Have you ever wondered what people think of you? Do they see you as the person you want to be seen?
Many of us would love to find out what people think of us. We have this image of ourselves and we want people to match that same view. Many of us attribute values and adjectives to our personality. We may think we are good people, loyal or friendly. The reality is that there is no way to tell what people think of us. What we know is who we are and what we want to be. As individuals we create these two domains, the “Real self” (who we are) and the “Ideal self” (what we want to be).
WHO AM I?
The real self is everything we have become. All our actions and beliefs are inside the real self domain. This is what people see you as and how they perceive you. The ideal self is what we aim to become. This domain is an intimate one and is not seen by others. For example, your ideal self wants to be a good person, so you behave by doing things that are aligned with that view. Such behaviors may include helping others or donating goods. The point is that you are acting in a way that you want to be seen. Your ideal self (being good) is congruent with your real self (acting like a good person). These two domains overlap; it brings pleasure and peace of mind to you.
In contrast, if your ideal self is to be a good person but you shoplift then the two domains are incongruent. The contradiction between being good and shoplifting(which is related to being bad) creates a level of mental stress or anxiety. This contradiction between the way you think and the way you act is called Cognitive Dissonance. The theory of cognitive dissonance suggests that we have a tendency to align our attitudes or beliefs between our real self and our ideal self.
In a classic psychology experiment, Leon Festinger asks subjects to engage in a very boring task. The task was aimed to generate negative feelings about completing the task because it was so dull. After the task, the subjects were offered money to persuade other people to complete the task. Some people were offered $1 per referral and others were offered $20. After the referrals, Festinger asked the people to rate the initial task (the boring one). Who do you think rated the task more positively, the $1 group or the $20 group?
The $1 group rated the boring task more positively than the $20 group. Why you ask? Well, people in the $1 group had two contradictory beliefs. They referred people by telling them that the task was fun and interesting, while they thought it was the complete opposite. Because their reward of $1 was so little of an incentive, they had to internalize their actions with their beliefs; therefore aligning their real self with their ideal self.
WHAT I THINK OF ME
The concept of cognitive dissonance is better understood in terms of self image. When we think we are good people, we tend to seek information that justifies that statement. Anything that contradicts or threatens that statement, we tend to negate or rationalize. Think about it, have you ever bought something knowing that you do not need it? Buyer’s remorse is a perfect example of dissonance. When remorse kicks in, we seek reasons to justify why we needed it (rationalizing).
So if you want to know what people think of you, just ask yourself, “Am I the person who I think I am?”