What do other people think of me ?
What keeps you up at night ?
We’ve all been there. 3 a.m. You’re beat, but your mind won’t let you sleep. Like a dog with a bone, it keeps noisily gnawing on the same questions. Well, professor Ben Fletcher and his team have sought to identify the questions that keep us up at night. Here’s the top five:
- What do I want?
- Am I doing the right thing?
- What do other people think of me?
- Wheream I going in my life?
- Why do I act the way I do?
As there’s a good chance that these questions also keep you up at night, I’ll blog on each of the five. Once I’m done, you’ll be able to read about them all write.
What do other people think of me?
What do other people think of you? If your mind is keeping you up at night asking you this question, there’s a pretty good chance that the responses it comes up are, shall we say, of disputable quality. Why is that? Let’s have a look.
We humans are closer to some insects, bees for example, that to other mammals. I am not referring to your sweet-as-honey auntie Jeanne, but to the fact that everything that we do, use, and eat depends on the labour of countless thousands of other humans, living or dead. Look at our skyscrapers, the only thing that comes close in the animal kingdom are termite mounds built in the Australian outback by millions of termites. Basically, you’re a social insect — except for the fact that you’re also a mammal with a pretty big brain. A brain that, as you well know, keeps you awake with questions.
That big brain that never shuts up is preoccupied, as it would be, with your social position and what the other termites with big brains think of you. That’s because your brain reasons that your good integration into the hive, or termite mound depends on what the other bees think of you. But, you know what, when your brain worries about what others think of you, it doesn’t think about what it thinks of the others. And, believe it or not, it is the same for all the other big-brained bees in our human hives.
So, a first response to the question is that, actually, other people don’t think about you all that much. I know it can feel like a bit of a blow to your ego, but other people’s brains are primarily concerned with their owners — not with you.
Another aspect of this question arises from the comparative and evaluative nature of our minds. Their capacity to evaluate and compare is incredibly useful when the job at hand is to evaluate how much flour and sugar to put in your pancake recipe and if it tastes better than last time. But when it turns on yourself, it doesn’t work so well anymore. The reason is that your mind is going to compare your insides, which like a teenager’s basement bedroom look like a war zone at best, with other folks’ outsides, which, like your Auntie Jeannie’s living room, always seems pristine, with every last object in its right and proper place. Your mind has a natural tendency to forget that no one else has access to your insides. It is thus easily fooled in believing that what others see of you is your familiar inner chaos. In fact, all they see is your outside, that I’m sure you spend a good chunk of time washing, combing, dressing and maybe even making up.
The fact that the others only have access to your outside does not mean they judge you mostly on appearances. They can also notice what you do with your hands and feet, with your mouth and with the rest of your body, your actions. What they think about you when they somehow stop thinking about themselves and what others think of them long enough, is largely based on your actions.
So, if you really care about what other people think of you, behave like the person you want to be and there is a good chance that they’ll think that you are that person. The good news is that you’ll become this person you want to be, not only in other people’s yes, but more important still, in your own eyes and deeds.