My wife and I have been watching a lot of Friends recently. And when I say “a lot”, I mean A LOT. We were too young to really appreciate the show when it was on tv and we have really been enjoying watching it from the very beginning.
A recent episode left me with something that I have found myself continuing to think back on in recent weeks. At one point after they have recently moved in together, Rachel and Phoebe decide to go for a run together. In short order, Rachel is horrified by Phoebe’s “emphatic” running style. More than that, she is mortified by what other people would think of her running with Phoebe.
Embarrassed by Phoebe, Rachel avoids her during subsequent runs. Eventually, she confronts Phoebe on her unusual running style. Phoebe says something along the lines of “remember how it felt like to run when you were a kid. Running was fun and you felt like you were going so incredibly fast and the wind would just rush by you. I still run that way.” By the end of the episode, Rachel has adopted Phoebe’s “technique” and is having more fun than ever before.
Too few of us run like Phoebe.
We are so scared about what the rest of the world thinks of us, we aren’t true to ourselves. This is even true (maybe especially true) when our only witnesses are strangers.
It is not an accident that we are status-obsessed creatures that spend an inordinate amount of time focused on what others think of us. Not so long ago in most of our genetic histories, our ancestors were living in small villages with little to no mobility or communication with other communities. In this setting, an obsession with not doing anything to look bad makes a lot of sense.
Do or say too many stupid things and you may just ruin your chances with the few suitable mates in your community. This is a big issue when there weren’t a lot of eligible bachelors/bachelorettes in your community. Make an off-color joke about the blacksmith and Gertrude Smith could just write you off as a compelling candidate for a mate altogether. Congratulations. You chances at procreating just dropped by 13%.
You can see how this becomes a problem. (With the number of times I regularly put my foot in my mouth I can almost guarantee I would not have continued the genetic line had I been born a few hundred years earlier.)
Unfortunately, our lizard brains are still stuck in this scarcity mindset despite having overwhelming abundance. The internet. Telephones. Cars. Tinder. You literally could offend 99.99% of people you come into contact with and you would still have a decent shot in this day and age! And yet we act as if saying or doing something stupid in front of people we will literally never see again will somehow be the end of us.
But I want to let you in on a little secret.
The only psychological trait that overpowers our incredible fear of what others think of us…
…is our even more impressive self-absorption.
You shouldn’t care about what other people think of you, because they AREN’T thinking about you. They are all too focused on their own life to expend calories thinking about what you just said or the fact that your boots and your belt clash. And you know what, even if they are looking at you, who cares? Chances are your paths will never cross again. Go ahead, live your life.
This may seem like a pessimistic perspective, but once you accept it, you will find it incredibly freeing. You’ll be able to start living how you would if you weren’t afraid what other people thought. You’d be able to start playing Grand Theft Life.
If I can be honest with you, this is an area where I definitely do not always practice what I preach. I definitely worry sometimes about what others think. This is one of the many (many, many, many, many) opportunities I have for self-improvement. But it’s an area I have definitely improved on. It is something that has been key to overcoming self-doubt and anxiety. And if I can do it, you can do it too.
One of the biggest areas in our modern world where I have seen this obsession with what other people think trip us up is social media. It may seem like everyone and their grandmother have 6 Twitter accounts, 2 Snapchats, 3 Instagrams, and a LinkedIn for their dog (not even the dog still has an active Facebook account though), but I actually think we could use some more people sharing their views and perspectives on the interwebs. Some of the smartest, most interesting people I know refuse to share on social media.
They are worried about what people will think. They are worried that other people are watching.
Here’s what I have learned about sharing content online.
Say something smart and people will find it, share it, and potentially open doors for you.
Say something stupid, and no one will do anything. People won’t spare it a second thought. Now there are limits. You can’t say anything toooo obscene.
But for the most part, sharing content is the ultimate asymmetric bet. Big upside. Minimal downside.
If you are afraid of putting yourself out there, don’t be. People are too busy focusing on own to their own feet to notice your missteps. But they will notice your greatness.
Run like no one is watching.
Dance like no one is watching.
Tweet like no one is following.