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How to Stop Worrying About What Other People Think of You

Breathing and adopting a personal mantra are just a few ways to stop these stressors in their tracks.

BraunS/Getty Images
BraunS/Getty Images

You know about “FOMO,” or “fear of missing out.” But fewer people talk about a less recognized, but closely related, social affliction: FOPO, or “fear of other people’s opinions.”

The term was coined by Michael Gervais, Ph.D., a high performance psychologist and creator of the podcast Finding Mastery, in Harvard Business Review. He writes that stress-inducing FOPO can be a huge barrier in people’s professional and personal lives, causing them to avoid going after their goals or taking healthy risks, due to a fear of rejection.

“If you start paying less and less attention to what makes you you — your talents, beliefs, and values — and start conforming to what others may or may not think, you’ll harm your potential,” Gervais writes.

Luckily, the ability to tune out negative critics (including the one in your own head) is a skill that you can learn and improve over time. If you suffer from FOPO, try the following tips (it may even be easier to cure than FOMO!).

Be mindful

It might sound counterintuitive, but focusing on what’s causing you stress can actually help reduce its power over you.

“If you acknowledge and recognize unpleasant emotions, they have less power to cause you distress,” Leah Weiss, Ph.D., MSW, a researcher, lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and author of How We Work, writes for Harvard Business Review. “When you pay attention to your body, you can catch emotional information upstream, before it hijacks your whole system.”

When you feel your body responding to stress or worry, rather than trying to stifle it (which can actually worsen your stress), tune in to what you’re feeling without judgment. Bringing awareness to your worries will help you manage your emotions more positively.

Breathe

“It takes just one intentional breath to change our perspective. A single breath gives you a break from the mind’s chatter and a chance for your body to regulate after amping up in response to a perceived threat,” Weiss writes.

It might take more than just one breath to wash away your worries completely, but focusing on the rhythm of your breathing has been proven to have calming effects. Try taking deep, intentional breaths when you feel that your worries are getting out of hand.

Accept and redirect

Despite your best efforts, you can’t control what other people think about you. (In fact, their opinions are more likely a reflection of themselves!) Instead of obsessing over them, accept what you can’t change, and then redirect your negative energy towards something positive or productive.

“Accepting the fact that you have no control over how other people think of you gives you a lot more freedom to focus your attention elsewhere. It also helps to break the idea that if you conform to certain ideas, you’ll automatically come across well to other people,” Chloe Brotheridge, a U.K.-based anxiety expert and author writes for Psychology Today.

Try channeling your worry into something productive — for example, if you’re nervous about delivering a presentation, practice until you know it by heart.

Adopt a confidence-boosting mantra

Self-awareness is at the root of overcoming insecurities about what other people think, Gervais points out. He suggests developing a personal philosophy or mantra to repeat to yourself when you’re feeling less-than-confident.

“When you feel the power of FOPO holding you back, simply acknowledge it, and re-connect to your philosophy and the larger objective at hand,” Gervais writes.

Seek feedback from someone you trust

While it’s important not to take every piece of criticism to heart, the words that hurt the most are often the ones that we ourselves believe to be true. If your insecurity comes from a real desire to improve in a certain area, then seeking advice from people you trust is a good place to start.

“Solicit feedback from a short list of people who matter to you. Honest reflection is a vital component of mastery,” Gervais writes.

Learning what areas you need to improve on (as long as the advice is delivered honestly and compassionately) can help you turn your insecurities into strengths.

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