The unhappiest people in this world are the people who
care the most about what everyone else thinks.
“What’s wrong with wanting to please others?”
That’s what several people asked me via email in response to one of my recent articles. Today, I want to discuss why it’s not healthy to try to please everyone, and how to stop yourself from doing so.
Seeking approval from others is perfectly fine up until the point where you are compromising your health and happiness in the process. It becomes a serious problem if you feel as though widespread positive approval from others is the very oxygen you need to breathe. There was a time in my life when I felt exactly this way.
I literally felt like I was short of breath – almost as if I’d die if my peers didn’t approve of me. This is a condition that developed in my mind when I was very young, after kids in grade school teased me for being a “nerd.” I did everything I could to win their approval. And although I grew out of my awkward stage pretty early in my teenage years, the damage was done – I was left feeling insecure. I was conditioned to seek and beg for outside approval at all times.
The big problem was that, as a twenty-something college graduate entering the work force, I felt that anything I did or even thought only had validity if it was the “right thing” to say and think. And by “right thing,” what I really mean is “what other people thought was right.” I was terrified to step outside the box of acceptability – which was especially harmful to my creativity as I tried to nurture my passion for writing and blogging.
Once I realized what I was doing, I read several books, spoke with a coach, and focused diligently on healing this broken part of myself.
The bottom line is that constant approval-seeking forces you to miss out on the beauty of simply being yourself, with your own unique ideas and desires. If you are led through life only doing and being what you’ve come to believe is expected of you, then, in a way, you cease to live.
So how can you stop fearing what everyone thinks of you? Let’s take a look:
1. Get comfortable with not knowing what other people think.
When I first started writing on this blog, I’d agonize over whether people would think what I was writing was good enough. I desperately hoped they’d like it, and oftentimes I’d catch myself imagining they didn’t. Then one day I realized how much energy I was wasting worrying about it. So I’ve gradually learned to relax with simply not knowing.
Some problems in life, such as not knowing what others think of you, are not really meant to be resolved. How people perceive you may have more to do with them than you anyway. They may even like or dislike you simply because you’ve triggered an association in their minds by reminding them of someone they liked or disliked from their past, which has absolutely nothing to do with you.
So here’s a new mantra for you – say it, and then say it again: “This is my life, my choices, my mistakes and my lessons. As long as I’m not hurting people, I need not worry what they think of me.” (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Self-Love” and “Relationships” chapters of “1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.”)
2. Know that most people are NOT thinking about you anyway.
Ethel Barrett once said, “We would worry less about what others think of us if we realized how seldom they do.” Nothing could be closer to the truth.
Forget what everyone else thinks of you; chances are, they aren’t thinking about you anyway. If you feel like they always are, understand that this perception of them watching you and critiquing your every move is a complete figment of your imagination. It’s your own inner fears and insecurities that are creating this illusion. It’s you judging yourself that’s the problem.
3. Accept that someone else’s opinion is NOT your problem.
How many times have you looked at a person and initially misjudged their brilliance? Appearances are deceptive. How you seem to someone and how you actually are rarely congruent. Even if they get the basic gist of who you are, they’re still missing a big piece of the puzzle. What someone thinks of you will rarely contain the whole truth, which is fine.
If someone forms an opinion of you based on superficialities, then it’s up to them, not you, to reform those opinions based on a more objective and rational viewpoint. Leave it to them to worry about – that is, if they even have an opinion at all.
Bottom line: The opinions other people have about you is their problem, not yours. The less you worry about what they think of you, the less complicated your life becomes. (Read The Four Agreements.)
4. Ask yourself, “Does what they think even matter?”
People will think what they want to think. No matter how carefully you choose your words and mannerisms, there’s always a good chance they’ll be misinterpreted and twisted upside down by someone. Does this really matter in the grand scheme of things? No, it doesn’t.
How others see you is not important. How you see yourself means the world. When you’re making big decisions, remember, what you think of yourself and your life is more important than what people think of you. Stay true to YOU. Never be ashamed of doing what feels right. Decide what you think is right and stick to it.
5. See the benefit in being unique.
If you’re thinking like everyone else, you aren’t thinking. And if you aren’t thinking, you aren’t truly living.
It’s human nature to attempt to mimic other humans we look up to – perhaps a parental figure or a celebrity – especially when we are feeling insecure in our own skin. But attempting to be someone else will always leave us feeling empty inside. Why? Because what we appreciate about the people we admire is their individuality – the qualities that make them unique. To really copy them, we need to develop our own individuality, and in that way, we would actually be less like them and more like our true selves.
We all have quirks and unique perspectives. The more relaxed you become with your own differences, the more comfortable you will start to feel just being YOU. Celebrate being different, off the beaten path, a little on the weird side… your own special creation. If you find yourself feeling like a fish out of water, by all means find a new river to swim in. But DO NOT change who you are; BE who you are. (Read The Road Less Traveled.)
6. Be fully present and aware of how you DO want to feel.
It’s OK to know how you do not want to feel, but that’s not all you should be thinking about. Imagine someone trying to learn to read by spending all their time focusing on how they do not want to not be able to read. It doesn’t really make any sense, does it?
Enough is enough! Forget what you do not want to feel for a moment. Work out how you DO want to feel right now in the present moment. Train yourself to live right here, right now without regretting how others once made you feel, or fearing the possibility of future judgment.
If you were delivering life-saving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on your mom in public, you’d be 100% focused and present. You wouldn’t be thinking about what bystanders thought of your hair, your body type, or the brand of jeans you were wearing. All these inconsequential details would vanish from your consciousness. The intensity of the situation would motivate you to choose not to care about what others might be thinking of you. This proves, quite simply, that thinking about what others are thinking about you is YOUR CHOICE.
7. Speak and live your truth.
Speak your truth even if your voice shakes. Be cordial and reasonable, of course, but don’t tread carefully on every word you say. Push your concerns of what others might think aside. Let the consequences of doing so unravel naturally. What you’ll find is that most of the time no one will be offended or irritated at all. And if they do get upset, it’s likely only because you’ve started behaving in a way that makes them feel they have less power over you.
Think about it. Why be fake?
In the end, the truth usually comes out one way or the other, and when that happens, you’re standing alone if you’ve been living a lie. So live your whole truth starting now. If someone gives you a hard time and says, “You’ve changed,” it’s not a bad thing. It just means you stopped living your life their way. Don’t apologize for it. Instead, be open and sincere, explain how you feel, and keep doing what you know in your heart is right.
A life spent ceaselessly trying to please people who, perhaps, are incapable of ever being pleased, or trying too hard to always be seen as doing “the right thing,” is a sure road to a regretful existence.
Do more than just exist. We all exist. The question is: Do you live?
I eventually realized existing without ever truly living was not what I wanted for myself. So I made changes – I implemented all seven of the points discussed in this article and never looked back. If you are in the same place I once was, seeking approval from everyone for every little thing you do, please take this post to heart and start making changes today. Life is too short not to.
How has the fear of what other people think interfered with your life? What has it stopped you from doing? How have you coped? Leave a comment below and share your insights with us.
This is a really inspirational series:
Although Hifdh is not the main focus of this show, it makes you grow in love and appreciation of the Qur’an, which facilitates hifdh for sure. I haven’t watched all of the episodes myself, but be sure to check out the 3rd episode of Br. Daniel from Bath, UK. My jaw dropped at what they mentioned at the end of the episode. Enjoy!
Note: It appears that there are some instruments used in some of the background anasheed. I am sure it took place without the shaykh’s knowledge. Use caution and don’t let it stop you from benefitting and sharing inshaAllah.
All my life, I have shared a room with my older sister. The room would often be messy, and I often blamed her for it. I always thought of myself as a neat person. I liked to have things neat and in order, and I noticed that I was almost always the one who would eventually tidy up the room.
About a month ago, I moved out of my old room. I’ve had my own room for over a month now and let me tell you… It is a mess. I put things in order and shortly after, it’s messy yet again!
I had no choice now but to be honest with myself (and to apologize to my sister). I am a messy person. I was the source of the mess all along! I leave things in random places, I’ll put stuff down on any flat surface, and in the end it looks like nothing but clutter.
The reason this was such an epiphany for me was because of how convinced I was before, that I was the neat one and that the constant clutter in our room was my sister’s fault. You have to understand, I was truly convinced of this.
This just goes to show you what a huge capacity human beings have for self-delusion (as Ibn al Qayyim rahimahullah said). And that is very humbling. It’s humbling to know that your knowledge and awareness of reality is so limited, that the one thing you thought you knew about (you)… you actually don’t really know about!
So this is out of my locality completely, but i know a lot of UK people will see this inshaAllah :)
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There are a handful of posts on the topic of removing the niqab and a person’s strong feelings about the decision to do so. Some are more publicized than others, i.e. they come up high on the Google search.
This, however, is not one of those posts.
Alhamdulillah, I have not removed my niqab, and if a day ever came when I did, I would probably not post something with this title. I am sharing my thoughts on these articles and postings that I have seen for years. Although my thoughts towards niqab may change and develop over time, going through periods of fluctuating strength and even the doubts that I believe everyone experiences, my thoughts towards people who post “Why I Took Off My Niqab” articles remained consistent.
It is selfish.
Your decision to remove it was personal, but when you try to publicly justify it, it is no longer a personal decision, it is a public one.
I know that there is a shame associated with removing, or wanting to remove, the niqab. It becomes a part of your identity, and unfortunately it even becomes a status symbol. That does not reflect the wearer’s intentions, that is just what happens. So when someone removes the niqab, she feels like she needs to explain herself. (I have thoughts behind thoughts on many parts of this topic, but I am not sharing them in the interest of time.)
Most articles of this nature, however, are imposing. Despite my feelings towards niqab, even when I was not ready to wear it, or maybe even when I thought it was too much, these posts always felt imposing to me. They had an angry and resentful undertone. The blame was externalized, so that the wearer managed to put the burden of her decision on someone other than herself (even if in a subtle way). And the decision was finalized, as if the niqab is a one-way street, and she never expects to change her mind or develop different thoughts as she goes through life. We are human beings, and we grow and change over time. Just because you feel so strongly about your decision to remove it, that does not mean that you should try to impose that decision on others. By justifying yourself, that is exactly what you’re doing. Many of these posts do have the characteristics of a type of writing I call “persuasive” writing, though it is not very persuasive if you come to it without bias. One of them had an air of, “This is why I did it, and I am sharing it with you so that I can save you from making the same mistake I did.”
The niqab may not have worked out for you at this particular time, and you don’t know what is to come in the future. Something made you want to put it on in the first place, so at least have respect for that. And know that someone is going to come across your post, a sister who desperately wants to wear the niqab but something is stopping her, so she hasn’t been able to start yet. Having seen sisters in this position, and having been in this position myself at one point, I can tell you that this sister’s heart is overflowing with grief because of how much she wants it. And she has enough reasons on her own for why she feels like she can’t. She doesn’t need your article to give her another reason.
Because that is, in essence, all you’ve done. In your efforts to do whatever it was that you were trying to do (you can say that I haven’t even understood your true intentions, still) you discouraged someone else from an act of worship.
I have only ever come across one article of this nature by a sister, who I felt took a different approach. Although I did not fully agree with the article, I recognized and appreciated her balance in where she placed the onus of the decision. It was a mixture of external and internal reasons, and she was willing to admit to those internal reasons, which can be a difficult thing to do. Furthermore, she was even braver in saying that she still wholeheartedly believes that niqab is wajib. That took guts, because the theory of cognitive dissonance would assume that she would say, “Well, I don’t follow that it’s wajib anyway, so…” (It is important to note here that I am not asserting one opinion over the other, as that is not my place nor do I have the qualification to do that; I am only giving props where it’s due.) Finally, she showed that niqab is a journey when she said that she plans to put it back on. I considered posting her writing here, but I would have to seek her permission first, and I do not feel comfortable possibly revealing her identity.
These are my thoughts, and I am interested in hearing yours.
“And those foremost, will be foremost.
Those are the ones brought near.”
The sabiqun – those who are foremost in good deeds in this world – will be sabiqun (foremost) towards Paradise in the Hereafter. But something I was reading yesterday struck my interest in the next verse. It says that these people, on the Day of Judgement, will be ‘Muqarrabun‘. This means to draw close. However the usual word for that is ‘Mutaqarribun‘ which means to do something in order to get closer to something (i.e. they did deeds to get closer to Paradise). But here it says ‘Muqarrabun‘ which changes the picture completely because now it means that they being drawn close without any effort on their part and instead, other things are being brought close to them. The exertion of effort is reversed.
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My nonMuslim classmates are impressed with my memory. (All praise is due to Allah swt for what I have, but I have to be honest and mention that they have low standards for what is impressive). Some of them might even think something is wrong with the way that I remember details about events or things that they said – details they don’t even remember. But really, Allah swt blessed each of us with a powerful mind with great potential for reasoning and understanding and even memorizing. And while some people are given a greater gift than others, anyone can develop these gifts. Some of my classmates waste this potential by exposing their mind to toxic substances like drugs and alcohol. But toxic substances also exist in the form of time-wasting activities (social media, anyone?), temptations, unrestrained anger, and more, which many of us are not free from. May Allah swt protect us. When we come across stories like the ones below, we shouldn’t think, “This is nice… but impossible for me.” These stories are meant to show you possibilities for you.
A discussion regarding the powerful ability to memorise of the Shanāqitah tribe of Mauritania, with Sh. Muhammad Hassan ad-Dido ash-Shinqeeti.
The presenter mentions that Sh. Hasan ad-Dido memorised the entire Qur’ān in two years, between the age of 5-7. The Shaykh replied that in reality this isn’t such a short period of time and then mentions some mind blowing examples:
- One of his great grandfathers memorised the entire Qur’ān, along with its Tafsīr by al-Jalālayn by simply LISTENING to it once.
- His mothers uncle memorised 3 (out of the 4) volumes of al-Qāmūs (an Arabic dictionary) by al-Fayrūz Abādi in less than 1 month!
- One judge who the Shaykh knew memorised the Muwattā of Imām Mālik, whilst he was very senior in age (passed 80 years). The manner in which he’d memorise was that he’d ask one of his students to dictate to him ahādīth before he slept. The next night, he would essentially repeat what he heard the night before!
- The Shaykh mentioned that there is a 17 year old boy currently studying at his institute who has memorised 28000 lines of poetry, whilst another Moroccan boy memorised the Qur’ān, and various other texts including Bulūgh al-Marām, `Umdat ‘l-Ahkām etc despite being blind.
When the host asked him, who actually takes care and pays attention to children memorising like this, he replied: the mothers! (he himself memorised under the tutelage of his mothers aunt, his aunt and of course his own mother).
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It just occurred to me that all of my HD posts are stemming from my own mind – so they must only be helping like-minded individuals. So I thought to talk about something that I think I haven’t experienced so far (wa lillahil hamd), but I get the feeling that others out there might have. It is the feeling of just wanting to give up. See, now I’m facing a writer’s block because I can’t say too much about something I can’t remember having felt myself, but I will try to do my best, and I hope that those who have actually felt this can come forward with their experience.
Here are some tips:
1. Never stop making dua. Where your self-motivation and energy fail you, a dua that you once made will kick in and take over where you left off. All of a sudden, without being able to explain it, you will feel motivated to keep going. So never get tired of making dua for your hifdh. Put it in your dua-list (if you don’t have one of these, you need to make one ASAP), say it often, and always be on the look-out for those special times when dua is being accepted.
2. The mind is a powerful tool; you can work it in many different ways. We all face a lapse in our memorization, some more than others. (It probably happens more to those who are not enrolled in a timed program, like myself.) When you find yourself in a lapse, control your thoughts. DON’T think, “I’m taking a break.” DON’T think, “I’m going to stop my memorization until ____.” Each day that passes without you making a move forward, censure yourself and make a firm resolve that tomorrow will be different. Don’t beat yourself up (some people can take that to another level); just acknowledge that you made a mistake and that you don’t want to make it again. I believe this mindset has helped me to move forward. I try not to tell myself that I’m “taking a break,” regardless of the circumstances. Even if it is Finals Week, don’t tell yourself you’re taking a break from your hifdh. You’re just letting shaytan delude you. The truth is, reciting and memorizing Qur’an puts more barakah in your time and makes your day easier, so you never actually need a break.
3. Never miss a day of class. Even if you did 5% of the homework, travel all the way to your teacher just to take the beating. I guarantee you, you will find yourself with motivation you didn’t have before, inshaAllah. Even if this happens countless times, don’t miss class. As much as your teacher is disappointed in you, he or she is also secretly impressed that you keep coming back to them. They see your consistency in attendance as a sign of your commitment. As long as they see that you haven’t given up, they won’t give up on you. Teachers are also greedy for that ajr of helping someone memorize Qur’an. :)
4. Set end dates. Have a date in mind where you would like to finish your hifdh. I will be honest and say that I have had many dates, some more realistic than others, but all have passed without me making the deadline. The last time this happened, I picked a new date and asked someone who intimidates me to help me meet this deadline, inshaAllah. Always have a date in mind. And watch the countdown. If it passes, figure out what went wrong, how you can change it, and PICK A NEW DATE. I have an app on my phone that counts down the days to a certain event. So I titled the event “Hafidhah” and I watch it countdown every day. You can understand that if you don’t even have an end date in mind, you are more likely to face a moment where you think “I’m going to stop” or “I’m taking a break.” On the other hand, if you have an end date, it’s like you can always see the finish line. Let’s do an imagination exercise:
Imagine being in a race. You have been running for miles and you stop to take a breath. You look up and you see in the far distance — the banner that signifies the end of the race. It seems so far away, but at least you can see it. The finish line is in your view, so even if you stopped running for some reason, you have every intention of making it to that finish line. Now imagine you are in the same race, and you stop to take a breath. You look up and all you see is more track. The finish line is not in your view…you walk off the race track, and take a bus home.
5. Let people know that you’re memorizing. Understand this carefully. I’m not telling you to rent a blimp and advertise to your town that you are memorizing. I’m saying, let your family and a few close, trusted friends know about your intention and efforts towards completing your hifdh. Let them know you are memorizing and that you would just like for them to check up on you every once in a while. That way, if you lose some internal motivation, you can have an external push. And find other ways to surround yourself with reminders – like quotes on your wall or refrigerator.
6. If you can’t run, walk. Remember that the point is that you should not give up, but that doesn’t mean you are expected to always keep the same pace. Things happen. So no matter what, keep inching towards your goal. If I feel like I can’t do anything else, I might just lay down and listen to a recitation of what I need to memorize or review. Even small efforts go a long way.
7. Recite Qur’an. Memorizing Qur’an does not mean that you turn your relationship with the Qur’an into a purely academic pursuit. Have a portion of Qur’an that you recite daily – keep yourself connected to Qur’an, always. As long as you have some sort of connection to it, and some source that is strengthening your imaan, you won’t be able to reach a place where you are going to give up.
WaAllahu Ta’aala ‘Alam