Human beings are prone to distorted self-images. Nervously we study ourselves in the carnival fun house mirrors of self-appraisal. Some mirrors make us look larger and return a grandiose and inflated image, while others make us look small and twisted. Often we judge ourselves based on body image. But we are much more than our bodies, and our bodies are much more than their topographical reflections. We also tend to be highly inaccurate in appraising our own topographical reflections.
One of the most absurd lies ever uttered is the common statement: “I don’t care what other people think.” Inevitably, this statement is made to other people in an attempt to persuade them of the speaker’s independence, creating an absurd self-contradiction. As social mammals, unless we are in a coma, are autistic or have reached some rare state of inner independence, we care very much what other people think. Typically we care too much what they think. We arrive at a social occasion worried about our self-image and how others will appraise us, not realizing that the others in attendance are much too preoccupied with their own self-images to notice much about us.
Fortunately, there are some reliable ways to get out of the neurotic prison of distorted self- image. One is to shift in social situations from internal considering to external considering. With internal considering you are evaluating everything from the perspective of your wants, needs, desires, feelings and status. If you are locked into internal considering you are on the timeline of the princess and the pea, the whole world is your irritant and everything seems to be conspiring against your comfort. With external considering you are empathically focused on others. The benefits of external considering, however, are not just for the others. External considering is often the shortest path from a thousand forms of neurotic torment which are always based on internal considering. In modern parlance this principle is sometimes referred to as: “If in doubt, focus out.”
Another way out of the distorted self-image trap is to focus on what I call “existential impeccability.” This is also known as the path of the Warrior. Your focus shifts from self-evaluation and anxiety about how others evaluate you to impeccability, to dealing with what the moment presents with as much efficiency and grace as possible. Acts are done for their own sake, not to appear a certain way to yourself and others.
Finally, there is the principle that William James developed called “act as if.” Essentially you move toward a quality you wish you had by acting as if you already had it. James had a few versions of this principle such as:
“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”
“Act the part and you will become the part.”
The modern parlance version of this principle is: “Fake it till you make it.” This principle is, however, morally neutral, so it is crucial what qualities you choose to act as if. Often people act as if they were cool, and therefore they become the kind of obnoxious jerk who does everything to be cool. The best applications of act as if are when the desired qualities serve transpersonal aims — e.g. acting as if you were compassionate. If you combine act as if with external considering, existential impeccability, and a commitment to make a contribution to the world, you have a royal path out of the disempowered prison of distorted self-image.
See also documents in the Warrior section