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Fear of People's opinions

This blog is about 'fear of people's opinions' or FOPO and if you choose to play the FOPO game it can have a seriously negative affect on your mental health and wellbeing.

It is in fact a book review of Michael Gervais's new book, 'The First Rule of Mastery: Stop worrying what people think of you'. Before I get into some of the detail of this book I want to give my overall opinion. I am an avid reader of psychology/self-help/wellbeing books and especially those texts that are based on the latest science. And while my Masters in Applied Positive Psychology has taught me to realise that you can often find 'science' that supports your own beliefs it is vital that the advice given in any text (including my own books) is based on sound principles and research that you can delve into further. This book is most definitely one of those. It combines Michael's vast experience as a high performance psychologist working with top performers from many different domains, with brilliant stories and real life examples that illustrate the points being made. But, fundamentally, it makes many complex areas of psychology more understandable to a wide readership making it a book for anyone who is susceptible to FOPO. And having read through this book, taken my time, and absorbed the content, I can say without doubt that EVERYONE is susceptible to FOPO. So, if you buy one book this year make it this one because it will change your life for the better.

Oftentimes, when I read non fiction books I get excited by the topic, reading the introduction and the first couple of chapters before my focus wains. This is NOT one of those books. I can honestly say it gets better and better which is amazing given how good it is from the start. As I finished the final pages of the chapter titled 'The Litmus Test' I was both saddened and excited. Saddened because the book was ending but excited to put so much of it into action or rather go from 'idea to action'.

So, what exactly is FOPO?

Michael Gervais begins this book by unmasking exactly what FOPO is all about. Part one takes the reader through an examination of FOPO - Fear of People's Opinions and how and why we succumb to this irrational and unproductive obsession.

Fear of People's Opinions - an irrational and unproductive fear

But, it is important to grasp that the central message of this book, and its subtitle, is to stop worrying about what other people think rather than stop valuing other people's opinions. Because other people's opinions may indeed be very valuable and worth paying attention to. It really depends who these people are! The main issue is that when we are worrying we are wasting valuable time and resources which is unproductive and potentially harmful to our potential, wellbeing and purpose.

Part two allows us to assess FOPO and helps us realise how silly we can be. For example, we are in fact really bad at knowing what others are thinking whether it is about us or not even when we know these people really well. In reality, we spend time worrying what others think about us when they are often not even thinking about us at all... This section of the book ends by reminding us that we are NOT separate individuals but rather interconnected social beings and that finding a purpose that is bigger than ourselves is one of the best defences against FOPO.

Part three is titled 'redefine' and really challenges us to look at our closely held beliefs and question whether they are still valid? It also brings into view those people whose opinions we do want to listen to and therefore those whom we want to have sitting at our round table - our knights whose counsel we value. This section then concludes by bringing the value of time to the fore and reminds us what a precious gift it is. This chapter really resonated with me because when I read it I had just returned from a six day stay in hospital which had begun with me quite literally nearly dying! And being reminded that you could die at any time really helps bring into focus what is important in your life.

Some key learnings from this book:

  • We should master what is in our control e.g., thoughts, words, and actions

  • We should value our time and treat it as the precious gift it is...

  • ...and not waste time on people's opinions whom we don't value

  • We should work towards something greater than ourselves

  • We should have a round table of people (knights) whose opinions are worth considering

  • We should be open to challenging our deeply held beliefs

  • Remember that we could die at any time and should therefore use our time well

  • We should say goodbye to people as if we may never see them again, because we might not, and we should really appreciate the time we have spent together

In conclusion, this book is so much deeper than the title suggests. If you grasp the messages in it you will realise it is about being a better person and contributing to a better society as a whole.

Michael sums it up beautifully when he says, "you have a choice at every moment of your life whether you are going to play the FOPO game". pg. 187.

About the authoR of this book review

Derek Tate is an alpine skiing coach and director of British Alpine Ski School Chamonix. He is a mental skills coach, positive psychology practitioner, strengths practitioner, and author. His recent books include, "Six Steps for Training the Mind", "Learn, Enjoy, Flow & Grow" and "Transformational Flow Coaching". You can learn more from his author page. He also enjoys reading psychology books, health and wellbeing books by many other authors and learning from leaders in these fields.


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