Work/Life Balance

What You Need To Do To Stop Caring What People Think

By | Monday, March 21, 2016


I don’t say this lightly, but there is an article I read which has changed my entire outlook on life, and it’s only been two days since I read it. The piece is Taming the Mammoth: Why You Should Stop Caring What Other People Think, by Tim Urban, and it appeared on Wait But Why . This ingenious article felt like someone was speaking directly to me, and what’s more, every single person I sent it to had the exact same reaction. They said, “holy shit, this is me.” The author’s way of succinctly and hilariously describing (with adorable illustrations) the social pressures we feel compelled to conform to was a totally cathartic experience. For anyone struggling with their own demons/issues/insecurities (which is pretty much everyone I know), here’s what you need to know about letting go of the opinions of others, if you want to improve your life.

In a nutshell, the author refers to the massive desire for social approval and the irrational fear of being disliked as our Social Survival Mammoth. Each of us has our own mammoth, which is essentially a  biological relic from the days our ancestors spent living in close quarters with our “tribe” whose approval we actually did need. (Unless we wanted to be cast without protection, food, or mates.) Those days were obviously very tough, but times have changed, society has evolved, and that part of our biology isn’t required in the way it used to be.

Personally, I’ve always struggled with this completely irrational need/desire to please others, and I’ve often found that my own mental health, sanity, and well-being suffers as a result of it. While I don’t suffer from the specific social anxiety the author describes, my desire to please can be just as maddening. If you allow this to take hold of you, it can be a slippery slope. Your needs become secondary, and life can feel kind of sucky.

I’ve found that as I’ve gotten older and have had to make tougher choices, which affect myself and loved ones, it’s truly impossible to please everyone. I’ve come to learn that you will never be liked by everyone, and that is okay. But that’s a lot easier to handle in theory than in practice. The author says that the problem with our desire for social acceptance is two-fold. Not only do we have to deal with our own Mammoths, but we must also deal with a potential “Puppet Master,” or someone we deeply feel the need to please and seek/acquire validation from. Urban describes it, saying:

“Sometimes, a mammoth’s focus isn’t on wider society as much as it’s on winning the approval of a Puppet Master in your life. A Puppet Master is a person or group of people whose opinion matters so much to you that they’re essentially running your life. A Puppet Master is often a parent, or maybe your significant other, or sometimes an alpha member of your group of friends.”

Sound familiar? It’s fairly common that people experience a compulsion to fulfill the expectations that others set for them. I’ve read a lot of articles that talk about the danger of spending our entire lives trying to meet expectations that others set for us, instead of taking a step back to set them for ourselves. If we never exercise our right to choose what we want for ourselves, then something called our Authentic Voice suffers. Now, there are a lot of silly and fluffy articles out there about how it’s essential to ~find yourself~ and to “get lost so you can get found again.” This is the type of mindless self-help advice that goes in one of my ears and out the other.

The article linked above lays out the issues and circumstances that can cause systematic problems if they aren’t addressed and provides context to help understand the root cause of bad behavior. You see, your Authentic Voice, or AV, will suffer if it doesn’t get enough validation. The author writes:

“Your AV is also someone the mammoth tends to ignore entirely. A strong opinion from a confident person in the outside world? The mammoth is all ears. But a passionate plea from your AV is largely dismissed until someone else validates it.”

I’ve realized that the people in my life that I love most are ones that have a strong sense of self, and who have opinions, thoughts, and feelings they feel deeply conflicted about. When I think about what I love most about these people, it suddenly clicks — I want to replicate those qualities because it’s what my own AV tells me is valuable. We all owe it to ourselves to be the type of person we know we are deep down and avoid falling victim to societal pressures. In the article, Urban writes, “AV-run people are more respected and more magnetic,” which is a direct result of them being complex, unique, and different. When people let go of their insecurities and harmful/controlling Mammoth, there’s simply more to them to love because they let their river run deeper. This authenticity can benefit us all, and it’s something we strive for here on TFD with things like Total Honesty Tuesday.

It’s not easy to hone in on and strengthen your AV, but these articles might help you do it. Developing a strong AV is a long process and one that’s not going to happen overnight. The article talks about courage and how making real changes can feel scary as hell, but it’s the only way you’ll see noticeable differences in your quality of life. When your mammoth is tamed into submission and you can finally open up to the world and it’s possibilities, the author explains that you’ll “relish the feeling of being viewed as weird or inappropriate or confusing to people, and society becomes your playground and blank canvas, not something to grovel before and hope for acceptance from.” Be patient, and never lose sight of your dreams and goals — you’re the only one who’s going to chase them down hard enough to make them a reality.

Image via Pexels

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