We spend a lot of our time worrying about what other people think of us. We let this influence our thoughts, feelings and actions. However, to increase our fulfilment we need to care more about what we think of ourselves. Let me explain why.
‘Happiness’ encompasses many different things, including two very different concepts; pleasure and fulfilment. Pleasure is an emotion that can be derived from getting things; exam success, popularity, money, Facebook/Instagram likes, a Cambridge Blue, expensive clothes, trophies. Fulfilment is state of being derived from doing things that lead towards self-actualisation, based on your unique natural inclinations. The problem is that pleasure from getting things is temporary and will always wear off. Fulfilment, through doing rather than getting, provides sustained pleasure. This distinction is seen in anyone who is successful but unhappy, of which there are many.
The pursuit must not be of a pleasure itself but rather of fulfilment, with pleasure coming as a by-product. Otherwise we may as well all become drug addicts.
The motivation for pursuing pleasure and fulfilment are different — contemporary psychology refers to it as extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, respectively. Extrinsic motivation, ie. pursuing pleasure, is not bad in its own right. You can buy a nice watch, share that photo on Facebook or strive for a Blue if you want to.
The problem is that extrinsic motivation can suppress intrinsic motivation. Scientific research supports this. There are also countless examples in society; think of the musician who initially created music for their love of doing so but became wrapped up in money and fame — striving for extrinsic rewards stops them appreciating the process and they stop loving it.
So your motivation needs to come from within, striving for self-actualisation by doing what you love, growing as an individual and contributing to your society. But to enable this to flourish, you need to reduce the proportion of your motivation that is derived extrinsically.
Being excessively extrinsically motivated is linked to worrying too much about what others think of you. If, like me, you realise that this is holding you back, then the solution is to take active steps to reduce its impact.
I cared a lot about what other people thought of my academic ability, so I stopped telling people my exam results.
I cared a lot about the appearance on Facebook, so I quit Facebook and now only check it once a month.
I cared a lot about whether I was popular, so I started focussing on ‘being myself’, enjoying the close friendships I form and not worrying about those that I didn’t please.
I cared a lot about being perfect, so I started a blog (this one) where I share written ideas that are inherently imperfect (and don’t let myself neurotically check how many views or likes the article gets).
By forcing myself to take these actions, and others, the influence of extrinsic rewards has greatly reduced and I feel I am more closely expressing my ‘true self’. These actions are specific to my personal circumstance and it is up to you to work out what actions are best for you.
It is intensely challenging but the most liberating thing you can do.
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chrislovejoy.me / email@example.com