What We Think Others Think
If we're not careful, we slowly fabricate a false reality.
I’ve often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.
Our actions (whether we realize it or not) are always in pursuit of something. We do X in hope of Y. We work out because we hope to lose weight. We read because we want to learn. We work to get paid. We go on vacation to relax.
When we’re extrinsically motivated, we’re typically moving towards something concrete. We can measure improvements in our fitness, performance at work, growth of personal projects, and similar pursuits.
When we’re motivated by others’ opinions of us, there’s no reliable measurement. Not only can others’ opinions of us not be measured but they’re completely fabricated in our own heads. When we let others’ opinions of us drive our behavior, we become extrinsically motivated by figments of our imagination.
Less common than over-indexing what others think of us, but just as crippling, is completely disregarding others’ opinions of our behavior. Our natural desire to be liked and respected is what holds together a polite society and keeps us from being too insulting, presumptuous, or raucous. When we completely disregard what others think of us, we become unhinged from reality, and the consequences fall on those around us.
Like anything, it comes down to the balance between extremes.
We can’t ignore the opinions of others entirely, but we can’t succumb to judgment from others either. Brazen disregard for what others think of us is an obvious problem, but caring too much about judgment from others is a more insidious problem.
Instead of being intrinsically motivated to advance our lives through worthwhile pursuits, we often fall into a trap of slowly creating stories about what other people think of us that come to define how we live our lives. It doesn’t happen quickly or even consciously, but if we don’t question why we’re doing things the way we do and push back against our assumptions of what other people think, soon enough, we’re living in a fantasyland directed completely by false narratives.
Questioning these narratives and forcing ourselves into uncomfortable situations is the only way to break them down and prove to ourselves they don’t actually exist.
Nothing bad will happen if we strike up a conversation with a stranger, wear a shirt with a stain on it, abstain from drinking when we’re out with our friends, ask a stupid question at work, or eat by ourselves at a restaurant.
We believe everyone else is watching us like a live documentary in 4k, but the truth is everyone is watching their own documentary. If we can put more energy into our intrinsic motivation to pursue something worthwhile than we do into our worries about what we think other people will think about us, we can create a new story that will set us free instead of holding us back.
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Where you do think the opinions of others drives your behavior?
What do you pursue when no one else is watching?
How can you test your assumptions about what other people think about you?
The Four Agreements - Don Miguel Ruiz
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A few challenges designed to put you in uncomfortable situations and show that nothing bad will happen if you do something out of the ordinary.
Thanks for reading! I’ll see you next Sunday.
As we get older, we care less of what others think. I have empathy, but I can disregard whatever I feel is not important to me.
Thank you for sharing this! I’ve been feeling some tension around how people perceive me as well as my professional background and training (I’m an RN) vs. some identities/activities I want to lean into and share with others- like astrology and tarot. It feels like one might de-legitimize the other but I think it’s likely a narrative that exists mostly in my head.