“Maybe I think too much for my own good…” — Paul Simon
It is very easy to worry about what others are thinking about you.
Go and read that sentence again. I’ll still be here.
Welcome back. That first sentence was kinda silly, wasn’t it? (The meaning, not the grammar.) Why stress yourself out worrying what others think of you? How can you tell what they’re thinking? Are you telepathic? So why worry about what you can’t quickly determine as fact?
Because we are human beings, that’s why. We worry about really stupid things, like whether a complete stranger thinks my hairstyle is hip or hopeless. As if the stranger has nothing better to think about than you. Now, if you are worried about the stranger thinking about how to lay his hands on your wallet, then that’s a survival issue and not the kind of worry I am talking about. This kind of worry is called taking yourself too seriously.
You Are Not The Center Of The Universe
This might come as a shock, but you are not the center of the universe. Don’t be upset — this is actually good news. Heck, it’s GREAT news. This frees you from the burden of trying to be perfect in front of others. And that is a heavy burden. Suppose you had to teach every onlooker the right way to do absolutely everything from blowing your nose to adjusting your glasses? Quite a burden And yet, that’s how a lot of us act when out in public.
We do what psychiatrist Dr. Abraham Low called, “taking our dear selves too seriously.”
It can be hard not to think that everyone is staring at your and silently condemning you. You are, after all, stuck in your head hearing all of your inner voices. But, so is everyone else. They are stuck in their heads hearing all of their inner voices and hoping no one thinks they are crazy.
They are usually so worried about getting caught doing something uncool, impolite or just plain stupid that you can get away with a lot of normal behaviors like uncombed hair, wearing a stained shirt or even farting (sometimes). One time on a bus I pretended to read a newspaper upside down. Did anyone notice? No. Did I get a seat all to myself? Also, no. That’s because no one cared that I was holding The Philadelphia Inquirer upside down.
Thinking Too Much
Our imagination is a tremendous tool, but only if you know how to use it. Just as you wouldn’t turn a fire hose on in a crowded elevator when nothing is on fire, you need to know when to use your imagination. Wondering what the other guy is thinking helped our species out in times of mortal combat. However, very few places in modern life provide us with the necessity of wondering what the other’s next move will be.
It does help to use your imagination in wondering what your boss, lover or audience you are giving a speech to thinks of you. It would be too easy to just ask them, as that would take all of the fun out of using the imagination. Besides, they could be lying just to spare your feelings. But you don’t know that for sure, because that is what your imagination is telling you.
See what a crazy spinning wheel this turns into? Save yourself a lot of stress by telling your imagination to cool it when you are surrounded by strangers. Laugh at the very idea of you being the center of attention on a crowded bus, for example. Of course, if go on the bus stark naked, that’s another story.