A few years ago, I moved to the UK to start my bachelor’s degree.
For an 18-year-old who wanted to study abroad, this was AWESOME. But for the same 18-year-old who was too shy to speak to anyone, this was TERRIFYING.
I had all summer to get ready for university, but nothing prepared me for the moment when I walked into that first lecture hall.
I saw hundreds of students, chatting and laughing, like they’d known each other for years. Yet, I was there all by myself. I didn’t know a SINGLE PERSON in the room – and I was too shy to introduce myself.
As I stood a few feet away from those large, wooden doors, I began to panic. This was probably the BIGGEST CROWD that I’d seen up to that point. And it felt like all of them were watching me.
I was so desperate to look confident – but deep down, I was a nervous wreck. Socially-awkward me was playing around with the zipper on my backpack while the people around me were making friends.
But then, I caught a glimpse of a girl who looked just like me – shy, insecure and petrified about what others would think. And that moment everything changed!
I said SCREW IT and decided to face my fear. I walked up to the girl and introduced myself. It didn’t even matter that I was speaking with a quavering voice. Or that I almost visibly shaking.
That day, the only thing that mattered was that I stopped giving in to my fear of meeting new people. It was the first time that I stopped worrying about what people would think – and started having fun at social events.
Over the past few years, I have done a lot to curb my obsessive need to be liked and in the process I discovered some interesting tips that I’d like to share with you today.
Tip 1: Remember that your life is yours to live
It’s easy to think that we need to please the people around us. We seek the approval of friends and family and we think that by pleasing them, we can make them like us more. This is absolutely fine in moderation, but if you feel like you are constantly living to meet others’ expectations you might want to make a change.
Some signs that you might be a people pleaser are if:
- You would love to switch jobs – but you decide to stay because you don’t want to disappoint your parents.
- You don’t like going to the movies – but haven’t told your boyfriend because you know he might get upset.
- You don’t complain about a burnt meal in a restaurant because you don’t want the chef to think that you are fussy.
- You apologise often and have a hard time saying no to things you don’t want.
- You feel uncomfortable if you suspect that someone is angry or upset.
- You’re too scared to tell your friends what you really think if they ask you about your opinion.
- You always agree with your co-workers, even if you know that they are wrong.
- You would love to take a year to travel the world – but worry that your friends are going to judge you.
We all make choices so others can be happy – but we shouldn’t do things where we need to sacrifice our own long-term happiness.
Remember, your life is YOURS to live, and you don’t have to meet anyone’s goals but your own.
You don’t have to assume responsibility for other people’s feelings. If people decide to feel upset because they don’t like what you are doing, that’s their problem, not yours … even if they say it’s all your fault.
Everyone is responsible for their own emotions – no matter how hard people try to convince you otherwise. Therefore, when you notice yourself worrying about what others think, remember that their thoughts and feelings are their responsibility, not yours.
Or as Wayne Dyer put it:
“What other people think of me is none of my business”.-Wayne Dyer
Tip 2: Ignore the haters
There will always be people who support you no matter what and people who try to drag you down. That’s the difference between your ‘true fans’ and your ‘true haters’.
Your true fans always see the good in you, and your true haters always focus on the negative. (So do ignore the haters – these are the people who write insulting comments on your social media and want to see you fail at any cost).
And yet, between these two extremes, there is another group of people who like what you do in some cases and dislike what you do in others. This is only natural, but when these people disagree with what you do, you might feel pressured to change something you know is right.
But let’s flip the switch – and think about we all judge people rather than how people judge you.
You might not have noticed, but the very qualities that make you likeable to one person are the same qualities that make you unlikable to another. What you read as determination, for example, might look like stubbornness to one of your friends. You might that honesty is helpful or rude, and a tendency to speak a lot can either be appreciated or seen as annoying.
We all judge people differently – depending on how we see ourselves and what values are important to us. Someone who is naturally outgoing might appreciate extroverted people over those who come across as shy. And people who think of themselves as hard workers, might look down on those who don’t put in long hours for their job every week. Like attracts like.
Even small things like what someone had for breakfast might influence how they feel about you. People have their own histories and problems, and their own state of mind. They might have just broken up with their girlfriend, or gotten distracted by a growing to-do list. Maybe they are in a foul mood because their neighbour shouted at them in the morning.
Just be aware that there are plenty of factors beyond your control (and probably also beyond your imagination) that influence how people think about you. The things these people say are not about you – but about how they perceive you.
When you do get hateful comments, you’ve usually met someone who is so angry, jealous or lacking in self-worth that they feel they need to say nasty things to degrade others and feel better about themselves. Just ignore these people and move on.
But if the comments sting, take a moment to feel grateful to these haters. They are exposing your insecurities and showing you in which areas of your life you need to learn to be more confident.
Tip 3: Don’t settle for mediocracy
The people who accomplish impress things and live fulfilled lives are often those who dare to defy the norm.
- If Albert Einstein had blindly followed his teachers’ instructions instead of finding new, more efficient ways to add all numbers from 1 to 100, he would not have accomplished as much in mathematics and physics.
- If Michael Dell had focussed on his university classes instead of trading IBM-PCs, he might not have started his hardware production company, Dell.
What you can see here is that extraordinary people do things differently. And being normal means that you are settling for the life that everyone else is living.
Sometimes, this might feel alright – like when it comes to the clothes you wear to work everyday or what you do with your friends. But you will come to a point where you the expectations of others clash with your dreams.
Like, I mean:
- Do you really want to work from nine-to-five for 40 years?
- Do you always want to travel to the same place?
- Do you want to feel pressured to find a partner, get married and have kids before you’re 35?
These are choices only you can make – no matter how many times your friends and family try to interfere because they think they know what’s best for you.
Of course, you can ask them for advice, but ultimately you need to call the shots. You’re the one who can reap the happiness if things go great and you’re also responsible for dealing with the unexpected consequences of every choice you make. That’s why you should always choose your own dreams and happiness over what other people think.
Tip 4: Challenge conditional thoughts
I used to think that people would start liking me if I did the right things – like going to the best parties, finding a cute boyfriend and being good at my job.
And for a while, it started to work. When I did the things that people wanted me to do, I noticed that I was becoming more popular. More and more people wanted to hang out with me, but on the inside I felt miserable. I felt like I was abandoning who I really was and living my life just to please others.
I quit doing what others wanted and focussed on stuff I truly cared about. I lost a few ‘friends’ in the process – but now I am living closer to my real values.
Now, what helped me get back to living my life the way I wanted it?
You guessed it: by defying the norm, I was essentially challenging my conditional thoughts (and many of them turned out to be incorrect anyway).
You can do the same.
- Do you really think your friends will stop being your friends if you quit your job and decide to start your own business? And even if they do, don’t you think you’ll make new friends in the mean time?
- Do you think people will only like you if you get married, buy a house and have kids like everyone else?
There are a lot of false assumptions we hold about friendship and likeability.
And even if thoughts like ‘Person X will only like me if I do …’ turned out to be true, do you really want to pretend to be a different version of yourself towards people who don’t want to accept you as you are?