All of us have this innate desire to want to fit in and worry about what other people think of us. The fear of other people’s opinions or FOPO is common and keeps us stuck in some ways.

Psychologist and author of the book The First Rule of Mastery: Stop Worry about What People Think of You, Michael Gervais says that this phenomenon is pervasive and comes from evolution where we may feel fearful of getting kicked out of the tribe.

“Our brain is designed for survival, and it is constantly scanning its environment to find all the things that are potentially dangerous. We recognize that sabre-toothed tigers are dangerous. One of the less recognizable things is that if we were kicked out of the tribe thousands of years ago, it was nearly a death sentence.”

In order to achieve that the brain becomes attuned to worrying and is constantly on high alert.

Why stop worrying?

Gervais says its not in all situations that you shouldn’t care what people think. In some situations it is justified to care and these are for people who genuinely care about you and your growth and those that have done extremely difficult things in life.

“If you’re going to pay attention to people’s opinions, the opinions that matter to you are those who have made a fundamental commitment to care about you and the people who have something that’s hard in their life and have been in the amphitheater of risk.”

Therefore the opinions of anyone outside of this shouldn’t matter. He also advocates building skills to help you not worry about what others think.

Mindfulness helps to center yourself and always remember that you’re bringing your honest and authentic self forward and you cannot be responsible for what others think about you in that case.

He also advocates for using a purpose driven identity rather than a performance-based identity. Performance based identity is an expression and is not a definition of who the person is.

“People [who] focus on purpose and not performance alone find freedom from other people’s opinions, because the purpose is so big and important, it matters so much to them,” he said. What happens then is that other people’s opinions pale in comparison to the intensity of purpose that matters.

FOPO keeps you locked in

Although FOPO may seem like a mechanism that keeps you safe it also keeps you small. You end up living life on other people’s terms and not your own because it is an anticipatory mechanism where you act pre-emptively.

“It’s excessive worry about not what they are thinking but what they might think of you. It’s one of the greatest constrictors of human potential. It holds you back from being honest and authentic and bringing your best self forward.”

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