I used to (and, let’s be honest, still do) spend a lot of time thinking, worrying, and really fixating on what people were thinking about me. When I make a mistake, or say something weird to my boss (not weird weird, just…weird), I replay the scene over and over in my mind, for days! Narcissistically, I imagine him replaying it in his head as well, but with the undertone of “I should fire that girl.” Of course he should fire me, it makes perfect sense and I would not question it. But, inevitably, and almost every time, I find out he has no recollection of anything I do. Mistakes I make just float away like they never happened. Even when my boss has to tell me something twice (the most dreaded situation!), he has no recollection of asking me the first time, and so I become a puddle of worries for no reason. Did you get that?? I worry for no reason, and you probably do too.
But, Wanderer, what can I do to stop it? How can I get out of my own head??
To start off, you’ve got to realize that everyone is doing exactly what you and I are doing. They are so caught up in their own stuff, in their own mistakes and weirdness, to give yours a second thought. Let’s go over that again: everyone is too captivated with themselves to spend much time thinking about what you’re doing. So, why waste your energy worrying about them worrying about you? But, seriously, how do you stop?
You could start with the number one tip: laugh it off. Being able to laugh at yourself and your mistakes does help, a lot. It helps to ease the tension you feel, but could be dangerous at work. For instance, if you make a mistake and then laugh about it, it’s probably not funny to everyone else who has to deal with your mistake (missing a meeting, not writing a report, knocking your waiter over when you get up, etc). Also, as a professional women in a professional office, I try not to seem like a ditz or an airhead (e.g. giggling at everything).
I like to laugh, when appropriate, then give myself five solid minutes to spend fretting about what I’ve done (things that I do are 99% minor). Then, I decide either: It’s not important, or They won’t remember it. Think about it: how many times can you think of where you said/did something unwarranted/unusual/unexpected/unwelcome? Maybe you said a mean thing about someone, maybe you spread a rumor, maybe you ate someone else’s yogurt from the fridge and Tanya in accounting saw you. I bet you remember a lot of those times. But now, try to think of all the times that someone else did those things. Can you think of any? I seriously struggle to think about what other people said or did in situations that would have embarrassed them and caused them to worry. Does that mean that no one else in your office/school/life/on the planet does a stupid thing? No!! It means no one takes stock of those little moments, and no one is going to remember your screw-ups but you.
What people do remember is the uncommonly nice things that you say and do. Sometimes I get compliments from strangers, at the mall or grocery store, and even years later I remember them. I remember those nice moments because I know they were sincere. That girl really did like my shoes (as she should, they were nice shoes!), that old lady truly thought I “looked lovely” at A&P. I remember how my favorite professor—the one who rooted for me, guided me, didn’t fail me when I stopped coming to class, and the one who helped me to get into graduate school—stepped out of her professor-line at my graduation to give me a hug, and I didn’t see her hug anyone else.
And, I try to do the same. Whenever I think someone went beyond my expectations at work, I send them a postcard thank you note. I take my sweet time picking out a postcard that I feel suits their interests, personality, and vibes, and write a short and specific reason why I am thanking them (e.g. Your ability to follow-up is amazing—thanks for doing such a great job!). Walking around the office, I see some of my cards pinned to their desks and it makes me smile to know that I made them smile. In fact, sometimes I even get thank you notes for my thank you notes (!!).
The point is: when you can do something nice for someone else, you should. Their memories of your kindnesses will far outweigh any negative thoughts they maybe might have vaguely remembered about you.
Your turn: what is your reaction when you regret something you said or did? And..what nice things do you like to do for people to acknowledge them and make them feel special?