Stop explaining yourself, and how to free up way more mental energy

One of the best pieces of advice that I got was how to deal with negative people: you don’t. You’ve got a limited amount of time and energy in any given day, and you’re wasting it if you’re spending it on the wrong people.

I’m involved in some mentorship groups. An all too often question that comes up is, “I’ve been working on improving what’s going on in my life, but my old friends don’t like it. How do I convince them?”

Yeah, that happens.

You don’t convince them. Everyone has to walk their own path.

The reality is that as you work on yourself, you’re probably going to outgrow some relationships. There are some people from, say, my high school or college that I still got love for, but we’re just in a completely different place. It’s not that I have anything against them, but we’re just doing completely different things now.

Some people can be bitter though—and this is where not explaining yourself comes in.

Let me give you an example. In 2016, I was joining the US Army. Most people’s reaction either ranged from supportive to just curious. One acquaintance, not a close friend by any means, questioned my decision and said “you’re too smart for that.”

Now, how would you respond to that?

One thing that I could have done is actually answer her question and give her the reasons why I wanted to join. I could have talked about the benefits. I could have talked about getting leadership experience, doing a national service, how it’s been a personal interest of mine, or any other reason.

I thought about doing that. At a younger age, I probably would have. Then, I thought some more, and here’s what I said instead:

“You’ve got your values. I’ve got mine.” And, then I walked away.

Mindset Shift

Even if there’s a valid critique of my career path—there’s a right way and a wrong way to give feedback. Starting a statement with “you’re too smart for that” is not how it’s done.

Do you let people treat you this way?

Let me be more specific. Yes, it’s callous. But beyond just that, it shows that this person has clearly has unwarranted self-importance and also just lack of basic social awareness. Going along with the saying that you’re the average of the six people that you spend time with the most—do I even want to be around this kind of negativity, much less take her advice?

Think of a conversation with a trusted friend or mentor. It doesn’t matter what the topic is; it could be a career shift, some personal advice, something lighthearted like sports, something serious like politics, or whatever. You’re talking with him to learn something, and maybe you disagree with each other, but you probably leave the conversation with both people having learned something from it.

Now, think about a presidential debate on TV. Is the goal really change or inform the other candidate’s mind? Of course not. The point is to win the audience, and what the other candidate thinks is irrelevant. Could you imagine if some candidate said during a debate, “wow, you really changed my mind! I’m really going to quit my political party now in the middle of election now that you’ve opened my mind up to how I’m wrong!”

It’s never going to happen.

Realize that, candidly, some people are just bitter, and by explaining yourself, you’re really just wasting time and energy.

It’s like you trying to legitimately convince someone in a presidential debate, when they’re not even listening.

A lot of people involved in “self-development” open themselves up to negativity under the guise of being “open-minded” or that they’re “learning”.

Understand: I’m extremely open-minded. I can listen to advice from all kinds of sources. Ultimately the decision is still going to be mine and mine alone, but I’m willing to listen to what mentors and confidants have to say.

Not everyone knows what they are talking about though.

This is the same reason why I block any kind of negativity on social media. Ryan Allis, a self-made millionaire who dropped out of my college, once said in a speech to a business group that I was involved in, “If there are negative people in your life, just delete them from Facebook. They won’t even notice.”

If you’re the average of the six people that you surround yourself the most, then in the age of social media, this is now amplified by hundreds or even thousands. If people are posting negative, depressing, or derogatory material, then I don’t really need to follow them.

So why do I say don’t explain yourself?

They’re not even listening. It’s like a presidential debate. They don’t even care.

There’s a saying that in young age, you worry about what people think. In mid age, you stop worrying about what people think, and in old age, you realize they weren’t even thinking about you in the first place.

You’ve got a limited amount of willpower and energy in a day. That’s a biological reality. You can spend that energy on productive things—or you can squander it coming up with explanations to negative people who don’t even care in the first place.

Spend your time with people who value it, and quit wasting time explaining yourself to people who don’t.

-Alex Cook