The conventional advice that you hear constantly is to not be concerned with what other people think about you. In one sense, it doesn’t matter what people think. If Joe Blow doesn’t like the way you dress, or doesn’t agree with your political beliefs, or thinks you talk too much, it probably doesn’t matter much, so the conventional advice is reasonable. However, in another sense, you should be concerned with what other people think of you, because if enough people that know you have a particular opinion of you, it’s probably pretty accurate.
“What you do speaks so loud I cannot hear what you say.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson-
Every day you exhibit certain behaviors, and they tend to be pretty consistent. People observe these behaviors and make an assessment of your personal characteristics. It’s not a conscious thing. It’s just something that humans naturally do. All your behaviors communicate the type of person you are. If you behave a certain way consistently, it reinforces in people’s minds that you have a particular characteristic. If you occasionally act inconsistently with your normal routine, it won’t be enough to change people’s minds about what you are like. If you behave very inconsistently on a routine basis in a particular area, people will likely have a very fuzzy opinion of how to characterize you in that area.
We each have character traits that we value, and we each have character traits that we hate. We don’t always act consistently with the traits that we value, and we don’t always avoid acting consistently with the traits that we hate. What traits have you communicated to others through your consistent behavior? If a stranger asked a good friend of yours what you were like, what traits would your friend say that you have? What traits would immediately come to mind?
If you value focus, do you think others would characterize you as a focused person? If you value determination, do you think others would say that you are a determined person? If you detest laziness, do you think others would say that you are lazy?
It is often difficult to give ourselves accurate self-assessments, but sometimes it helps to step outside of ourselves in order to get a more objective view. Think about things you do or say each day. If you were another person, how would you perceive your actions and words? If you are feeling really courageous, you can even ask people how they would characterize you in certain areas. Just make sure that you don’t give them pain for telling the truth, even if it isn’t what you want to hear.
The idea behind this exercise isn’t to make ourselves feel bad. The idea is to get more accurate information about what our character traits really are. It’s about finding areas that we think we need to improve on, not because others think that we need to improve, but because we want to improve for ourselves. It’s also about discovering specific ways to improve in these areas. For example, ask yourself, what would I need to do to be perceived as a focused person? What would I need to do to be perceived as a determined person? What would I need to do to be perceived as a cheerful person?
What behaviors can you start performing on a consistent basis in order to get people to begin thinking of your desired character traits when they think of you?