High Performance Psychologist Dr. Michael Gervais Shares the First Rule of Mastery

Stop worrying about what people think of you, start living a life of purpose

“Why am I nervous? I know this guy!”

That thought ran through my head as I prepared to interview Dr. Michael Gervais at a recording studio in SoHo.

If you’re not familiar with Dr. Gervais, there are a few things you should know.

First: He’s a world-renowned performance psychologist who works with the best in the world.

This includes Fortune 100 CEOs, Olympians and musicians.

Second: The guy is effortlessly cool and looks a lot like Tom Cruise. It’s easy to assume he’s never been in an awkward situation, ever.

As we sat down for the interview I asked what seemed like a silly question.

“Do you mind if I check my notes?”

I have no idea why I asked that question. Maybe it’s because I thought the notes made me look less professional.

He replied, “Yeah, use your notes brother, one hundred percent.”

Like I said, the dude is super cool. I was relieved after his response and ready to lead a thoughtful interview. But I shouldn’t have needed his permission to perform at my best.

And this brief exchange highlighted why his new book, The First Rule of Mastery, is so crucial for anyone looking to unlock the best version of themselves.

I was experiencing what Dr. Gervais refers to as FOPO, or Fear of Other People’s Opinions.

“I think it’s one of the greatest constrictors of human potential. It’s the thing that lies right underneath the surface that thrusts us into wanting to be safe, wanting to be accepted, the fear of rejection.”

Dr. Gervais shares why this fear has been so pervasive for such a long time.

“We have a strong need to be accepted by other people, and that’s biological. That goes back 100,000 years ago when we needed to fit in. That was a near death sentence if we were rejected from the tribe and somebody said ‘Hey, you’re not good enough.’ When that happens, we’re kicked out of the tribe. It’s too much to, to gather, to fight, to forge, to protect. So it was a near death sentence. So fitting in was really important for us and our brains are very sensitive to that.”

We joked about how it was happening in real time during the interview and I identified a few other times FOPO had already shown up that day.

As I sipped my black coffee I told Dr. Gervais about the impact “ordering anxiety” has on visits to coffee shops. In New York City, you better be ready to order. If not, everyone, including the staff, is going to become impatient very quickly.

That anxiety is also a result of FOPO. And if we zoom out, we can identify other areas where the Fear of Other People’s Opinions holds us back.

As Dr. Gervais stated during a conversation with the Next Big Idea Club, “FOPO is a phenomenon so pervasive and familiar that we often don’t recognize it, even when it’s influencing our decisions, our self-worth, or our perceptions of success and failure.”

So, is FOPO showing up in your life?

That Linkedin post you were afraid to publish.

“What if nobody comments? I’ll look foolish?”

The excuses you make for not going to the gym.

“Everyone else is already in shape, what will they think of me?”

That apology you were afraid to make.

“What happens if they don’t care, or are still upset after?”

In these instances, FOPO isn’t just forcing you to order a black coffee when you really want something fancier – it’s creating a negative impact on your career, health, and relationships.

So, how can you stop worrying about what other people think of you?

As per Dr. Gervais, the key is having a strong sense of purpose.

“Connecting to something bigger than we are makes us less susceptible to the opinions and negative thoughts that follow the separate self. We become more like the ocean than a small puddle of water that’s easily displaced.”

Dr. Gervais played a crucial role in helping me find my purpose.

Years ago I completed Finding Your Best, the online coaching program he developed along with Pete Carrol.

As stated on the website, the goal of this course is to help you, “build a life of meaning and purpose, while also learning to push the limits of your personal performance, with our scientifically tested principles.”

After completing the training I had a clear definition of the vision for my life, the tools needed to make it happen and felt the connection to a higher purpose.

But it was my connection to Dr. Gervais that ultimately pushed me to take action on that purpose.

I lost my son TJ in 2017, but didn’t talk about it publicly.

Dr. Gervais was the first person outside of my immediate network that I felt comfortable sharing my full story with.

He was receptive, provided more training, then encouraged me to be a beacon for others who need help navigating life’s challenges.

But, just like I shouldn’t need his permission to read my notes during an interview, I shouldn’t have needed his permission to share my experiences with the world.

I knew this was something I needed to do, but I was letting the fear of other people’s opinions hold me back from helping those who could gain inspiration from my story.

Fortunately, I moved past that fear, and I did so on stage in front of 500 people at a ConvertKit conference.

I opened up about losing my son, how it changed the trajectory of my life, and why I was able to enjoy so many experiences as a result of pushing through as opposed to giving up.

Immediately afterwards, several attendees thanked me for being vulnerable and sharing tools they could use to navigate their own challenges.

Sharing my story has made me feel less alone, unlocked incredible opportunities and built amazing relationships.

And it finally allowed me to truly live in my vision without the fear of other people’s opinions.

Closing thoughts

When I first started writing this article I intended for it to be a book review, but that wouldn’t do justice to the impact of Dr. Gervais’s work.

Instead, I decided to share my transformation, and then guide you towards the resources that can help you along your journey.

There are a few ways to do that:

Dr. Gervais is the first guest on my new podcast, Reclaim and Advance. You can listen to our full interview – except the part where I ask if I can check my notes – by subscribing today.

And of course, you should strongly consider picking up a copy of The First Rule of Mastery. I’ll share the full description so you can get a better idea of what you’re in for.

“FOPO shows up almost everywhere in our lives—and the consequences are great. When we let FOPO take control, we play it safe and small because we’re afraid of what will happen on the other side of critique. When challenged, we surrender our viewpoint. We trade in authenticity for approval. We please rather than provoke. We chase the dreams of others rather than our own.”

This article was written by Terry Rice, and originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.

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