How the 18-40-60 Rule Can Conquer Negativity, Anxiety, and Worry

Worrying About What Others Think

“With age, you figure out that life is too short to waste time thinking about what other people think about you.” That’s what Grammy-Award-winning superstar Christina Aguilera recently told Health Magazine about turning 40.

She’s not alone. A 2021 survey of 2,000 older adults found that 72% of them felt more content and more comfortable in their own skin when they hit their 40s and stopped worrying about what other people think of them.

These people may not be aware of it, but they’re prime examples of the most life-changing rule you never learned.

As a child, you likely learned the Golden Rule, which says “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12). It’s an essential tenet of living an ethical life. There’s another rule, however, that is just as important but that you probably never heard about.

It’s called the 18-40-60 Rule: When you’re 18, you worry about what everybody is thinking of you; when you’re 40, you don’t give a darn what anybody thinks of you; when you’re 60, you realize nobody’s been thinking about you at all. People spend their days worrying and thinking about themselves, not you.

18-40-60 Rule: When you're 18, you worry about what everybody is thinking of you; when you're 40, you don't give a darn what anybody thinks of you; when you're 60, you realize nobody's been thinking about you at all. Click To Tweet

This single piece of insight into human nature is so powerful it can literally change your life—reduce negativity, anxiety, and worry and increase self-esteem, joy, and overall happiness. It’s a shame it isn’t taught in schools. Think how much happier and less stressed you might have been if you had known this earlier.

The Problem with Worrying About What Others Think of You

Are you one of those people who spends a lot of time fretting about what to wear at work or on Zoom calls? Do you replay every stupid thing you said in a meeting or a conversation and think of what you should have said instead? On social media, do you only post the most flattering images of yourself or add filters to hide your flaws so others will find you more attractive and likable?

Constantly seeking validation from others or worrying about what your friends, family, coworkers, and social media followers think of you can be exhausting. It makes us more critical of ourselves, causes us to focus on our flaws (real or perceived), and zaps our self-confidence. Ultimately, it’s a recipe for unhappiness and leads to toxic perfectionism.

With social media, this issue has become inflated. And teens and young adults especially are more concerned than ever with what others think. Not getting enough “likes” or comments on a post can send people into a tailspin of negative thoughts that contribute to depression and anxiety. A 2020 study in the International Review of Psychiatry reports that depression among youth increased from 8.7% in 2005 to 11.3% in 2014. Even more alarming is the fact that suicide among those ages 10-34 has increased 47.5% since 2000. These numbers may be even higher now due to the pandemic.

Some people are so concerned about how others view them they have what’s called rejection sensitivity dysphoria. This condition is characterized by having severe emotional reactions to the slightest critiques. Being overly concerned about letting others down can be so detrimental that it holds you back and prevents you from taking chances in life.

How Mind-Reading ANTs Increase Worry About What Others Think of You

When you are overly concerned with how other people perceive you, it can fill your mind with Mind-Reading ANTs (automatic negative thoughts). This ANT thinks it can see inside someone else’s mind. It thinks it knows how others think and feel without even being told. It says things like, “Everyone thinks I am stupid,” or “They are laughing at me.” When you think you know what others are thinking even though they have not told you and you have not asked them, you are feeding your Mind-Reading ANTs.

Even trained psychiatrists with 25 years of education can’t know what anyone else is thinking unless they ask. A glance in your direction doesn’t mean somebody is talking about you or mad at you. A negative look from someone else may mean nothing more than he or she is constipated! You just don’t know.

Stop trying to read minds!

Kill the Mind-Reading ANTs with the 18-40-60 Rule

Fortunately, you don’t have to wait until your 60th birthday to put the 18-40-60 Rule into practice. You can implement it in your life at any age. When you keep this rule in mind, it helps you eliminate those pesky Mind-Reading ANTs.

Whenever the idea pops into your head that someone else thinks you aren’t good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, or funny enough, ask yourself if it’s true or just an ANT. In addition, post the 18-40-60 Rule somewhere you can see it every day—by your computer, in the Notes app on your phone, or on a little piece of paper in your handbag, backpack, or wallet. The next time you start worrying about what other people are thinking about you, look at it and remind yourself that most people are thinking about themselves, not about you.

Depression, anxiety, toxic perfectionism, and other mental health issues can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

22 Comments

  1. Thanks for the rule of 18-40-60. It is so helpful because raised in a French family I had a lot of rules. But I learned not to pay attention to what people or family members have to say or comment. Learned to pay attention to my everyday mood. To cope with any negative thought I pray write it down and put it in my bible book and ask god to help. It is a relief for me.
    I am so glad to have registered to this happiness.
    Have a great day! I quote today is my day and no one will spoiled it for me ( my grandma passed it on when I was 7 years old).

    Comment by Judith — May 17, 2021 @ 8:15 AM

  2. Great article I needed this 30 years ago. Being raised as an only child with a very critical parent I’ve always been concerned about what others think of me. Am I smart enough, caring enough. I gave it all up at age 70 now I don’t care such freedom!

    Comment by Valerie — May 22, 2021 @ 4:15 AM

  3. I know. Yes and we do wish we had learned it as a teen. Why were people so laxidaisical ?
    Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by william hilburn — May 26, 2021 @ 3:42 AM

  4. This is 100% accurate!!! I am 61 and that is exactly the way I have felt! Ha ha ha.
    I hope I can help others not take so long to realize this.

    Comment by Nancy P. — May 26, 2021 @ 4:58 AM

  5. This is very depressing for 60 year olds.

    Comment by B — May 26, 2021 @ 5:08 AM

  6. I just got some ANTs spray. Ready to rid of these pests!

    XXXO

    JESS

    Comment by Jessimae — May 26, 2021 @ 5:40 AM

  7. Still working on this! Oh my gosh, I grew up with so much negativity and criticism and those tapes replay in my head all the time. I’m way too old to give a darn anymore- here’s to freedom from ANT !

    Comment by Judi A Schwandt — May 26, 2021 @ 5:40 AM

  8. I’m going to be 37 in a few months, and I definitely have less anxiety over being unable to fit into most social groups than I used to. Each year, it gets better and better. I gladly tell people my age; our culture usually expects women to always want to be youthful, but no — I’m very happy to have much more knowledge and insight about things than I did back in my 20s, and to fret about my place in life less. I’ve found my little niches, and so there’s less angst than before.

    Comment by Khendra — May 26, 2021 @ 5:53 AM

  9. THANK YOU SO MUCH!! What an excellent reminder. I teach middle school and often post a “quote of the day” for my kiddos. For a long time I had this one up: “We would care less what other people think about us … if we realized … how seldom they do!” heh heh heh …

    Comment by jeanette — May 26, 2021 @ 6:35 AM

  10. This is super difficult for me. Some people are narcissistic where I work. Their actions are unpredictable. They are passive aggressive. I have to initiate the hello most of the time. When I’m around, their back is turned away and they are focused on anything other than me. The ground, a random bird, etc. When I do say hi, I get a courtesy smile, then when anyone else comes around, they are showered with love (yes love), attention with eye contact, laughs, conversations that do not include me, etc. We’re all adults and it disheartens me. It’s definately how I perceive myself. I grew up with abuse and I have lived for many years (I’m over 40) without treatment or help and still do. I have complex trauma, and I tend to people please and feel awful when I make a mistake. My day is ruined based on somones reaction of disapproval and they are well aware of it. I need a ton of practice yet right now I’m in survival mode trying to get through a whole lot of other issues. Anyways, I can’t wait til I’ve lived my life. Every day gets better as I get closer to Jesus and I have hope that my family will heal and I’m waiting on the Lord to work in our lives. I’m not giving up but boy is it hard.😒😩☹️😢😭😪🤧

    Comment by L.J. — May 26, 2021 @ 6:49 AM

  11. I am approaching 40 in three years and this is spot on – I’m almost to the point that I don’t care what people think of me and it’s liberating in many ways.

    Comment by Lori Warren — May 26, 2021 @ 7:19 AM

  12. I’ll never forget where we were both standing in the Empire Street office when I first heard you share this rule! Makes me smile every time I hear it. Wise words. I’m so grateful you gave yourself permission to share your words of wisdom from such a young age. You’ve helped thousands of people have a better life.

    Comment by Jane Massengill — May 26, 2021 @ 7:42 AM

  13. Thank you for sharing.
    Today I focused on a secular truth that somehow I avoided acknowledging.
    That raises two questions for me:
    1. The 60 part, is very sad it is happening and can have devastating effects on the person.
    In some cases, it is associated with social rejection,
    2. Many of us in the 60s have a lot of useful knowledge to use and share, We have lived to learn very important things about products, relations actions, causalities, etc,
    At a social level, it is dumb, to discard this knowledge, by keeping older specialists away, and going through the learning cycle again and again and expecting different results.

    what would be your advice on this matter, please?

    Comment by IRIS FLOREA — May 26, 2021 @ 7:53 AM

  14. The 18-40-60 rule is a cheeky conversation starter useful in a lesson series devoted to critical thinking, discernment, and the scientific method. Aphorisms 101 – ‘You must not take everything to be true that is told to you.’ Go with your gut, it’s there to protect you.

    Comment by H Alexandra — May 26, 2021 @ 8:48 AM

  15. My problem isn’t automatic negative thoughts about what others think of me, but what I think of myself (self-oriented perfectionism). No matter what the accomplishment, I feel like I could’ve (and should’ve) done a little bit better. I graduated summa cum laude with a 3.98 GPA and still beat myself up over making a “B” in that one class. At 60+ years, I still struggle with it every single day.

    Comment by Bev — May 26, 2021 @ 8:59 AM

  16. I recently turned 60. I have never loved me, and finally, God got to me and i allowed Him to convince me of how phenomenal, beautiful, and talented i am! It is the best time in my life, because while age is taking it’s toll, i love who God made me to be for the first time in my life and it’s because He showed my blind eyes what He made! Now, i just want to share what He did for me, and encourage everyone i meet to look up, He’s got enough love for EVERYBODY!!! This is a perfect time to shed your insecurity, find the awesome person God made you to be, and BE IT!!!! Jus Sayin 🙂

    Comment by Beth Joseph — May 26, 2021 @ 9:07 AM

  17. I knew you thought that and I don’t care. Just teasing. We only have one life. Why waste it? This is a wonderful rule.

    Comment by Diane Conroy — May 26, 2021 @ 9:48 AM

  18. My husband was very wise in his earlier years. We are now 68 and 69. He understood the “60” part of this rule when we were in our 30’s! He helped me to understand how self absorbed I was for even thinking slightly about what others thought of me. He would very tactfully and gently say, “They are probably not thinking about you at all.” This was liberating for me!! Love this rule! It’s is so true.

    Comment by Jennifer — May 26, 2021 @ 1:51 PM

  19. I get a really bad feeling about this. And, I am certain it is coming from God. There are people out there that spend a lot of time thinking about others and sometimes about you: They are doing God’s work. You want list? Police, Fire Fighters, Doctors, Nurses, Teachers, Friends, Family Members that care about you, and more, and yes even politicians. However, we do see that some of these people are only thinking of themselves. May they find some way of receiving messages of how to better support Humanity.
    Killing ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) is fine. But this 18-40-60 Rule is wrong. Instead, follow the Amen Method of Challenging those Thoughts.

    Comment by Matthew Hanson — May 26, 2021 @ 3:39 PM

  20. I like to 18-40-60 rule, especially the part about people are more into or concerned about what is going on with themselves, which is likely true.

    Comment by Delores — May 27, 2021 @ 7:32 AM

  21. This rule is not reality based. People are wicked cruel and critical. They get in other’s business. They demean to dominate and gain power. They gossip for entertainment. They gossip and slander to make trouble for others, and to gain power. They do tribal gang ups to exclude. But yes, they don’t care and aren’t dwelling on the victims of their abuse. They think only of themselves, true, not the pain or consequence to others. They even take pleasure or satisfaction in that.

    Comment by o — May 29, 2021 @ 11:21 AM

  22. Thanks for the 18- 40- 60 rule, wish I had known about that when growing up. I was painfully shy as a child and wanted to fit in, be a people pleaser, but I also felt stupid as I had trouble learning. I’d read a book, but would get bored with it’s contents, as I couldn’t understand what it said. If someone would physically explain what I needed to know, I’d catch on. I was a visual learner, but that word didn’t exist in my world in the 40’s. I was around 35 when I realized I looked at life differently and wasn’t stupid. This freed me to show people I had something to offer, but I still was awkward. Once I gained confidence with myself, I realized the people around me were interested in themselves and only in their element , as I was raised in an entirely different one and being a people pleaser didn’t matter any more. In my 50’s, I found my niche and was called on to add my knowledge, confidence, guidance, be a mentor and had customers come to me with questions. That was my WOW and AH HA time of life and I bent over backwards to help people know we all have unique abilities to offer, some just take longer to BLOOM.

    Comment by berna veach — May 31, 2021 @ 8:21 AM

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