I read something interesting today. It was an article in The Washington Post called How to Tell If Other People Think You Are Hot, According to Science.

I know what you’re probably thinking, “Was this before or after you finished reading Cosmo?”

Here’s the thing, the article was great and I learned two new things I think can help you succeed.

The first thing I learned is that what other people think of you really does matter. In fact, if I had to guess, I’d say 70% of how you live your life should be dictated by how other people see you.

I know that sounds kind of messed up, everyone is always telling you to ‘just do you, and forget the haters.’ But the haters are major keys on your path to success, and you’ll see why in just a second.

To really see how other people see you, you need to get inside their mind. And I’m not talking about the old cliché of walking in someone else’s shoes. The problem we face when trying to see how other people see us is we know too much about ourselves.

“You know what your hair looked like yesterday, a month ago, and four years ago. You know whether you’ve put on weight recently, or if you look tired today. Compare how you evaluate yourself to how you evaluate a stranger: You might make judgments about his or her overall level of attractiveness, outfit, mannerisms, but not much else,” says WaPo.

To get around this problem, Nicholas Epley, a behavioral scientist at the University of Chicago, and Tal Eyal, a psychologist at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University figured out a pretty sneaky way to get inside people’s minds.

You know how people say, if you want to improve your public speaking skills you should video record yourself presenting and then re-watch it?

According to research, this technique works because of the passage of time. “The passage of time helps people to view their own appearance or actions much more abstractly. If you see a photo or a video of yourself from yesterday, you might judge it harshly. But when you see a photo or video of yourself from months or years ago, you evaluate it with fresher eyes — more like a stranger would.

Knowing this, Epley and Eyal ran several experiments with students from the University of Chicago where they evaluated how students and their peers viewed each other’s appearances and public speaking skills over different passages of time.

In one experiment, students had to evaluate photographs taken of themselves and rate their attractiveness on a scale of one to nine. The students evaluated their photos either the same day they were taken or one month later, and had other students rate their photos as well, over the same time passage. What Epley and Eyal found is that students who rated their photos one month later, were more accurate in their judgement of their appearance compared with how other students rated them.

If you’re interested in reading more about the experiments, click here.

Epley and Eyal concluded their experiments by saying this, “When thinking about what other people are thinking of you, don’t sweat the small stuff, because other people aren’t.”

Cute. But how does it relate to your success?

The main lesson I learned here is your experiences day to day, month to month, year to year, influence how you see yourself and your actions presently. What’s real, however, is how other people see you presently.

 

Now there are some caveats to that last statement, and I’ll cover them at the end, but for now we’ll stick with that.

This is important to know because not many people take the time to get perspective on their life.

If you’re the guy who thinks about making one million dollars every day but you still live in a tiny apartment, you still work for the same boss that you’ve been working for for the last ten years, and the only real thing that’s changed is your desire for success has increased — you need a slap in the face.

You need a Polaroid of the reality of your present life so that you can start taking action on making your dreams come true.

And it goes the other way, too.

If you’re the girl who went from living in a one-bedroom, cockroach-infested apartment on the bad side of town, to now living in a six-bedroom, six-baths mansion, in a gated community, and you’re stressing over a drop in monthly revenue by $10,000 — you also need a slap in the face.

Self-confidence is important and failing to recognize your accomplishments for fear of settling or under-achieving your potential is not something to be proud of or beat yourself up over. It’s a mental mistake and it’s costing you more than you think.

So that’s the first thing I learned. The second was that walking in someone else’s shoes is bad advice.

In the first few experiments, Epley and Eyal were trying to figure out how other people see you. In another set of experiment’s, Epley and Eyal tried to figure out how you see yourself.

Here’s what they did:

“We snapped photos of some students and had them rate how attractive they found themselves. But then we showed the photos to a different group of students, telling some of that group that the photo was taken earlier that day, and others that it was taken several months ago. These students then had to guess how attractive the first group of students found themselves to be.

“The guesses of the students were much more accurate when they were told that the photos had been snapped earlier that day, rather than several months earlier. By using this mental trick, the second group of students altered their mindset to be closer to that of the first group of students.

“That might sound a little confusing, but the lesson is that if you’re trying to predict what other people think about themselves, you need to zoom in on the details. If there are any small changes in their job, their life situation, or their stress levels, that’s probably what they’re focused on,” says Epley.

Epley and Eyal also ran one experiment where they tested the walking-in-someone-else’s-shoes theory. Having students evaluate other student’s photos from the other student’s perspective. They found that it doesn’t work.

This is important to understand, especially if you’re a marketer or policy maker. Epley says the takeaway is that you can’t imagine what other people are thinking just by trying to do so. “A rich person can’t imagine what it’s like to be poor just by trying. … Someone from a stable democracy can’t imagine what it’s like to be living in an unstable one.”

“The problem we find over and over again in our data on these social cognition studies, the problem isn’t incompetence, it’s not that people are idiots, it’s that they’re overconfident. The problem is hubris,” says Epley.

Caveats

I said earlier that what’s real is how other people see you presently. I’m sure some of you reading this took offense because you know most people don’t get to see how you act every day and they probably have no clue about your internal struggles you’ve overcome. Valid point, sort of.

If you meet someone once on the street and you give off a bad impression, don’t hold yourself to that one impression because you were having an off day. Your outside appearance (not just physical), should be judged based on an average of exposures to other people.

Secondly, your internal struggles you’ve overcome are in fact accomplishments, but no one really cares unless they change how you act on the outside. You’re not going into an interview and telling the interviewer that you’ve overcome self-confidence issues expecting them to be impressed. If you walk into an interview, chest puffed, head held high, greeting the interviewer with a firm handshake and a “Hey, how are ya,” that’ll go much further in showing your confidence than the former.

Now it’s your turn… Tell me what you think about all this.

Should you live your life based on how other people see you?

I say, yes, to a large extent.

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Here is Why It’s Never Too Late for You to Achieve Something Worthwhile

Have you ever asked yourself if it’s too late to achieve something worthwhile in life. These two most upvoted responses by Marcus and Jim respectively on Quora will help you if you still have doubts about what you can do at any stage of your career.

1. Marcus Geduld, Shakespearean director, computer programmer, teacher, writer, likes dinosaurs.

Too late for what?

If you slept through your 26th birthday, it’s too late for you to experience that. It’s too late for you to watch “LOST” in its premiere broadcast. (Though, honestly, you didn’t miss much.) It’s too late for you to fight in the Vietnam War.

It’s too late for you to go through puberty or attend nursery school. It’s too late for you to learn a second language as proficiently as a native speaker*. It’s probably too late for you to be breastfed.

It’s not too late for you to fall in love.

It’s not too late for you to have kids.

It’s not too late for you to embark on an exciting career or series of careers.

It’s not too late for you to read the complete works of Shakespeare; learn how to program computers; learn to dance; travel around the world; go to therapy; become an accomplished cook; sky dive; develop an appreciation for jazz; write a novel; get an advanced degree; save for your old age; read “In Search of Lost Time”; become a Christian, then an atheist, then a Scientologist; break a few bones; learn how to fix a toilet; develop a six-pack …

Honestly, I’m 47, and I’ll say this to you, whippersnapper: you’re a fucking kid, so get over yourself. I’m a fucking kid, too. I’m almost twice your age, and I’m just getting started! My dad is in his 80s, and he wrote two books last year.

You don’t get to use age as an excuse. Get off your ass!

Also, learn about what economists call “sunk costs.” If I give someone $100 on Monday, and he spends $50 on candy, he’ll probably regret that purchase on Tuesday. In a way, he’ll still think of himself as a guy with $100—half of which is wasted.

What he really is is a guy with $50, just as he would be if I’d handed him a fifty-dollar bill. A sunk cost from yesterday should not be part of today’s equation. What he should be thinking is this: “What should I do with my $50?”

What you are isn’t a person who has wasted 27 years. You are a person who has X number of years ahead of you. What are you going to do with them?

* What I’d intended as a throwaway comment, about the difficulty of second-language acquisition after childhood, has generated interest and disagreement. I will admit upfront I am not an expert on the matter, and was mostly informed by research I’d read about.

It claimed there’s a window of childhood, after which the brain stops being able to hear certain sounds—one’s not used by a child’s native language—which is why it’s so hard to learn to speak a second language without an accent.

Some people may master it, but not many. (How many people do you know, after 25, learned a foreign language and can speak it so well, natives have no idea they’re listening to a foreigner?) It’s also challenging to learn all the idiomatic expressions that native speakers have known since they were small children.

However, since having written this answer, I’ve learned that the Science behind this is very controversial. As I’m not an expert, let me refer you to the wikipedia article (and it’s linked resources).

“In second-language acquisition, the strongest evidence for the critical period hypothesis is in the study of accent, where most older learners do not reach a native-like level.

However, under certain conditions, native-like accent has been observed, suggesting that accent is affected by multiple factors, such as identity and motivation, rather than a critical period biological constraint (Moyer, 1999; Bongaerts et al., 1995; Young-Scholten, 2002).”

2. Jim Lawrenson, Still driving…

Unfortunately for ‘real’ people, the media is obsessed with the tiny minority who succeed early and display this very publicly.

This is then amplified by the high profile ‘subject’,  for PR purposes, to perpetuate their success.

Justin Bieber, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, River Phoenix, Justin Timberlake, Bill Gates, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Jobs, James Dean, Richard Branson, Whitney Houston, One Direction, Amy Winehouse, Mark Zuckerburg. Need I go on.

Notice a trend in there somewhere?

You are probably being influenced, (like all of us), in how you assess your own progress, compared to these people. It can be a dangerous game to play.

It takes a tremendous amount of luck, as well as talent, to get into the right position at the right time. Not many people who make it will tell you that, often preferring to put it down to their hard work.

That is because they believe that this is the case, not because they are intentionally misleading you. I know that because, to an extent, I’ve done it.

You also may not have considered that even if you were on the list of young successes. It is very hard to follow that early success later in life. Your expectations of yourself are higher and based on that youthful virtual reality you experienced once, you can never improve on your past.

That can be a tough pill to swallow and despite all the money in the world, many struggle with that.

Look at any list of young successes from just 10 years ago and count the number who have disappeared, died or been in rehab. Lots.

Half the list of super successful people above are dead for a start off.

This is not an excuse for you to give up trying however. 

Try to think of life as a long road journey.

The journey can be as exciting or as boring as you choose to make it.

Wherever you are on the journey, there are new experiences, as long as you welcome them and seek them out. Some you can plan in advance.

Often, you need to get out of the car to experience them. Otherwise, you will see them flash past the window and feel like it is too late to stop.

  • Do something every day which contributes to your progress on the journey and always be learning and experiencing new things.
  • Don’t put off experiences which can be done today by getting out of the car, for a tomorrow which may never arrive.
  • Build a vision of where you want to get to in 1, 5 and 10 years and then think about the steps you need to complete in the next 30 days to move towards it, but don’t set deadlines that are too harsh. Do the first step on the list today.
  • Like any long journey, you will hit diversions, obstacles, traffic lights, speed bumps, closed roads and all manner of other problems. There will be crashes – you might be involved in them. Like any long road journey, if you want to get the destination enough, you won’t turn back, you will reroute. The car might break down or need repairing. Just accept it will happen now, and carry on.

Most importantly, don’t wait for all the traffic lights between your house and your destination, to turn green at the same time, before you set off.

They won’t!

Get in the car and start driving.

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