Looks, I asserted in my last post, are massively important to success. This wasn’t an assertion I made because either I’m a header turner myself (the day someone feels sufficiently allured to turn their head in my direction for a second gaze will be a truly joyous occasion) or because I’m shallower than a dog on heat.
No, I made that assertion because the science backs up the fact. To sum that science up in one sentence: -
Particularly attractive people have an enormous social advantage; their looks on a subconscious level trigger an associated positive assumption about their personalities – they’re seen as smarter, more trustworthy, more talented…ad nauseum.
I cheated by using a semi-colon in the above ‘one sentence’ summation I know. So here’s a better one:
Drop-dead good looks have the ultimate halo effect.
But although I was merely a well-intentioned messenger in that last post, something nevertheless didn’t sit easily with me. Yes, the ultimate message of the article was positive, in that the key factors determining attractiveness are scientifically proven to be easily changeable; and to that end we can all get the ‘looks’ factor to work to our advantage simply by taking a little more pride in our appearance and health.
But nevertheless, I sensed the message could end up doing more harm than good.
Firstly, for those who for one reason or another, fall way below ‘average’ on the physical appearance marker, such a message is hardly inspirational. In fact, it could be profoundly damaging because it naturally undermines that core belief that we are, as human beings, far, far more than simply the sum of our physical form.
And that interpretation of the message would of course, be a gross and unfortunate distortion: -
The reality is, those with a face that fits the golden ratio may have an enormous social advantage; likewise those less fortunate may experience a reverse effect to a degree. But to be left with the impression that human nature is so base, so animalistic, that it would be inclined to dismiss an individual’s intrinsic worth simply because of below average looks would be an injustice to humanity.
We may be swayed in our attitudes by physical traits; but ultimately, positive deeds – acts of kindness, compassion, integrity, altruism and the like, transcend the physical. It isn’t human nature to judge the worth of a person by their appearance; and to that end deeds of course, remain paramount.
But in addition to the potential affront to our basic human nature, there’s a more corrosive practicality to placing the importance of looks on too high a pedestal.
The Spotlight Effect
Too many of us spend a disproportionate amount of our mental energies concerning ourselves with other people’s perceptions of us already. In fact, that focus on ‘I wonder what they’re thinking of me’ can, left unchecked, consume so much of our focus that there’s little left for feeling comfortable in one’s own skin, for being genuine, and showing a real interest in and concern for others.
In other words, it can undermine all the things that foster genuine connections with others.
What’s more, focusing the spotlight on yourself doesn’t just make your interactions with others a great deal more superficial; by default it also makes you a great deal more self-conscious in the process.
As anyone who’s suffered from any degree of social anxiety can attest, such constant introspection can fatally undermine one’s self-confidence. Thanks to the way the human mind words, a minute-by-minute preoccupation with other people’s impressions of you tends to lead to a mental runaway train of paranoia and insecurity – one where the slightest remark is construed negatively, and where the smallest self-blunder can leave you feeling embarrassed, awkward or even humiliated.
As psychologists often say, people who are prone to excessive self-observation don’t just constantly walk around with a mirror held up in front of themselves, but their hypersensitivity cakes the mirror in dirt. Consequently they’re left with a highly distorted negative reflection of themselves.
So, in this post I say treat the previous message with caution.
It is one thing to be aware of the potentially powerful influence that physical appearance can play in one’s success (and to take healthy steps to exploit that knowledge to one’s own advantage). It’s quite another to be left either feeling undermined by that reality, or being left obsessed by the way you look.
Placing too much emphasis on how others perceive you – either physically or personality wise – is a sure route to blinding yourself with the psychological spotlight, which can only ever lead to plummeting confidence and self-esteem.
What’s more, speaking from personal experience, doing anything for some hoped for external reward is a fickle form of motivation.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle, exercising, abstaining from all your favourite vices simply to look good for other people for example, will only work in the short-term. There has to be a deeper reason – an inner motivation – to act consistently in the long-term. If my motivation for looking after my health had revolved around my looks and not my health, personally I’d have ended up terminally discouraged after about a week.
Aesthetics can be a nice by-product of good health, but they’ll never fuel the reason for achieving it.
The moral of the tale is this: focus your attention outward, not inward. Give a healthy respect to any factor that can help you to win friends and non-harmfully influence people, but don’t fixate on them and don’t try to impress. Confidence arises when you lose your sense of self, not when you fixate on it. Likewise, we gain the respect, trust and affection of others when our attention and interest is focused on them, not ourselves.
Looks count yes, but not that much, not enough to self-obsess.
Websites / People / Posts I found inspiring this week:
Tony Mazzocchi’s website You Only Do This Once offers an increasingly prolific amount of inspiring advice for anyone who’s swamped by debt or stuck in a rut. How do you find the time Tony? I’m not the only one who’s impressed either; Tony’s site has gained a well-deserved nomination for Top Personal Finance Blog 2012. Also, credit where credit is due, it was through Tony’s example that I decided it would be a nice extra touch to include a few of the resources I’ve recently found inspiring at the end of the odd article. Thanks Tony.
Likewise CJ and Tammy give a fresh, inspirational perspective on life at The Great JollyHoombah with an ethos of embracing the lighter side of life ringing through their posts, as well as living with self-directed autonomy and purpose. I found their latest post ‘What If?’ subtly thought-provoking with its subtheme of learning to appreciate the beauty of life as it is. Nice to meet you both.