A friend came up to me yesterday at church, pulled me aside and asked if he could speak with me privately. Sure, I said. As we walked off, he had a pained look on his face. Something was really bothering him.
My friend Greg is really more of an acquaintance. I don’t know him that well. He’s kind of a quiet guy, but a regular at church, and every time I’ve talked to him he’s been really pleasant.
He said, “About 4 or 5 years ago, you and I and a few other guys were talking in the fellowship hall after the Liturgy, and William mentioned he was Facebook friends with me. I looked at William with a bit of a smirk and said ‘Hmm. Well, we must be BFFs then.’ As soon as I said that, you looked at me like I was some kind of fuckin’ asshole. You didn’t say a word, but you gave me this look…”
My initial thought was “Wow, is he gonna take a swing at me right here in the church parking lot?” I couldn’t tell if he was pissed at me, or just really burdened, or something else.
He continued, “Just…that look you gave me…it’s been on my mind ever since and I had to bring it up.”
“Man, I really appreciate you bringing this to my attention. Obviously it’s been bothering you and I’m glad you had the guts to say something,” I said.
Ugh. My heart just sank. I felt absolutely horrible. This guy genuinely cared about what I thought of him, and couldn’t get past the thought that I apparently thought he was an asshole!
My next thought was, “I have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about.” I really didn’t! I could not, for the life of me, remember the situation he was describing. I told him I honestly didn’t remember this, then I apologized for doing anything to offend him. Then I said, “Greg, I don’t know you that much, but there is no way I think you’re an asshole. No way at all.”
I could almost see actual weights being lifted off his shoulders in that moment.
Later as I processed the discussion with Greg, I realized how important it was that I watch my actions, and my words. Granted, I’m not going to walk in constant fear of what people might think or of perceiving something the wrong way, but I do need to be more conscious of how I come across to people.
Living Inside Your Head
And then there’s the living inside your head part of all this. Do you ever find yourself in Greg’s shoes? I’m honestly not sure that I flashed him that look. I may very well have, but I really don’t remember doing it. Regardless, he perceived something in that moment which he interpreted as “Matt does not like me at all” and it stayed with him. For 4 or 5 years. It’s probably not something he thought about every single day since then, but he was certainly reminded of it everytime he saw me. And it was draining him.
Do you ever react towards something somebody does or says to you and dwell on it for days? Months? Or years? I do. Ultimately, it’s a struggle to be present. Not so much from what other people may or may not think of me, but it seems I am constantly struggling to be present because of either 1) the distractions of the past, or 2) worries about the future. I mean, we all know this, right? But how many of us actually live in the present? How many of us can say “I spend the majority of my time every day just being present in the moment with the people and the situations I find myself in”?
Worrying about what other people think of you is living inside your head. It keeps you from being present, which in turn keeps you from being effective at work, at home and in the various communities of which you are a part.
How to Get Outside Your Head and Into the Present
There is an old saying: “An idle mind is the devil’s playground.” Here are some things that have helped me get outside my own head, quit worrying about what other people think, quit worrying about the past or the future, and get into the present moment.
- Have a creative outlet. This blog is one of my creative outlets. We are made to create, and if you are not creating something, your gifts, talents and mental energy will likely be used for something else (like, worrying about what other people think!). My new men’s mastermind group, The Fulfilled Man, is another creative outlet of mine.
- Meet with like-minded people. There is something freeing about being transparent with a close group of trusted individuals. I meet once a week with a mastermind group called SoloLab and it has been one of the most important steps I’ve taken to get moving in the direction I want to take my career, and my life.
- Have a purpose greater than yourself. Life is about serving others. If you don’t have a purpose to get up in the morning other than to collect a paycheck and pay your bills, find one. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities available. What really stirs your soul? Take steps in that direction.
- Pray and/or meditate. I believe God exists, that He created us, and that He hears our prayers. Recognizing that I am not the center of the universe – and having gratitude and thanking God for all I have – has been a huge part of my ability to live in the present. I have a prayer rule that I strive to keep daily.
- Fill your mind with positive affirmations. When fearful thoughts or angry thoughts or uncertain thoughts creep into my head, I replace them with positive thoughts and intentions. What we focus on is the reality we create for ourselves. The more specific and applicable to your situation the intentions are, the better. You can keep them on 3×5 index cards or on your smartphone or tablet device. It’s easy. For more on the power of specific intention to create reality, see my previous post.
Life is just a series of moments. Don’t spend those moments worrying about what people think of you. In doing so, you give them more power than they deserve in your life. And chances are, they aren’t thinking about you anyway.
(Editor’s note: names have been changed for purposes of this post).
Have you ever dwelled too long on what somebody did or didn’t do/say to you? How has it distracted you from being effective and present in the moment? Share in the comments below.