Our self image is shaped by an internal narrative that often has less to do with reality than we think. Here’s why that’s a good thing.
If you’re shy, or even a little introverted I’ve got good news and bad news and I’m going to let you choose which is which.
A study conducted by researchers at Harvard, Cornell, and the University of Essex, and published in the Association for Psychological Science, looked at our perception of how liked we think we are in the course of having conversations. The findings uncovered that the shyer you are, the larger the gap between how much you think you are liked and how much you actually are liked. So, if you are very shy, and prone to avoiding social interactions you will rank yourself as much less likable than others do.
According to the authors, “Our research suggests that accurately estimating how much a new conversation partner likes us — even though this a fundamental part of social life and something we have ample practice with — is a much more difficult task than we imagine.”
Study participants were asked to conduct five minute conversations with each other. The participants almost always said that they were liked less than they actually were.
As reported by CNBC, one of the study’s co-authors. Yale University psychology professor Margaret S. Clark, said, “We’re self-protectively pessimistic and do not want to assume the other likes us before we find out if that’s really true.”
The bottom line is that those of us who are more introverted are also more critical of ourselves.
While this may seem somewhat obvious, it’s an all too common pathology and an incredibly self-limiting viewpoint that can easily turn into a vicious cycle of negative reinforcement; your belief that you are not likable inhibits your attempts to put yourself out there, which in turn reinforces your belief.
This is especially dangerous if you need to communicate as part of what you do professionally. For example, speaking in public, presenting your ideas, or simply trying to connect with coworkers, colleagues, customers, and business partners.
I’m Burning Up Inside
I’ve seen this time and again in my own work coaching people on public speaking. I recall one case where someone I was coaching on presenting to a camera was asked to role play. The setting was non-threatening, a room with six other people and an unmanned video camera. Halfway through his presentation he stopped cold and said, “I just cannot do this anymore. I’m messing up. I can tell. I want to stop.”
I could tell the other students were confused by his sudden panic attack. When I asked him to describe what he was feeling he said, ” I was just burning up inside. I could tell that I wasn’t coming across well. I’m not an extrovert and just not good at speaking in front of people.”
I asked the other students what they thought and every one was of the opinion that he was killing it. “No way,” he said to their feedback, “You’re all just trying to make me feel better.”
So, I played back the video. Incredibly, he was polished, well spoken, calm, and perfectly composed. You couldn’t tell anything was wrong.
“What do you think now that you’ve seen it?” I asked him. He was adamant. “I don’t like looking at myself,” he said, “I’m not good on camera.” It’s amazing how we bend the truth to fit our narratives, even when it’s staring us in the face.
Like an anorexic, we see ourselves in a mirror that is distorted by experiences which have shaped our self image in ways that simply do not reflect reality.
Much of how we think we are perceived is a fiction that we make up in our own mind. It’s based on artifacts of an image we have of ourselves that, in turn, are based on our worst fears and our weaknesses rather than an accurate reflection of ourselves and our strengths. It typically goes something like this: “I’m shy. That’s just who I am. Therefore people don’t like me or what I have to say.” My student couldn’t get beyond seeing his quirks and idiosyncrasies to see his composure and authenticity.
It’s human nature, and even the most experienced presenters and performers deal with it. Even after three decades of presenting regularly to audiences of thousands I still look at videos of myself with an eye towards details and imperfections that would be lost on my worst critic.
The Bad News Is Also The Good News
The only way to reshape this self image is to take every opportunity to put yourself “out there” and create more experiences that reinforce the positive aspects of who you are and how you come across. As for the the quirks and idiosyncrasies, well, I hate to tell you this but they will always be there. Your job is to look beyond them to what does work, your strengths, and then amplify these. Yeah, I wish I had an easier way for you to develop an accurate self-image. I don’t. It takes commitment.
Those of us who are shy and inherently more introverted have the distinct benefit of also being more critical of ourselves than we should be. That can create anxiety, which isn’t pleasant, but at the same time it can provide the greatest impetus to grow and improve.
So, good news or bad news? It all depends on what you choose to do with it.
This article was originally published on Inc.
Image credit: Pixabay
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Tom Koulopoulos is the author of 10 books and founder of the Delphi Group, a 25-year-old Boston-based think tank and a past Inc. 500 company that focuses on innovation and the future of business. He tweets from @tkspeaks.