Don’t worry. This is not another article imploring you to detox your wardrobe Marie Kondo style (ha, I did that last year), take up mindfulness, cut out sugar or go big on gratitude. Granted, if you did all those things you’d be feeling pretty pleased with yourself. But then, no one likes a smug person at the beginning of the year, least of all a smug person who is glowing from all the kale they have inhaled.
The majority of us have little time for New Year’s resolutions, made to be broken in a heartbeat. I will admit however, that January is always a contemplative time of the year, a moment of quiet reflection, when it’s not unusual to wonder what the months ahead of us hold in store. So how to better navigate 2016?
If I do just one thing this year, it’s going to be worrying a whole lot less about what other people think. I noticed in the second half of last year how much we read into everything these days and how personal it has all become. Surely how many ‘likes’ on an Instagram post does nothing to quell this very irrational and behavior. Once I’d really started observing all the instances this happened, it was quite an eye-opener. It made me acutely aware of how much time was wasted and how much frustration could be spared if we only all just stepped back to take in the bigger picture.
How often have you emailed someone and then wondered why they’ve been so slow to reply to you. “Are they cross with me?” you ask yourself. “I can’t fathom what on earth I’ve done to upset them”. And on it goes, the endless internal dialogue, creating all sorts of needless drama about their opinion of you, when the rational explanation is that their slow reply has absolutely nothing to do with you. Even if their actions did have something to do with you, they’d either tell you what was bothering them or they wouldn’t. End of.
How other people behave obviously has a lot to do with what sort of a day they’re having: their own worries, pressures, deadlines, anxieties and agenda. But for the most part, we all walk around so wrapped up in our own problems and thoughts that we fail to understand what other people are going through.
Obviously it’s not possible to be entirely immune to other people’s opinions and actions. We care and nurture our relationships and friendships. And rightly so. But there is a big difference in respecting what people think and worrying endlessly about what they think of us. With that in mind, it’s worth always taking a deep deep breath- and remembering the following:
1. You can’t control what other people think or what they do:
So don’t bother. The only person you can control is yourself and how you react to a situation. As my mother always says “only you can upset yourself”. When we take things personally we are giving others more power over us than they deserve or should ever be allowed to have. Essentially you are letting someone else tell you who you are, instead of relying on what you know to be true about yourself.
2. Have empathy and look beyond the end of your nose:
Do you really know why your friend or colleague who is usually so easy going has just snapped at you? Take the time to find out; there’s nearly always a reason, and sometimes, with a bit of prodding from you, they might be quite pleased to discuss it.
3. Don’t jump to conclusions too quickly when you are being confronted:
A knee jerk reaction – okay then mine – is to go on the defence. But often that judgment or criticism is not directed at you. Sometimes it’s not about you at all, but rather what someone else is thinking and their own perceptions projected onto you. In fact, it’s almost always about them, their issues, their needs and their wish to control or manipulate a situation.
4. Not everyone is like you:
I beat myself up for months thinking that our nanny was unhappy. “What had I done?” I would ask myself every morning before I went to my desk to start my day’s work. I would tip toe around, wondering how to make her smile or how I could make her day better until one day the situation blew up. It turns out that while she’s a great nanny to my children, she’s not a morning person and she’s also a woman of very few words. We are very different people. And that’s just fine.
5. Create a space between yourself and your reactions:
A friend suggested this and I tried it when I wanted to rage at someone. She suggested a good idea was to visualise a healthy personal space around yourself. Imagine yourself in the middle of a meadow with a white picket fence surrounding it. That’s your space. No one is permitted within it unless you allow them to enter into it. When you create a space/buffer between yourself and another person, personal boundaries have less of a chance of being crossed and/or blurred. Doing this instantly makes me feel calmer.
6. Your sense of self:
Finally, learn to rely on yourself. Of course, we can’t not be influenced by relationships but the more you know about yourself, the less you need others to tell you about yourself. Take the time to build that inner resilience. The next time you start reading into something another person has done and worrying about their opinion of you, remember: there’s a distinct possibility, it’s not about you. Until you know, it’s a bit pointless to worry about it.
As a former people-pleaser, I need to remind myself that what really matters is what I think of me. And that I’ll think so much more of me, if I resist the urge to create stories about other people’s actions.