“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

I always tell myself I have no time for worry. I truly don’t. Like you, I’m a busy person and feel the blur of the calendar days rushing by before I know it’s happening. Besides, what good does it do us to worry? What good does it do to know this, but still not be able to stop?

Many of us want validation and reassurance from the people we care about. We want to know if others think we’re okay, if they agree with us, or if we’re right about something. This doesn’t make us arrogant, or obnoxious, or anything other than human. It makes us care about ourselves and our situations, and the world around us. It makes us want to do better. It helps us grow and figure out solutions. Believe it or not, there is place for worry that can be honored, when we find out where our hearts go when our minds aren’t paying attention.

How do we know when we think too much about what others think, and worry becomes more pathological than productive? When it changes our decisions more often than not. When we are preoccupied with those people or situations. When it derails us from what we know deep down to be true and real. When we begin acting on the behalf of others for the sake of their opinion of us and forgo what we need to do for ourselves. When we get confirmation of what others think, and we realize we’ve been wrong the whole time, and wasted mental energy on things not productive or healthy. When we ignore our own well-being or rational voice of reason, or we literally cannot stop our process. When worry crosses these thresholds, we call it obsessive or ruminating in nature. It’s an important distinction from thoughts that do not impede daily functioning or quality of life. Regardless of a diagnosis, we can all benefit from thinking differently about our thoughts.

I like to think of it like running a race. There are many factors at play- the weather, eating the right breakfast, if you have an injury, if you slept well- but the point is to keep running. It’s great to take notice of what others’ think, and even absorb it a little, but you must keep running toward the finish. What’s worse, when we assume what others think, we may not even be right. We might be preoccupied for no reason. Even if we are right, at some point we need to decide if it matters at all. How much do we care, and how much do we want to care?

Give yourself an opportunity to acknowledge your concerns, and then decide what to keep and what to discard. I give myself an 80/20 rule for any given situation-I have a busy mind, and so about 80 percent of what might enter my mind can be acknowledged but not internalized. Put it in perspective for yourself before allowing it to derail you from a decision you have to make, and do not allow your mind to take up more time than is needed. If it’s truly in the rational, logical twenty percent, do something about it and move on. Otherwise, practice mindfulness and witness the thoughts, but don’t allow yourself to get caught up in a process that is no longer productive.

Don’t let anyone slow you down, and refuse to be distracted by outside people or forces. Run strong-shoulders back and eyes ahead. Keep your confidence up and your doubts away. Even if it’s your natural tendency to worry, push it aside. If it truly matters, it will come to light. If it doesn’t, you’ll soon be able to tell that, too. We have all the answers that we need at the moment that we need them. If you don’t have an answer right now, the question can wait.

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