I recently got a message from a reader, asking me how to stop thinking that everyone is constantly looking at him.
Fortunately, I had the exact same problem a while ago and was able to fix it.
In the past, even during everyday activities like walking through the park, I constantly worried about the stupidest shit. “Do people notice my sweat stains?” “Do I walk funny?” “Is something wrong with my clothes?”
The worries appeared out of thin air. Like the flu. Sometimes you just catch that shit and don’t know why.
The moment it ‘clicked’
What changed everything for me, was a realization I had a few years back when I went bathing with friends to a lake near Vienna, Austria.
A guy – dressed in what can only be described as a rainbow-colored oversized potato bag – navigated his bicycle through the countless beach towels and bathing people. He had a ghettoblaster strapped onto his bike and was going so slow, that he constantly had to balance the bike to prevent falling over. The whole scene looked as if he was riding his bike over a huge rainbow, straight to the moon.
As I watched in amazement, I realized, that no matter how I behaved or dressed, I could never draw as much attention as the high as a kite rainbow cyclist. My curiosity grew. Could I learn something from this glowing example of human individuality?
I started paying attention to how people reacted to him. It was shocking. Within a few seconds, almost 100% of people there looked at him and laughed, grinned, told their friends, or just looked confused.
But the shocking part wasn’t that they looked and laughed, it was how fast they went back to normal. I kid you not, after 1-3 seconds most people had gone back to what they were doing previously. No more laughs. No more whispering. The show had gone on.
As everything normalized, I was wondering, “If not even this rare sighting can keep people interested, why would anyone waste a thought on me?”
What I learned
I learned a valuable lesson that day: everyone is busy with their own problems.
The flat tire that needs fixing. The kids who need to get picked up from school in time. The hot girl that won’t text back. The impossible deadline that the asshole boss has set. Those are the things people think about. A normal guy, in normal clothes, with a normal face, doesn’t cross their minds.
You might be the center of your own universe, but to others, you aren’t more than an asteroid that’s dashing by – nothing unusual and soon to be gone.
Over time, it became easier and easier for me to remind myself that my worries weren’t supported by reality.
People didn’t judge me non-stop. And even if they did, why did I assume they’d think negatively about me?
They might just as well think, “Look at that prime example of masculinity and beauty over there.”
So I chose to assume that people didn’t think about me all the time, and even if they did, their thoughts would be nothing but positive. After about 6 months of practicing that belief, the worries that had flamed up every now and then were gone.
Sometimes, the old thought patterns creep back into my head. But when that happens, I remind myself of the day at the lake and shake all worries off.
Thank you, rainbow cyclist! I’ll be forever grateful for the laughs and the lesson you taught me.