8:00 am I slip into the office a half-hour late. The oppressive lighting stings my eyes even though I’ve been awake for almost an hour. The burnt coffee smell wafts out into the hallway as I pass the break room. The caffeinated beverage department wouldn’t convince you that this is a multi-billion dollar company. As I turn the last corner towards my desk one of my colleagues walks up, seeing my boss behind me, and says, “Well look who decided to show up this morning!” I reply, “Well look who decided to get their ass kicked today.” Unfortunately, the retort was only in my mind. What the hell does he care if I’m 30 minutes late? We both know the time has to be made up by staying late tonight or coming in early tomorrow. Why did my snooze button seduce me like this? As I settle down and attempt to pass the blame onto him for my snooze button affair I think, wait why do I care?
You do you through confidence.
Building confidence is vital to help you care less about other people’s judgment of you. Be comfortable in your own skin and you’ll immediately have the best mindset to approach a wide variety of ‘I shouldn’t care about this’ situations.
The most efficient way I know to build confidence is through comfort challenges. By contrasting social norms, these tests are a modern day implementation of exposure therapy. Exposure therapy is “exposing a person to a feared object or situation without danger, in order to overcome their anxiety or distress.” For instance, an exposure therapy protocol for fear of heights may be wearing a virtual reality headset that visually places you on the edge of a tall building. The experience may be uncomfortable but doesn’t pose any inherent danger. A list of my favorite comfort challenges is located near the bottom of the page. The following is my experience of my very first comfort challenge.
Comfort Challenge: Lie down in a public place for 10 seconds
The idea of completing this challenge had been gnawing my conscience for some time, but I hadn’t found the right opportunity. I was at one of my favorite local coffee shops trying to talk myself out of it with good excuses. I’ve got other things to do today. This is better suited for that other shop. I don’t want to dirty my favorite shirt… Note, this was not my favorite shirt. My excuses were invalid.
The outdoor patio is closed on all sides except the lone door that leads back to the main coffee shop and everything good. A mixture of park benches, picnic tables, and cheap school chairs litter the garden. The usually soothing brick floor looks hostile and dirty. The ‘you’re going to need a tetanus shot after this’ kind of dirty. All the quirks that I usually love about this place now embody pure hate and every goddamn minute the waiter is popping that fucking door open. When my back hits the deck he’s going to cream me. As I pretend to read the book in front of me, my body is practicing going from clammy to sweaty and back again. My gray t-shirt is going to show every last drop of secretion. My senses, in overdrive, are serving me all the information I can’t see. My mind, also in overdrive, is admirably pessimistic about what my senses are feeding it. The German couple next to me is speaking in their native tongue. This is likely their first time to America. They’re going to think I’m a suicide bomber. The group of four by the exit laughing as they share cakes and good friendship. Time for some day defilement. Do I remember a teardrop tattoo when I passed the thugs sitting behind me? I’ve never been mugged before. It’s got to be better than this.
The chair I resisted taking upon arrival because of its rigid back and icy metal frame is so comforting now. You can just stay here forever I say to myself. So much for the I’ve got other things to do today excuse. Taking all the willpower I could muster I stand. My body resisting, I push it and take two steps to the open bricked floor and begin lying down. I notice some of my audience turn their heads to view my certain death. Once on the floor, I’m immediately relieved. One, two, three. The mental counting relaxes my mind. Five, six. The sky isn’t falling, I didn’t expect that. Nine, ten. Shit. Returning to my feet the ‘you were just judging at me’ sensation tickles the back of my neck, but it’s less intense than on my way to the ground. I grab my book, drop my empty cup at the bussing station, and bolt.
The experience may sound unpleasant, and it kind of is, but once you’re on the other side it’s worth it. All the worrying happens before the task. Practicing these tests will only improve the pre-challenge worrying. As first mentioned, that was my first comfort challenge experience. Excessive nervousness is anticipated. I had a high-level adrenaline rush for 5-10 minutes afterward. 30 minutes later, the time of this writing, it’s dreamlike to think how fearful I felt. I’ll likely never encounter them again. Their opinion of me is meaningless. Confidence level 10 out of 10. I know what it took to lie down on that floor and my onlookers are missing out!!
Unhappiness stems from many sources, but one we encounter frequently is comparing ourselves to others. Comfort challenges add value by offering a heightened happiness level. Raise your happiness and you dwindle your capability to compare yourself to others and you care less what they think. Try it for yourself. Everyone and I do mean everyone, feels anxiety before completing their first comfort challenge. In that regard, you are not alone. You’ll be alone when you complete the task, but you’re not alone in spirit. Also, that anxiety…it makes you human.
Put yourself in their shoes.
If you find yourself caring too much about another person’s opinion, try to see the situation through their eyes. Their murky stupid eyes. Maybe they’ve got a sick child at home. Maybe they’ve been hounded at work lately. Or they’re just an ass. Regardless of the reasoning, this weakens the comment’s blow. By understanding their viewpoint you devalue the comment even if you value the person. Think about it this way. You come home from the grocery to find your dog treating your running shoes like the last supper. The shoes now resemble the files at the bottom of a paper shredder, but it wasn’t the dog’s malice that encouraged their polyester craving. It was likely something much more elementary. A more probable explanation is your kicks have your sweet foot nectar soaked into them and tasted good. Yum, I love me a good pair of sweaty sneaks! By looking from the perspective of the dog you realize, oh my best friend doesn’t hate me! He just thinks shoes = food. Situation devalued, happiness advanced, situation forgotten…minus the trip to the mall. Maybe your dog read about going barefoot and was trying to help you out!
Your final motivation to help from dwelling on a past encounter is your health. That’s right! Spending time living in the past (or the future for that matter) has been shown to shorten telomeres. Telomere shortening is an indication of accelerated aging. Live in the present moment and your overall mental health will be better. We’ll tease out the details in the future. Just know telomere shortening is bad for you!
As mentioned above, these are my favorite comfort challenges. There are a few rules that are universal to all comfort challenges. The first is you cannot explain yourself to the people around you. If you’re planning on lying down after ordering your latte, you are not allowed to warn your barista. “Don’t worry, I’m not hurt, I’m going to lie down on the floor for a moment as a personal challenge. *wink.” The second is that the use of substances to lower your inhibitions is prohibited. E.g. alcohol, drugs, caffeine, etc. Next rule: your eyes must be open and no sunglasses. No closed eye bus-stop lie-downs for you! Last, you must complete the challenge alone. Wait, what? That’s right, no #SupportFromTheSquad is permissible.
- Lie down in a public place for 10 seconds (This is arguably the best launch point for all comfort challenges. I highly encourage you to start with this one.)
- Guidelines: A minimum of 10 people must be present. If someone asks what you’re doing/why you lied down just say “I needed a short rest.”
- Skip through a crowded street with arms stretched wide
- Guidelines: Skip a minimum of 10 times with your arms stretched wide through a busy area. Sporting a beaming smile is optional, but encouraged. Please don’t slap anyone.
- Sing in an enclosed place
- Guidelines: Minimum of 10 people nearby. Sing for one chorus or 10 seconds, whichever is longer, in an enclosed place. Examples of possible places: Restaurant, bus, grocery store, somewhere with walls and a roof.
- Dance in the street
- Guidelines: Dance for 10 seconds in a public place. Headphones/earbuds permitted. Remember, eyes open and shades off.
- Ask for a 10% discount at a store, restaurant, etc.
- Guidelines: You must ask two times. Eg. You: Can I get a 10% discount on this sandwich.? (ask #1) Cashier: Do you have a coupon? You: No, just a nice guy discount. Cashier: I’m sorry I can’t do that. You: Are you sure there’s no way I could get 10% off? (ask #2) Cashier: Okay you do seem like a nice guy! You: Thanks! Y’all are the best. (Note: you still succeed if you don’t get the discount!)
- Starbucks or Panera Bread are great options.
All this confidence and caring less talk could make you think we’re striving for perfection. Perfection is not the goal! Say you’re walking down the street trip and bust your knee. You rip a hole in your new jeans and blood starts staining the area. Guess what? That’s not perfection. But you laugh and think to yourself I hope everyone enjoyed the show. That is the mindset we’re after. Your Excellence-self, as we say here at the Pursuit of Excellence, is the perfect version of yourself, but is not in itself perfection. Fostering this brand of confidently caring less will bring you closer to your Excellence-self. Expand your confidence and let your happiness go viral.
Do one thing every day that scares you.
– Mary Schmich