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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.
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?
Y’all. I got a book deal. The day that my editor called and said, “We want to buy your book!” I was feeling like this:
And then, quite suddenly, things were moving quickly. – Contract for my attorney to review and for me to sign. – First few chapters due (already? Yes. Already). – New author packet arrived in the mail, going over the entire trajectory of what the publishing process is like.
Meanwhile, I was also training for a half-Ironman and still working with the trainees in the Courageous Living Coach Certification, and I was developing the curriculum for Facilitate With Impact. My daughter had her birthday party coming up, my husband was planning for a hiking trip which meant I’d be doing solo parenting, my entire family would be visiting in a few weeks, the to-do list was mounting.
These were all good things—the things that you want to have happening in your life—and yet I was feeling stress and overwhelm and couldn’t even take my own advice about getting things off of my plate. Everything was a competing priority.
How to Deal With Stress, Tip #1: Lifestyle, or temporary
When I facilitate a Breathing Space circle, I’m very clear that there is no way to time-hack your way out of feeling overwhelmed. Overwhelm happens, and that’s fine, so long as we have realistic ways of dealing with it when it arises. It frequently happens because we pile way too much on our plates, and we aren’t willing to put anything on the Stop Doing list. You can’t live joyfully while also choosing burn out.
At the same time, I needed to reconcile something: the choice to do a lot during this season of my life? It wasn’t a lifestyle. It was temporary. There’s a difference between the kind of stress that comes from your chronic lifestyle choices and the kind that is only temporary.
Naming the difference? Hugely beneficial.
How to Deal With Stress, Tip #2: Access the body
It simply doesn’t work, to try to pretend as though heart and head are separate. We live in a culture that has conditioned us to at best prioritize logic over feeling, and at worst to disregard feelings altogether. You might find yourself at any place along that spectrum.
Stop. Breathe. (Try taking a deep breath, right now). I realize that self-help types are always telling people to stop and breathe, but they’re only doing that because it genuinely works as a way to deal with stress. It relieves stress, gets you thinking more clearly, and can even provide insight into a problem you’ve long struggled with (I call that somatic awareness).
How to Deal With Stress, Tip #3: Shift Your Mentality
I’ve interviewed a number of highly successful entrepreneurs. Here’s what they have in common: they don’t view the challenges of their lives in the same way.
When they get really busy? They don’t obsessively think, “I’m so overwhelmed with all of these clients; what will I do?”
Instead, they think, “Hell yeah, I worked for this! I am absolutely booked with clients, and it rocks. Excited for my vacay, too.”
Mentality is everything. You can be completely overwhelmed by the requirements of the training program that you’re enrolled in—or you can feel proud of yourself for putting some skin in the game and excited about how it will feel to reach the finish line.
You can be flat-lined by the demands of the book contract, or you can feel like it’s the best opportunity you’ve been handed and you’re going to run that ball to the end zone (I’m not usually into football metaphors, but this works).
If shifting your mentality about something you’re doing feels like such a monumental task that you just can’t do it, no matter how hard you try? You probably shouldn’t be doing it.
How to Deal With Stress, Tip #4
Know when to quit.
People often talk about how to be courageous as an either-or equation and use platitudes such as “Quitting isn’t an option.” I vote that quitting is a great option when you have tried everything your power to shift your mentality about something, and it’s still a miserable endeavour.
Let’s be real: fear is very, very convincing. Understand the difference between fear telling you to give up, versus the writing on the wall that is clear: This just isn’t you; it’s not your soul’s path; that’s how it goes, sometimes.
When the writing is on the wall, heed what it says.
Quitting is a privilege that few people who have it seem to exercise. In ten years, you’ll be ten years older. You can be a decade older having maintained the status quo of something that grinds you down a little more each day, or you can be a decade older having decided to start making sane, sustainable shifts towards what you really desire.
Sometimes, right before bed and even when I’m tired, I will suddenly find that I can’t sleep. I’ll feel a low-grade anxiety, and it’s difficult to pinpoint what it’s about.
So my husband—he’s such a champ—and I will pull on jackets and take a few loops up and down the block, and we’ll talk about what’s going on.
What ends up coming out, is always this: a feeling of being caught between two difficult options.
Always, there are nuances and no easy answers—and this is what no one really talks about when they talk about how to be courageous.
When people talk about how to be courageous, it’s usually with binary, good vs. bad language: There’s the fearful choice, and the courageous choice, and all you need to do is pick the courageous one!
However, I think it’s more ambiguous. Here’s what I find:
There’s the option that’s a huge risk and a ton of work, with the great emotional payout that will have made the risks and work worth it…
…or the option that’s about less work and more breathing space (and probably fewer of these nights where I can’t sleep) and the results aren’t nearly as interesting.
When people talk about how to be courageous, it’s usually with the exhortation that you need to choose the option with more risks and work, so that you can get the bigger rewards. I mean, duh, of course that’s how to be courageous. No taking the easy way out.
When I talk about how to be courageous, I talk about how to be real. That’s what courage always comes back to.
* * *
The reality is that the answers are nuanced and they aren’t as easy as picking the riskier, high-octane adventure.
The reality is that your life has seasons, and that even big dreams will have seasons where the sane choice is to not push for more (that would be my life, the first two years after having my daughter).
The reality is that there are other seasons of your life where maintaining the status quo is a total cop-out. Only discernment will tell you which is which.
The reality is that you are going to meander, pursue things with your whole heart behind it and find that it was a waste of time, be seduced by side projects that you later realize are distractions, work hard for something only to reach the end and hate it.
The reality is that creating something and looking back over the journey to get there is one of the most self-satisfying things that I know.
The reality is that few things are as high-stakes as we often make them out to be. Fork in the road moments appear most regularly in movies. But in real life? Chances are, you will have multiple opportunities.
Chances are that you might complete your coach certification one year and not really try to make a go of it as a coach until four years later, and it’ll all turn out okay (oh, hey, that’s exactly how my own story started).
Chances are that the relationship that could never be resurrected probably is, with time and growth and a newfound willingness to leave the past baggage behind.
Chances are that bad financial decisions can be corrected; dysfunctional patterns can be healed; with fits and starts, you will figure out your way.
* * *
When my husband and I finish these loops back and forth past our house, I never magically arrive home with different circumstances.
The decisions to be made in my life or business are still difficult ones, but they feel less-so and I can go to sleep because I’ve made the choice to be courageous by being real.
Being a human is a difficult thing. I realize that I’ve stated this in so many different incarnations on this site, but it really is true that the simple owning of fears and uncertainties is the start of what makes all the difference.
If you want to know how to be courageous, start by asking yourself how you can be most real.