Positive perspectives and practices for personal growth.

Life’s Better When You Drop the Pretence

Living under a pretence must rank as one of the most stressful things you can do. By contrast, letting go and just acting authentically must rank as one of the most liberating.

Yet, despite the stress and strain of doing so, living under a veil of inauthenticity often wins out. 

Why? It’s certainly not because we’re pathologically disingenuous or deceitful by nature. Most of us don’t want to manipulate, con or control those we come in contact with.

But the truth is, most of us do want to be liked, accepted and respected; we want to fit in.

To that end we act inauthentically to cover our self-perceived flaws; to meet the standards of those we want to fit in with. Maybe we’ll go out of our way to appear in control, intelligent, charming, funny, unbeatable, passionate, enthusiastic, likeable, loveable, talented…or whatever.

But ultimately, we’re simply afraid of what others will think of real us.

Can You See the Real Me?

Of course, everyone wants to be seen in a positive light – that’s pretty understandable. Very few of us would feel happy ostracised. We’re social animals; we all want to be accepted, and seen as valued members of the collective. 

But one thing I have learned, is that that positivity has to shine through from your true character, not from some contrived attempt to forge the ideal you.

Why? Well putting aside any moralistic argument, trying to tailor your actions to fit some nebulous idea of what you think impresses other people is both massively stressful and an all-depleting drain on mental resources.

You’re more likely to come across as a nervous, retarded chipmunk brain, as opposed to the swauve, sophisticated and charismatic George Clooney / Gwyneth Paltrow you think you’re coming across as.

Instead of acting naturally, you’re filtering everything you do through various levels of analysis.

‘How should I act to get them to think of me in this particular way?’ ‘How will this particular action be interpreted?’ ‘What are they thinking of me in relation to the way I’ve already acted?’ ‘Is my approach having the desired effect on their opinion of me?’.

How can you possibly function at anywhere near your best when you’re under such enormous self-scrutiny?

Just like the National Grid when demand for electricity spikes during the TV ads, your mind is placed under an almost intolerable strain – 1. To act competently and 2. To worry whether or not you’re perceived as acting competently. The human mind doesn’t dual focus well at the best of times; not least when the attention of that focus is critical self-appraisal. If stress could be harnessed as energy, you’d produce more than your average split hydrogen atom trying to do the above.

But shining such a blinding spotlight of self-analysis onto your every action is not only mentally draining, it’s also a short cut to crippling self-consciousness and insecurity.

Your concern becomes overly focused on what other people think… you mentally make all the world a stage as Will Shakespeare put it, with you as the central character and the rest of humanity as the audience.

The reality is this though:-

You cannot effectively control other people’s attitudes towards you – they make up their own minds. A central tenet of a stress free life is to pretty much acknowledge and let go of any worry you can’t control.

People will only ever have a distorted impression of you based on limited information… they never see the ‘whole you’. Similarly, what they do see can be misconstrued or misinterpreted.

As Barack Obama put it in an interview:

One of the things you realise fairly quickly in this job is that there is a character people see out there called Barack Obama. That’s not you. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s not you.

So if you can’t control what people think of you – and what they do think of you is just an incomplete and inaccurate representation – why for one second bother trying to contrive your actions in an attempt to impress?

Surely it’s better to shift the spotlight away from your performance and concentrate instead on your actions… to ensure that the motives behind those actions are based on positive values and principles without concern for how they might be construed (or misconstrued).

In her biography of Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different, Karen Blumenthal relays the story of how Apple’s board of directors were worried that the company’s treatment of a journalist who’d leaked details of the iPhone 4 before release might look heavy handed and arrogant.

In response to this fear Jobs had said:

I’m not worried about that, because we’re not arrogant.

That’s a perfect illustration how acting out of principle, as opposed to acting for appearances sake, can transform your outlook from one of anxious concern to one of value based indifference… from stressed to calm.

So Remember

Don’t concern yourself with other people’s impression of you – their impression is fundamentally out of your control and will always be inaccurate.

Detach from it – your ‘character’ as Barak Obama puts it – and instead act out of your own set of intrinsically driven positive values… your sense of right and wrong, fairness, respect, compassion, cooperation and the like.

By doing so you can cast away the need to impress or gain the approval of others… as well as the inauthentic act you contrive to spin that imagine.

Without that need to impress, you can act from the heart without fear; you can be truly authentic…and a lot less stressed.

If you found this post helpful and you think others will too, please consider sharing the link on Facebook, Twitter or whatever other site you use. Thank you, Gareth