Updated: Jan 8, 2018
Unlike heat-seeking missiles, the approval seeking missile has a bigger challenge finding it’s target. Seeking the approval of others is a winding, restless path, that ultimately doesn’t get us very far.
When we look toward others for approval, we are centering our awareness externally - inside another person’s mind. We are viewing the world and ourselves based on how we imagine it looks to someone else. This is always a guess, since we can never get inside another person’s head, and it’s never fulfilling. Seeking the approval of others creates self-consciousness, and we find ourselves second guessing our words and actions after the fact.
When clients ask me how they can stop this habit, I give them a back-door answer. It’s usually not enough to simply tell yourself, “Stop worrying about what other people think!” That’s about as effective as “Don’t think about elephants!”
I believe the strategy lies here: Turn your attention more closely to your own likes and dislikes - to your own preferences. What do you love most about life? What do you really love doing the most? What kind of things do you really dislike? What do YOU think is truly interesting? What behaviors in other people do you like and dislike? Notice how you feel at different points in your day and during different interactions. This shifting of attention away from the external back to the internal gradually frees us from worrying about what others think.
Since I am a (reluctant) humanist, I believe each one of us has the capacity to shed this habit, and return the center of awareness to our own internal experience. With practice giving more air time to your own wants, feelings, needs, desires and preferences, and acting accordingly, the habit of worrying about what other people think fades into the background. And then the approval-seeking missile finds it’s home, maybe just sitting quietly reading a book, or coaching baseball, or hosting backyard barbecues with other recovered missiles. I hear some missiles can grill a mean steak.