FOPO or Fear Of Other People’s Opinions
What is FOPO? You might have heard this acronym before and wonder what does it mean. Well, here´s a little spoiler right away: FOPO stands for Fear Of People´s Opinions. In other words, it is the fear of what people think of you when you do or say something.
Although it might feel like a normal, utterly familiar feeling, it can have a crippling effect on most people. Indeed, refraining from doing something just because you´re afraid of what others might think of you is to circumscribe your world to other people´s ideas of what it should be. That is a recipe for disaster.
Read on, we´ll take a deeper look at this common cultural phenomenon and some ways to stop it from stopping you.
Is FOPO stopping you? Some symptoms to discover it
Let´s make a clear point to start this article with: there are levels of FOPO. This means that it might not always be something that stops you. Indeed, according to Michael Gervais, this response from our brain is deeply rooted in ancient survival mechanisms our brain is wired to. He states that it comes from tribal times in which our social status, our belonging to the tribe, and our physical integrity depended entirely on fitting in with the other members.
To say it in other words, FOPO is a common human response to an ancient problem.
We have come a long way since tribal times but, in the past two decades, social media has added much to the social pressure making people want to “fit in”. Moreover, when fear of social rejection kicks in, we fear we might be kicked out of our trust circle, that people will no longer love us, and that finally, we will be left alone for eternity.
This fear manifests in phrases such as (whether you say or think them)
· “If I do that, people will think I am a…”
· “It´s not the right moment to say that, they will think I´m too… ”
· “It must just be me thinking nonsense again…”
And the list could go on forever. Have you ever thought or said something like that? Chances are, then, you suffer from some level of FOPO.
You might have crippling FOPO if
Now, this becomes a problem when you feel it cripples you and turns you into an impoverished version of yourself. You might refrain when you can talk, abstain when you can do, and lower your head when you could excel. If this is the case, then it is high time you do something about it before it stops you from being the best possible version of yourself.
What can we do about it?
Luckily, although it is hardwired into our brains, many strategies can stop FOPO on the spot. We are going to go through the three most popular answers to the above question, but the list could, again, go on forever. What is more, you can be creative and apply these and new ones to your own version of FOPO.
Dance like nobody´s watching
The first one is the above sentence “dance like nobody´s watching”. It doesn´t necessarily need to apply to dancing, but you can use it as a metaphor to act like there´s nobody around you to judge your actions. This way, you´ll be entirely the way you want to be and not a version of yourself limited by what you think others will think of you.
Let´s say that you are in a creative class and have this amazing idea. Indeed, it is so good that it is a mix between outrageous and amazing. Your FOPO will say “it is a stupid idea; if you say it out loud they will think you´ve gone mad.” If you stop that thought and instead apply the “dance like nobody´s watching” motto, you might just revolutionize the class and make a positive impression as a creative, bold, and interesting person.
Stop your brain, live the moment
Most times it is not the real opinion of others that engages FOPO, but our own version of it. In other words, we do futurology and try to guess what is it that they will say or do if we say or do what we want.
Regardless of how accurate you think this version of the external world is, it is always distorted because we can never know beforehand what´s going to happen. Thus, we should center on the moment and forget about the outcome and their perception of it.
Living in the now forgetting past experiences and refraining from futurology is a great way to fight FOPO.
A great example to show this is what happens within our family. Let´s say you are the youngest of four siblings. You are used to be the one whose opinion never gets heard because of being the youngest. Hence, you internalize this role in the structure and make your brothers and sisters the ultimate judges for your words.
What if you could stop thinking about the past and the future and just speak your mind? That might change their perception of you and open the door to a healthier family relationship.
Ask yourself what the worst and best-case scenario are
Finally, a very common thing with FOPO is taking all consequences to an extreme and thinking it´s the end of the world as we know it. Indeed, some people suffer from such a powerful FOPO that they feel paralyzed not to face the cruelest consequences that cross their minds.
In such a moment, ask yourself “what is the worst-case scenario?” Next, also ask yourself “what is the best-case scenario?” Then, make an adult decision answering the following question “is it worth it to risk the worst-case scenario to reach the best-case scenario?” If the answer is yes, then there you go.
Monday morning, board meeting; you are there for the first time. You notice a mistake in the presentation that can have very harsh results on the company. It is your boss who´s talking. Your FOPO tells you “If you speak up now, she will never trust you again and this shall be your last board meeting”
This is, clearly, the worst-case scenario. So, strategically, ask yourself what´s the best-case scenario. Maybe “she will feel you saved the day and you´ll gain not only her trust but that of the entire team” Is it worth it to risk it? That is the decision you have to make (away from FOPO´s voice).
Although it is not an overnight endeavor or an easy process, overcoming severe cases of FOPO can be a game-changer. The first step is to acknowledge that it is stopping us from being who we want to be. The second step is to denaturalize its mechanisms and sentences. Finally, you need to fight back every time you have the chance.
Don´t let other people´s opinions (or your idea of what they will be) stop you from living your life to its fullest. You can do this, start fighting FOPO back and live a happier, fuller life starting today.