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4 Ways to Manage FOPO (Fear of People's Opinions)!

Mindset Made Simple Tip #185 - Watch or listen HERE.

My son swims. He’s 11, so who knows what is to come with the sport, but for now, Sundays are swim meet days.  

As much as I loved watching him take time off each of his races yesterday, the best part of the day was the 3+ minute 100 IM heat. 

I don’t know much about swimming, but I do know that a 3-minute 100 IM isn’t a champion’s time.


It depends on what you call a champion!

As I type, tears come to my eyes thinking about watching this race. I don’t know the athlete who swam the race, but she touched me and everyone else in the natatorium at Cleveland State with her desire to compete! She didn’t wear the typical suit, she didn’t use the starting blocks, and her strokes weren’t perfect, but she COMPETED to the best of her ability. 

As I wiped tears from my eyes as she struggled through the breaststroke…but prevailed, I thought about the joy her parents must have as she conquered things they may not have thought possible.

I thought about the joy she must feel as accomplishes such great feats. Swimming a 100-meter race in a HUGE pool could seem daunting, but she took it on like a champ!

Then I thought as I used to think as we spent time with the Cuyahoga and Summit County Developmental Disability programs in my time at CSU and Akron, the jokes on us!   In all of my life I have never seen a group of people so real and happy to have fun with others and this athlete exhibited those same amazing behaviors!

This athlete wasn’t worried about being last by minutes instead of seconds. This athlete didn’t care what the swimmer next to her was doing and she didn’t care that I was crying in the stands (the woman in front of me was, too and mentioning this proves that I, too care what other people might think).  

See, the joke's on me. She didn’t care what I or anyone else was doing. Not one bit. But I do care what others think…and so do you and those you lead.

She was there to swim. To persevere. To give it one last chance at the “Last Chance Meet”.   Not to worry about who was judging her or what her race meant for the future!

Watching this race prompted an immediate login to Special Olympics Ohio to become a volunteer. My son needs to be around this unabashed desire TO DO instead of TO WORRY about what other people think!

Watching this race also took me back to a conversation I had with one of my teams as we talked about our inner ad campaigns and how what we repeat becomes our brand. One athlete mentioned our propensity to have a “just in case” excuse before performing so if things don’t go well, we already set it up as such. So when others judged, she was ready to defend!

This and my attempts at hiding my tears yesterday took me back to an episode of Dr. Rob Gilbert’s Success Hotline and a podcast that featured Dr. Michael Gervais. Dr. Gilbert calls this thinking WWOPT and Dr. Gervais calls it FOPO and what these acronyms and the behaviors they influence do to our performance.

This athlete had neither and thus, they did not affect her race. She didn’t care “what other people think” nor did she have a “fear of peoples’ opinions”. She just swam…as hard as she could.

We have a hard time doing this…and by all accounts, someone would look at those on our team and say they are more equipped to compete than this athlete. And in some ways, they are. In some ways, we can learn from her approach.

As Dave Jones said decades ago, “Jul, no one is thinking about you nearly as much as you think they are.” “How do you know, Dad?” “Because they are too busy thinking about themselves.” 

Case and point. As I was watching this beautiful race, I was also thinking about whether or not anyone was watching the tears streaming down my face. I do the same thing in church. For whatever reason, the powerful worship songs bring me to tears and some days, instead of thinking about the grace that is making me cry, I start to think about whether or not anyone notices that I can barely sing because of the emotion that bubbles up when I think about that unmerited favor I have been blessed with.

This FOPO or WWOPT can paralyze us. It can limit us. It changes our performance.  

They call it the “spotlight effect”. We think the spotlight is on us…all the time. 

Here’s a bulletin from Dave Jones. IT’S NOT!

Researchers Medvec and Savitsky in 2000 asked college students to wear an embarrassing t-shirt to class. The students who wore the shirts were sure at least 50 percent of their classmates would pay attention to the embarrassing Barry Manilow print while only 25 percent paid any attention. In another study, the number who noticed was closer to 10%.

In other words, no one gave a shirt what was on the shirt. :)

How does this translate to what we do…work to perform at our peak?

As I was making the connection, I thought about how much our athletes think their every move is being judged. Then I thought about what happens on the field when the ball is in play.  

What do people do when the ball is in play? They watch the ball. How do I know? Because even the players who are supposed to be doing something to help the play watch the ball.

The fans aren’t watching you, the coach. They are watching the ball.

And as they are watching the ball, they are judging what is happening, but most often, not always, of course, they are judging the play…not the player (unless they think their kid should be in that position or they think the coach sucks…which means they are judging the coach…not the player). 

You get the point. 

My other example is this, which I have shared before. 

You miss a shot and think the world is over because EVERYONE thinks you suck. Caitlin Clark misses shots, too. Do you think she sucks and are you judging her with such scrutiny?

One thing injured players notice the most is that their coach doesn’t stop play, make immediate changes, or complain about every missed shot or rebound in a game. The game goes on and the coach is looking for the next opportunity. This is just another example of the fact that our every move is not put on a huge movie screen for others to watch with full focus.  

WE ARE NOT THE MOVIE. WE PLAY A PART IN THE MOVIE and the whole movie is what has everyone’s attention!

How can we keep our FOPO or WWOPT in check?  Here are a few ideas.

#1. When you find yourself in “spotlight mode”, stop and think about what you would think if what you did was done by someone else. 

If someone struck out in a game you were watching, would you judge him/her as harshly as you think you are being judged? If a friend missed a shot, would you care…or would you show them a little grace?

#2. Check to see if you are really in the “spotlight”. 

Are others even looking at you? Are they watching the play? Have they moved on to the next thing? Focusing on what is going on around you can help you get out of your head and get a better understanding of the fact that others aren’t laser-focused on you!

#3. Make a list of expectations. What do you expect of yourself? What do you think others expect of you (operative word “think”)?  What do you know others expect of you?  Who matters to you? Who gets to weigh in on your life? And once you decide who does, determine if that person(s) adds value or stress.  

#4. When you think others are judging you, ask yourself if you are worried about “others” meaning anyone around or are you worried about one person? As author James Clear says “When I notice myself worrying about “what other people will think” I find I’m usually not worried about any single person’s opinion. If I pick a specific person, I‘m rarely concerned about what they will think. What I fear is the collective opinion in my head. It’s imaginary."

I want to face my "races" like yesterday's swimmer. I want to throw it all out there, do my best, embrace my emotions and I know you and those you lead want to, too.

We will always have thoughts of what others are thinking. As Dr. Gervais says in The First Rule of Mastery, when we care about something, we tend to overthink it and worry about the outcome…and what others will think in the meantime. But just because this is a normal tendency, we don’t have to let it control our performance.  

As with so many other things, a shift in our perspective can help us remember that everyone thinks they have their own spotlight.  We don’t notice theirs because ours is so bright…and visa versa!

Let’s be a little more like yesterday’s champion and swim to be our best, not the best in someone else’s mind.

Because the joke’s on us…no one is thinking about us as much as we think they are…so go BE YOUR BEST and then when they do notice, you’ll be happy with what they see!


P.S. Reach out today to schedule a three-session workshop and give your team new tools to manage their performance and everything that comes with it!  Shoot me a text at 234-206-0946 or an email at and get scheduled today!

Julie Jones

Mental Performance Coach

SSB Performance • 234-206-0946 

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