Self-Full Living: 5 Tips for Caring Less About What Others Think and More About What You Do

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“What I needed to do was see the perfection that already existed in all things. Nothing needed changing – everything had perfection already in it. I realized that my pain comes from wanting things to be other than they are. When I accept things as they are, I’m completely happy.”

–Daniel Levin

Upgrade Your Flaws

I have a confession to make. I’m a nerd. It took me a while to realize this about myself. Even the years of middle school bullying didn’t clue me into the fact that I was an undeniably huge nerd. You maybe thinking, “Why admit it now?” Seems pretty convenient when being a nerd is more socially acceptable and even considered a privilege in some circles. Or, at least, that’s the conclusion I made from watching a few seasons of Glee.

I admit it now not only because it’s more acceptable, but also because I’m going through a phase—no, an awaking. Cross that out, let’s go with breaking point. That doesn’t sound quite right either. Oh, I got it now: I’ve had an existential crisis. Whatever I might choose to call it, the point is that I’m at a place in my life where I care less about what people think of me. Caring less about what others think gives me more freedom to be open about who I am. Maybe it’s because I’ve embarrassed myself too many times and survived it, or perhaps I’m experiencing early onset dementia. Either way, I’m done with living in denial and trying to project a certain image of myself to the world so that people will accept me.

As I get older, I see that it’s undeniably magical to not care so much about what other people think. That’s what people say, isn’t it? Once you get older you care less about fitting in, being accepted, and feeling like you need to care about what Tom in the lunchroom thinks about your shoes. But what if you’re still young? Or what if you’re getting older but still get bothered about other people’s opinions? What if you’re addicted to living for others’ approval of you? What if you really do care about what Tom thinks of your shoes? I’d like to offer some tips for what I call self-full living—i.e., living for yourself and your personal values instead of basing your actions on fear of what others might think or say about you. Basically, living self-fully means not giving a crap. Hopefully these tips can bring you some clarity.

1. Accept Your Flaws: Once I learned to accept my flaws, they no longer bothered me as much. Maybe I smothered them so much with love and affection that they started running in the other direction. Or maybe my acceptance pushed me to take action and concentrate more on my value, since I was no longer wasting energy being upset about what I didn’t like about myself. Society tells us we need to be perfect, and if we aren’t, we should hide the imperfections like a spray tan covers pasty skin. The way I see it, though, flaws don’t just disappear; we all have them for life. But our flaws can improve over time and turn into good, socially acceptable parts of ourselves. The secret is to own your flaws. As the saying goes, “The more you know who you are and what you want, the less you let things upset you.” Part of knowing who you are is knowing your limitations.

2. Know What To Care About: While not caring about what others say may seem simple on the surface, it isn’t. Most of us struggle throughout our lives by caring so much about other people’s wants that we forget about our own. This is called living selflessly. We care about the nasty waitress who gave us the wrong order. We care when the movie didn’t perfectly match the novel. We care when a stranger doesn’t say hello. We care when our plans get rescheduled after we’ve gotten ready. We care about everything under the sun. Why? For what reason exactly? Does it make us feel better? Do we need that waitress or stranger to approve of our existence to feel like a person? When we care too much, when we choose to care about everything, we forget about the person who matters the most. We forget that the waitress’s crappy mood has nothing to do with us; that making that book into a movie is out of our hands; that sometimes plans change and that’s okay. At some point we started to believe that we’re entitled to kindness and fairness 24 hours a day. But we aren’t. At the end of the day, you are only responsible for treating yourself and others in a kind way. If you do that, the rest matters less.

I want you to know that it’s okay to care. You might be thinking, “Wait, aren’t you telling me to care less?” No. I’m saying to put your energy into caring more about the important things in life. Care about your opinion, your thoughts, and what you value. Once you do that, the opinions of others will matter much less.

3. Build Self-Reliance: People aren’t born with self-reliance; they gain it through the trials and errors of life and the outcomes of their decisions. I started to develop confidence when I decided to think for myself and move forward with my decisions. People who act with self-reliance feel more in control of their environment. Feeling this way is essential to gaining a sense of wellbeing. When what you do is in line with what you believe, your self-esteem and happiness grow, and something magical happens: You start caring less about the small stuff. Building self-reliance often means taking on more risks; ironically, this tends to be a far less fear-inducing and anxiety-provoking way of life. That’s because being self-reliant means doing things for yourself. When you decide to place yourself in anxiety-provoking situations, you can be emboldened by the knowledge that it was your decision. We tend to be bothered more when we feel forced or pushed into difficult situations than when we decide on our own. The more you do for yourself, the better you feel; the better you feel, the more confident you’ll become.

4. Make Your Own Decisions: You need to start making your own decisions. It’s not necessary to share every problem you encounter with everyone in your life. People do this to get advice, be told what they need to do, and pass their anxiety on to others. As you become more self-full, you’ll start knowing the next step to take in your life, and you’ll recognize that nobody else has the answers. In self-full living, you know that only you have the best response to your life circumstances.

5. Build A Self: If you don’t have a solid sense of self, you’ll find yourself looking to your environment to figure out who you are and what you’re supposed to do next. Not caring so much about others’ opinions requires a strong sense of self, which gives you the ability to govern your need for approval from others. You’ll no longer be driven by a need to be approved of or a desire for others to accept you and your choices. You won’t have to look outside yourself to know you’re doing the right thing. If you know you’re making the right choices and living for yourself, you don’t need other people’s approval. When you have a strong sense of self, you know who you are.

Final Thoughts

Self-full living starts with recognizing who we are, what we’ve got to work with, and what works best for us. Sooner or later, we’re bound to discover some things about ourselves that we don’t like. But once we identify those things, we can decide what we want to do with them. Do we want to get rid of them completely, change them into other things, or use them in beneficial ways? The last two approaches are often especially useful, since they don’t involve a struggle. Rather than work against ourselves, all we need to do in many cases is point our weaknesses or unpleasant tendencies in a different direction. Turning our challenges into strengths is far more useful than trying to get rid of the challenges altogether. Then the next time someone says something that could be potentially hurtful, it won’t bother you as much because you’ll be fully aware of yourself—all of yourself—nerdy flaws included.

Talk soon,

Dr. Ilene

Article edited by Dr. Denise Fournier

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