March to the beat of your own drum


How we are perceived, or judged by others can have a huge impact on our behaviors or thoughts.  In fact, how we think we might be seen by others can be enough to change what we do, whether that perception is reality or not.

Take for example someone who is planning on joining an exercise class, but feels that the other people in the class will be fitter than her, would look down on her for not having top end exercise clothes, or would all be slimmer than her and judge her about her weight.  Because of these concerns, she never joins the class. In reality there were plenty of people who were the same weight as her or even larger, who were more unfit than her, and wearing 10 year old track pants with holes in the knees. She would have been exercising with like-minded people and formed wonderful friendships. Her perception of how she had thought she would be judged had changed her behavior and she had missed a great opportunity.

Or- lets say the reality wasn’t so perfect. She would have gone to the class, everyone would have been slimmer and fitter than her and there may have been a sly look or two, but she would have decided the opinions of these people didn’t matter to her, stuck it out, gotten fitter and lost weight and then been proud to buy herself some nicer exercise clothes, as she was proud of the progress she had made with her body. She’d decided that what these people thought didn’t have to affect her, because she had more important priorities.

The fact of the matter is, we don’t actually know what other people are thinking, and often the words out of their mouth aren’t a reflection of what they are really thinking anyway, and body language can be misinterpreted. Even if we were mind readers, and could know exactly what people around us thought of us, why should it actually matter to us? Think about that for a minute- why should it actually matter? At the end of our life, are we going to be concerned about the stranger who smirked at our twenty dollar trainers from 40 years ago? In the scheme of things- our families, loved ones, our goals for our lives, our passions, how important is that smug glance from an athlete overtaking you on the path as you huff and puff and push your body to perform a brisk walk? Why do we care so much? In all honesty, most of us fall into this trap of doing things (or not doing things) because we are concerned about how others will judge us.

Emotional intelligence

If you haven’t heard of emotional intelligence (EI)/emotional quotient (EQ) before, it’s actually a very good thing to have. It’s essentially how good you are at recognizing an emotion in yourself or another person, and to then take the appropriate course of action based on this. If someone’s IQ shows how quickly and accurately their brain can process, problem solve, and retrieve information, someone’s EQ shows how quickly and accurately they can perceive an emotion, respond appropriately, and learn from situations surrounding emotions.

Someone with low EQ is more oblivious to the emotions, motivations, or thoughts of those around them and may say inappropriate things, be insensitive when a person is upset, or not be able to recognize their own emotions and as such regulate them to be able to succeed in what they are working towards regardless of their mood. This is the person that doesn’t know or care what others think at all, they do what they want, say what they want, and can often cause interpersonal conflicts because of this.

Someone with a high EQ on the other hand may be super sensitive to the emotions, body language, verbal cues, or words of other people. They will show compassion towards the situation of another person, and be aware of their own thoughts and emotions. This can be a wonderful skill to have, and allow for a social situation to be read and responded to appropriately. Those with a high EQ can empathise with others, putting themselves in another persons shoes and understand how they would be feeling, and what might help them.

The difficulties with having a high EQ come when you aren’t able to balance the needs/wants/perceptions of others with your own, you may give too much of yourself to help someone while losing out on something you need to achieve this, or may be so sensitive to the verbal or non-verbal cues of others that you can’t focus on what it is that you want. Those who are highly sensitive are often people pleasers, who want everyone to like them, want to seem agreeable to everyone. When they find this isn’t possible due to natural differences between humans (especially high EQ vs. low EQ people), they may start to avoid social situations, worrying about the possibility of being judged negatively, sticking to their comfort zone and people that they know are on their side.

Balancing high EQ with being confident and goal driven.

Being able to accurately read the emotions in other people is a very handy skill, but what we need to learn is to have a strong sense of self so that we don’t abandon our own wants and needs. Goal setting workshops are fantastic for clarifying where we want to be- either an hour or two of your own time, by yourself, being completely honest with yourself about what you really want out of life in 6 months, a year, 5 years, 10 years. Group workshops can be fantastic too, with trained instructors guiding you through the process. Taking some time to think about what your values and priorities truly are- if quality family time and being able to be creative are top priorities for you, but you work long hours at a repetitive automated job, the life you are living isn’t going to be in line with your values.

Once you have spent some time deciding who you really are, what matters to you, and what you want out of your life, you can break things down into small time blocks to give you a timeline- e.g. if you want to retire at 55, there will be a certain amount of money you will need to put aside every week until this time to make sure this is possible, so if you haven’t done this you will have more reason to choose a week a few hours away rather than the four week trip around Europe that your overworked partner is pushing for.  When you have a plan, and really good reasons for doing things, you are less likely to cave into the demands of others completely in a bid to people please, but instead you can empathise with their situation and come up with a solution that can work for both of you, or have the ability to just say no if needed. Using the group exercise class example- if you know that being healthy, energetic, and a role model for your children is a priority for you, so you want to lose 12kg this year, you know you need to lose 1 kg a month, and you realize that this group exercise class is the best way to get in a workout where a trainer can instruct and push you, these reasons will be at the forefront of your mind and so although you may be sensitive enough to notice the perceptions of others in that class, their opinions will matter less than your own reasons for being there.

Lastly- understanding that no matter how you look, how you act, how hard you try, that every human being on this planet is different, and as such there will always be people who don’t agree with you, are negative or critical of others, who won’t like you for whatever reason. There will be those who are indifferent to you. There will be those who think you are wonderful. If you can balance your wants and needs, and by living in line with your values while still being emotionally sensitive to others, you are doing the best you can, and anyone that wants to judge you negatively is not in your control. Their attitudes may not even be in their control. Plus, most of the time we overestimate how much thought others give to us anyway! So train yourself to worry less about what others think, and focus more on living your life your way! March to the beat of your own drum and hitting your goals will be its own reward.