Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Perception Isn't Key

I'm going to get a little philosophical today.

I've been thinking a lot about perceptions recently, what other people think about us and what we can do about it, and I've come to some personal conclusions that I want to discuss here.

I have an almost constant running dialogue with myself in the back of my mind. It's where I discuss what people think of me and the impact of what I say on how they view me. I'll let you in on a little secret, one of my best talents is not letting on how insecure I am and how much I actually care about what people think of me. Once I passed on some interesting information I saw on the Oprah show with the immediate disclaimer of "I wasn't watching it or anything! I just happened to be flipping channels when it was on and something caught my attention." While my disclaimer was true, my need to share that disclaimer was obviously because I didn't want anyone to think that I might be the type of guy who watched the Oprah show. Frankly, I don't know what type of guy that is, but I didn't want to be thought of as him. (Side note: notice I still felt it necessary to point out that the disclaimer was true?)

The funny thing is that no matter what I do, I cannot control what other people think of the things I say and do. In fact I can't really control half of what I think of the things others say and do. I don't mean that in some sort of "I'm helpless against my own prejudices and opinions" kind of way. I mean that in the way that the tiniest of things contribute to how I think and perceive people. For instance, you now know that I have seen at least some of the Oprah show and thought it was valid enough to not only form my own opinion on, but also share it with other people. Chances are, without you even meaning to let it, that bit of information will change the way you think about me in at least some small way. Maybe not a lot, but little bits of information here and there are all that's needed.

So, as guardians of our persons, how do we deal with the issue of what people think and perceive about us? To my mind there are only three things to be done about this problem and only one of them is actually a viable option.

Option #1: Languish over what people might think of you.
No really, this is an option that many people choose. You can torture yourself thinking of what you did and what you could have done differently, or what the other person might think of you because of what you did. You can go over endless options of ways it could have gone better and then go over how that better option would make the person think better of you. (I've done this) Or you might stew over the fact that people don't see you for "who you really are". Regardless of the exact method of "languishing" the point is you'll get depressed and waste a lot of time doing nothing but wallowing in self pity. The problem with this method is it doesn't change anything.

Option #2: Close all of your doors.
Erect high walls. Don't let anyone know anything about you, or at least not anything that might be "damaging" to your desired image. Of course this will also result in zero real relationships. No one will really know you or who you are. Your true self will never really feel validated (which is what we all really want right?). You'll just feel a false sense of validation for this fake self you've created. The other problem with this method is that regardless of how many doors you close or walls you erect you still can't actually control how people choose to perceive this closed off, fake you. You can create a terrific mask that portrays exactly what you want people to see and nothing that you want to hide, and people will still manage to make assumptions about you that you don't like.

Option# 3: Get over it.
I don't mean this in that way where I insist that you immediately change the way you think, feel, and act. That's just not realistic. It definitely takes time. I don't mean like a couple tries. I mean a long time. I know this because I'm currently on this journey myself. I haven't finished it by a long shot, but I do know that I have a much better handle on it now than I used to. I know that when I'm tempted to fret and worry about what others think of me I at least realize that is what's happening. I know when I'm goaded into arguments to try and validate that my thoughts and opinions are "right" I realize (if not before than at least after) that is what's happening. I also realize that I don't need to argue with someone and lose my peace just so they see things my way and don't think I'm crazy for believing what I believe. I don't mean to say you should never debate or discuss things, but there is definitely a line (for me anyway) where I'm arguing because I am personally wrapped up in the outcome, because I want the other person to see it my way and perceive me "correctly".

The key for me is thinking, "how does someone else's perception of me affect me?" Let me give you a real life example:
I'm driving down the road. I'm going the speed limit. The person behind me decides I'm not going fast enough and crosses yellow lines to pass me.

Option #1: My reaction is something like: What the heck?! I'm going the speed limit douche bag! Of course my reason for this reaction is because now I think that guy thinks I'm just some dumb slow driver who doesn't belong on the road. Now, I'm annoyed that he thinks that.

Option #2: When I see that it looks like he's going to pass me I speed up so he can't/doesn't need to. Ha! That showed him. Now he knows I'm not some granny driver! (Except his actual perception of me is probably that I'm the douche bag)

Option #3: Huh. <- That's it. Why does there need to be anything more? Who cares if that guy passed me? Who cares what he thinks of me? He seems like a dangerous driver and I'm probably better off with him zipping off far away from me. It's definitely better than having him tailgating me. Who cares if he thinks I'm a granny behind the wheel? Besides, aren't I assigning my own perceptions to him by assuming he's being a jerk? Maybe he's rushing to the hospital, trying to get home quickly because his kids are home alone after school, or any number of other reasons.

I know there are far more personal examples, but I think this one was one of the first realizations that I had on this topic and it seems much easier to work up from impersonal situations to the more personal ones.

Well, those are my thoughts. I'd love to hear yours...

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