Think about a time when you were extremely anxious — say, before standing up to publicly speak, raising your hand in a big meeting, or even walking through a room of strangers. The reason you felt small and scared and tense is you were worried about social disapproval – referred to as FOPO – fear of people opinion.
If you start paying less attention to what makes you you — your talents, beliefs, and values — and start conforming to what others may or may not think, you’ll harm your potential. You’ll start playing it safe because you’re afraid of what will happen on the other side of the critique. You’ll fear being ridiculed or rejected. When challenged, you’ll surrender your viewpoint. You won’t raise your hand when you can’t control the outcome. You won’t go for that promotion because you won’t think you’re qualified.
Unfortunately, FOPO is part of the human condition since we’re operating with an ancient brain. A craving for social approval made our ancestors cautious and savvy; thousands of years ago, if the responsibility for the failed hunt fell on your shoulders, your place in the tribe could be threatened. The desire to fit in and the paralyzing fear of being disliked undermine our ability to pursue the lives we want to create.
If you find yourself experiencing FOPO, there are ways to dampen the intensity of your stress responses. Once you’re aware of your thoughts, guide yourself toward confidence-building statements (I am a good public speaker, I’ve put in the work so that I can trust my abilities, I have a lot of great things to say, I’m completely prepared for this promotion). These statements will help you focus on your skills and abilities rather than others’ opinions. Take deep breaths, too. This will signal to your brain that you’re not in immediate danger.
I can’t overstate how important a personal philosophy is. I’ve noticed that, beyond a relentless pursuit of being their best, what makes these high performers great is their clear sense of the principles that guide them. Because of their clarity, they’re more willing to push themselves, learn more, and embrace discomfort. They can shut out the noise and opinions of fans and media and listen to their own well-calibrated, internal compass.
Once you’ve developed your own personal philosophy, commit yourself to live in accordance with its tenets. Start at home. Tell that person you love them. Dance at a wedding. Take risks. Be respectfully weird. (That probably means, be you.) Then try it at work. Give a presentation. Go for that promotion. Do things that will engender the opinions of others. When you feel the power of FOPO holding you back, simply acknowledge it, and re-connect to your philosophy and the larger objective at hand.