I can’t do that…..What will they think?

Why do so many people spend their lives in various states of ‘fear’ about what other people think of them?

For most people, their behaviours and actions are directed and determined by a set of ‘rules’ that are derived from a mixture of societal, religious, cultural, legal or family rules about what to do and how to behave. Sadly people self-adjust their behaviours because they are fearful of the disastrous consequences that WILL result from any deviation from these rules. Even the so-called ‘individuals who ‘do their own thing, still look for feedback and desperately want their ‘tribe’ to like them. Really they are not so independent, rather they vie for position on the ‘I’m an individual ranking’ – the more out there the cooler they are.

The knots people get themselves into, the level of unhappiness, dissatisfaction, unfulfilled goals and dreams because of these rules, is staggering. In fact, as a behaviourist working with people/businesses on modifying their behaviours to achieve their best outcome day in and day out, most of what I do is around working with people to let go of these rules and stories. The amount of stress, anxiety and ‘depression’ I see with people because they emphatically ‘believe they have no choice’ but to live their lives according to these rules, is alarming.

When people are challenged about their belief in and adherence to these rules, most people believe they have no other option but to ‘follow the rules’. Moreover, they have concocted a whole set of catastrophic consequences that absolutely will occur, just as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow if they don’t abide by the rules. There is no rationale, proof or actual evidence for their ‘fixed beliefs’ that these consequences WILL happen, it is the ‘truth’.

Think about a time you did something you didn’t want to do and made you pretty unhappy – but you did it anyway. What is worse is that you then spent the next countless hours, days or longer, justifying and rationalising why you did something you really didn’t want to do.

A further alarming factor is that social media and the need for ‘likes’ has grossly exacerbated this problem. People have literally become ‘like’ junkies which take the whole thing of ‘what will they think of me’, to a new level. Social media, in the beginning, served as somewhat of an antidote to these rules as people felt freer online than they did in ‘real life’, and would post things that they would not ‘normally’ be brave enough to say face to face. However, once the ‘negative’ feedback either real or perceived – ironically according to ‘rules’ – started to kick in and the whole obsession with ‘likes’ was ignited, we now have an added level of complexity to the ‘rules’ that people behave by.

This is particularly prevalent in cultures within businesses, where people behave according to ‘unwritten ground rules’. Behaving according to ‘rules’ at work are often the most stressful as people’s job security and stability is linked to the ‘adherence’ to these rules. However, in most cases, managers and employers are shocked when they learn about the unwritten ground rules within their business.

So how do people let go of the ‘rules’?

The first thing people need to do is challenge why they believe the rules are true? They need to look at what the rule they believe to be true makes them do, and what they want to do – provided it is fair and reasonable. Then they need to look at how big the gap is between ‘the rule behaviour’ and what they want to do. Generally speaking the wider the gap the greater the ‘fear’ and also the more likely it is that the ‘so-called rule’ is a perceived truth rather than actual truth. Then an open, honest and direct conversation is needed with the person/persons who are ‘setting the rule’ to assess whether it is, in fact, the ‘truth’. In all cases involving reasonable people – these rules are unfounded. The cases where it is not, involve narcissists and other unpleasant characters.

When people have done this once they can begin to look at other area’s of their lives where they behave according to ‘rules’ and apply the same process. The key to doing things differently and feeling a whole lot better is open, transparent and honest communication. These ‘rules’ serve to create ‘false stories’ that people live their lives by, because they become whom they think they are, that is another post.