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Truth? I care about what others think and it’s my preference to be liked.

I don’t need that approval to validate who I am, nor do I need it 100% of the time, but if I’m honest (and we might as well be) I like to be liked, and guess what?

So do you.

Why don’t we all just admit this, giving up the goat that makes for such popular internet blog posts, all about “giving no fucks” and “not caring what others think.”

You care, at least a little bit.
You want to be liked, at least a little bit.
Who wouldn’t? Being liked is comfortable and being disliked is profoundly uncomfortable.

I find incredible relief in just being honest about this business of being a human: Ah, yes, no more exhaustion in trying to not care what others think. I’ll just admit that I do care.

But even as I admit that I care what others think—that judgements and criticisms sting—it is equally as true that I do not let those things dictate my behavior.

You can acknowledge that it hurts when others don’t like you, while refusing to live under the illusion that pandering to what they expect will get you anywhere.

It won’t.

Critical people are critical people. They’re wounded, and they deserve our compassion, but they do not deserve our obedience.

The Courage Habit

For some time now, I’ve been geeking out on research about habit-formation, and if you’re interested in not letting what others think control you, I’ve got something for you.

Habits run on a loop of three parts: Cue, routine, reward. For instance, you smell warm brownies coming out of the oven, and you eat them, and experience the reward of a flush of opiate receptors in your body saying, “Yummmm!” If you get the cue of smelling warm brownies often enough, this might become a habit for you, nom-nom-noming on those brownies.

Habits control our actions more often than we like to admit, and it’s my hypothesis that when it comes to fear, we operate on a different cue-routine-reward system:

We feel the cue of fear and “I’m not good enough,” such as at those times when someone dislikes or criticizes our behavior.

We execute a routine—people-pleasing, for instance, or any other manner of fear patterns such as being a workaholic, alcoholic, lashing out in anger, procrastinating, and more.

We execute those routines to get to a reward—the temporary reward of alleviating the anxiety felt when that first cue was executed.

We form a habit when we keep responding to fear in the same way, over and over, in search of that decreased anxiety. Most habits run on auto-pilot, without our consciously thinking about them.

The problem is that executing a fear-based routine such as people-pleasing only gets temporary results. It’s only a temporary alleviation of the anxiety that you feel when someone is criticizing you.

What does the research indicate is a more permanent, effective way of working with fear? I’ve been thinking of it as “The Courage Habit.” There are four parts:

1. Access the body.
2. Listen without attachment.
3. Reframe limiting Stories.
4. Take action.

You access the body so that you can slow down in those moments when you’re caring what others think and you know that you don’t want to just default to, say, people-pleasing or perfectionism.

You listen without attachment—to them, to your inner critic. You just listen to what is being said, but without being attached to the idea that you have to respond in a certain way.

You reframe limiting Stories—as soon as something feels like a “have to,” or you realize that there’s a message of limitation such as “You can’t do this,” you start questioning the fallacy of it. Because no, you don’t ‘have to’ do anything, and actually, you can do something, if you really want to.

You take action—something small, simple, do-able.

Cue, (New) Routine, Reward

Habits form when there is a relatively chronic loop of cue-routine-reward.

The cue of feeling fear or judgement when someone doesn’t like what you do? That probably won’t go away. It’s the thing you have the least control over. You can’t insulate yourself from other people’s criticism or from the very natural feelings of hurt that arise from it.

The reward of feeling less anxiety? You’re only human. Who wouldn’t want to feel some relief when the feelings of “you’re not enough” as a result of someone else’s criticism are arising.

It’s the part in the middle—the routine—that you do have some control over. You could run the old fear pattern (people-pleasing, perfectionism, lashing out, etc.) or you could decide that you want to run a different routine, a courage habit routine, that consists of working with things differently when they arise.

What Others Think

We’ve heard it before: What others think of you is none of your business.

True. What is your business is how you react and respond.

It’ll always be a losing game to either pretend not to care or to pander to what others think.

It’ll always be a winning game to decide that you’ve got options beyond running an old fear pattern.

That’s just what I think. How about you?