Positive perspectives and practices for personal growth.

Of course…It’s not all about looks

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.

In Perspective

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.


  1. “Aesthetics can be a nice by-produce of good health, but they’ll never fuel the reason for achieving it.” That is a top-notch zinger if I’ve ever read one, Gareth! The kind that will inspire writing it down and posting it on the bathroom mirror. It also may explain why we see someone lose 100 pounds only to gain it all back a year later.

    Also, thank you for mentioning our latest post. It is intensely appreciated! -cj

    • You’re too kind CJ…maybe one day my quote will be up there with Will Shakespeare’s profound observations on life :-) It was unfortunately, a rare fluke of inspiration born out of those transient moments of mental clarity; one I now even notice I messed up with a spelling error (“by-produce” instead of “by-product”). So double thanks, first for your kind words, and secondly, for bringing the gremlin mistake to my attention.

      I am happy to mention your site CJ. A sense of affection and warmth rings through The Great JollyHoombah and everything you and Tammy write. All the best, Gareth

  2. Gareth, I am amazed by the level of reflection you made with your last post. I have not yet seen someone go this into depth in analyzing a previous post who then goes on to critique it in their next post.

    I was moved by this line:
    -doing anything for some hoped for external reward is a fickle form of motivation-

    For many years, I jumped through hoops in so many areas of my life. Actually, juggling would be a better metaphor. I was afraid if I said no, looked unorganized, and didn’t work more than the next guy, I was a lousy excuse for a human. So, I said yes, hyper-organized everything, and worked myself sick. When I started exercising, it was for my health only. Even though I did lose weight and enjoy buying smaller pants, I always go back to the health. You can’t put a price on having energy and feeling calmer.

    Thank you so much for mentioning us here at Helpful Habits. We are honored. To be mentioned on your blog and next to Tony – well, we are giddy!

    • Thank you, Tammy. Without wanting to sound overbearingly gushy (you know us Brits and our stiff upper lips) I was really touched by your praise. I probably have too much time on my hands – hence the re-evaluation. But ultimately, it’s extremely important to me that the site is a source of good; one than only helps, and certainly never hinders anyone. I would have felt deeply troubled if I thought anyone could have misconstrued the last article to their own detriment. So, regardless of whether it looked like a rather spectacular U-turn or not, I thought it was important to qualify the issue further. I’m so pleased you saw it in that light.

      Your story is eerily similar to mine – I always felt my worth was linked in some bizarre way to other people’s approval – to the point I’d drive myself into the ground out of that extrinsic drive to please. It’s not a good place to be; and like you it burned me out. Maybe those of us who are innately prone to that way of thinking have to hit the bottom of the ‘people pleaser’ abyss before we recognise the futility of our actions and re-evaluate our lives. I don’t know. But I’m very happy that you too have come out a stronger person for it. Self-determination all the way!

      I have been working on this site for over a year without the vaguest interest in gaining visitors, all simply through that intrinsic motivation we both share. But since I’ve reached out a little bit to others in the last few weeks, I’ve been lucky to come across some very warm, genuine and sincere people – you and CJ included. So it’s a pleasure to mention you on my site. As the site gains momentum hopefully I’ll be able to send some meaningful numbers of visitors your way.

      All the best, Gareth

      • I wonder, Gareth, how many of us are of the people-pleasing ilk. We are a large group, I fear, but when we speak out and take action we can become more authentically us! Reformed People Pleasers? The People Formerly Knows as Pleasers?

        So interesting that we’re all just deciding to reach out. I read an interesting post on The Minimalists. If you’re interested: http://www.theminimalists.com/values/ What a coincidence we are having this delightful conversation, and I just read this today!

        Thank you for your response!

        • …or the ‘The Order of Authenticity’ :-)

          Thanks for the link Tammy; it made thought-provoking reading. It’s so obvious and yet most of us perpetually fall into the trap of trying to force square pegs into round holes when it comes to our interactions…simply because of the barrier of physical distance. But like the article suggests, psychological propinquity forms the foundations upon which good friendships are build, not physical proximity. And what better way to melt away that physical barrier and find the like-minded than through the Internet?

  3. Gareth,

    Great post, for sure.

    I am very humbled that you mention me here. I am feeling my way around putting my thoughts on the net for all to see, and I am flattered that I can be of help in any way, shape or form. I am a true newbie at the blogging thing.

    That said, meeting people like you, Tammy and CJ has been very much worth it. Let’s stay in touch!

    Have a great weekend!
    Tony recently posted…The 8 Week RuleMy Profile

    • Tony, I’m getting into total gushy mode now.

      I’ve been truly impressed and inspired by what you’ve achieved on your own site in such a short timeframe. I’m so glad you left that first comment on one of my posts a couple of months ago. I approached this website with a very insular outlook (thanks to a dog-eat-dog career on the web in the early 2000’s). I didn’t expect to meet similarly minded helpful, sincere, purposeful and altruistic people in the course of building this website, and accordingly I never really reached out. I was way too stuck in a Web 1.0 mindset. Your example has helped me to break out of that – for which I’m extremely grateful; and I have very much appreciated your support.

      Whatever is left of your Sunday, have a great one too!

  4. Great post Gareth. I have been focusing on health more than looks, and positive repercussions have followed. Anything you do has to come from within. You can only be someone else for so long before it becomes exhausting and useless.
    Pauline recently posted…What I HATE about GuatemalaMy Profile

    • Thanks Pauline. I’m sure you’re getting pretty healthy with all that swimming. I wouldn’t want to try that in the UK at the moment, even though I live right next to the beach. I fear I would lose a variety of body parts to frostbite!