’s obsessing that we might lose our class if our playlist doesn’t conform to someone else’s standards or worrying about what mutual friends might think when we decide to end a long-standing relationship, we live our lives seeking approval and acceptance in order to not face rejection.
But, before you get all down on yourself for being caught up in a cycle of approval addiction (or, before you say, “But I really don’t care what anyone else thinks”), know that our need for approval and acceptance is deeply rooted in evolution (thanks cavemen ancestors).
Before humans were sitting pretty at the top of the food chain, there was safety in numbers. A group of cavemen was way more effective against predatory animals than a single cavedude. Not being accepted into the group could mean the difference between life or death.
While not being accepted no longer bears fatal consequences, there’s still physical, social and psychological repercussions. To be accepted means more than just the comfort of community – it can shape the way we view ourselves and how we interact with the world around us.
The shift from survival instinct to social imperative is one of our greatest obstacles to self-acceptance. We believe we either fall into the category or worrying about what others think or we follow the credo “Just do you boo.”
But it’s not that simple.
The danger in making self-acceptance an either-or situation, either being wrapped up in caring what others think or not caring at all, is that it denies our human nature, attempts to resist our innate biology of giving a crap, and negates our social and biological need to be accepted.
We all have the same needs. We all have the same fears. We all care, on some level, about what others think and guess what? It’s not going away. And that’s something important to acknowledge so that we can train ourselves to care a little less, rather than attempt to not care at all.
Training Yourself to Care a Little Less
Learn to Breathe
When we’re triggered, we activate our flight or fight response and tend to perceive everything in our environment as a threat to our survival. The very same chemicals – adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol – that flooded the bloodstream of our ancestors, course through our veins in these moments. These patterns of nerve cells firing and the subsequent chemical reactions cause our respiratory heartrate to increase and our blood to be redirected to our muscles and limbs, should we have to “fight”. Even though worrying about what someone else thinks isn’t a life or death situation, in our bodies we experience it no different. And when we’re in a stress state – mentally, emotionally or physically – it’s impossible to be calm, clear and care a little less.
When you feel yourself stressed, take a moment to pause and intentionally breathe. Conscious, intentional breathing is a pattern interrupt and it allows you to interrupt whatever stress state you are in (angry, upset, etc.) so that you can redirect your focus and energy.
One of my favorite (and most effective on-the-go breathworks, in my opinion) is Square Breath. To practice Square Breath, inhale through the nose slow for four counts, hold the inhalation at the top with your lungs expanded for four counts, exhale slow out of the nose for four counts and hold the exhalation at the bottom for four counts. Do this for several minutes and focus on expanding the belly as you breathe as if you’re inflating a balloon. When you expand the belly, rather than just the chest, you allow yourself to take in more air and you use your lungs more efficiently. When you do this, you bring more oxygen to your blood, slow the respiratory heart rate and activate the prefrontal cortex, the conscious, decision-making part of your brain.
Analyze Your Values, Vision and Goals
When we don’t know what drives us, we allow ourselves to be driven.
Know Your Values
What’s important to you in life? What do you truly value? What drives you?
Once you know who you are and what you stand for, what others think becomes significantly less important. Even more, when you can identify your core values, you’ll be aligned with your vision in a way that guides your every action.
Read: when you have your values straight, you’ll have your shit straight.
Create a Compelling Vision
Your vision is your mission. It’s your purpose. It’s what excites you to wake up everyday (more here if you need help crafting your vision).
The first thing is to create a compelling vision and once you’ve done that, make yourself a disciple of that vision. Let that vision guide everything you do and don’t allow your vision to be about you. Ask yourself, “How does achieving this vision benefit others? Who benefits when I’m living my vision?”
When your vision goes beyond you, when it serves a far greater purpose than self-interest, you become invested rather than attached to the vision. And, when that’s the case, you’re less easily swayed by the opinions of others, because it’s not really about you anyways.
Read: if your goal or vision only impacts and benefits you, it’s too small.
Remind Yourself How Much People Really Don’t Care
As humans, you and I are inherently selfish (sorry – we are). We’re too caught up in our own lives, mostly worrying about things that haven’t happened yet or about what someone else might think. And, since we’re all the same in this regard, we’re too caught up in our own B.S. to really care about what someone else is doing.
We worry about the opinions of others, but the reality is opinions only exist within the confines of our minds and imagination. Even more, the opinions we’re most afraid of are the things people haven’t actually said – we’re just afraid they are thinking it or might say it.
Read: the opinions you’re afraid of, don’t even exist and they’re not physically going to hurt you.
Joseph Campbell said, “The privilege of life is being who you are” but he didn’t say the path there would be easy. Showing up as ourselves does take work because our natural instinct to care is strong; but, when we remember to breathe, when we get connected to our values and vision – most importantly, when we remember that other people really don’t care – we free up value real estate to be who we really are. And that’s where we shine brightest.
May you remember the infinite light of your being and may you shine bright in your own right.