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I Bet You’re Wrong About This.
You know what’s odd? When people believe the following two things:
1) “Others notice what I notice about myself.”
(A blemish on my cheek. The stain on my shirt. A new haircut.)
Yet also –
2) “Oh, I’m not that interesting. No one wants to hear about me.”
I’ve seen these two statements emerge over and over – in my inbox, in blog comments, in conversation.
Something has always seemed “off” that people embrace these two ideas simultaneously.
I couldn’t figure out why this bugged me until today, when I read a New York Times report about a study that had two strangers sit in a waiting room together. Later, they had to write down what they noticed about the other person. And what they thought the other person noticed about THEM.
What you think others notice about you doesn’t match up with what the other person actually notices.
Strangers noticed more overall than what people thought they would.
However, they don’t really pay attention to the blemish on your cheek that’s bugging you. They might take note of your mood or the way you checked your phone, though. They notice things, they just don’t pay attention to the same aspects of you that are prominent in your own mind.
Researchers say this is, in part, because we have a tendency to assume everyone else sees the world the way we do. If we notice that stain on our shirt, it’ll sure as heck be obvious to everyone else. But no, it’s not.
People notice what draws THEIR attention, not yours.
So here’s what I don’t get: How can we sit here stressing “Oh man, everyone is thinking about how I tripped that afternoon” and yet also think “I’m not that interesting, I don’t know what to write in a bio / people don’t want to hear about me on my blog / what on earth would I write in a newsletter?”
How can you be so interesting that people care that you tripped two weeks ago, yet simultaneously so uninteresting that people don’t want to hear the emotional story behind the personal project photoshoot you did?
Do you see why those things don’t go together?
You really think people notice your slightly uneven haircut, and yet you’re somehow simultaneously totally ignorable and unworthy of our attention?
And yet. I wonder if one reason we don’t think we are “interesting” is exactly what that study found – that others don’t notice what we think they will.
We wear a gorgeous new shirt and no one comments on it. We put up a Facebook status and didn’t get a reply. These things are SUPER IMPORTANT to us, yet no one says anything? Man, I must not be that interesting. It’s crushing, so maybe we stop expecting people to care.
PEOPLE DO SEE YOU, THOUGH.
Maybe they didn’t notice the shirt specifically, but they did notice that you seemed to be glowing today. They didn’t see that one status, but they follow you and think you’re funny and smart.
People notice plenty about us. We don’t get to pick exactly every single thing they care about, but it doesn’t mean they don’t care.
Here’s a final piece to consider: If you grabbed a group of people and held a book under everyone’s chin so they couldn’t see down, and asked them all to describe their outfit – several would forget, or have to really think about it. How is that possible? They’re WEARING the clothes!
Well, we get used to our own clothes – it’s called habituation. We don’t pay attention to what is common to us, it fades into the background.
I think this applies to our interests as well. We’re so used to our life, our background, our story, that it seems common. Boring. It can fade into our mind like the clothes that we wear – it’s not remarkable to us.
But other people haven’t habituated to your life. So the things you find “boring” – they don’t.
You can’t tell me people notice a new stain on your shirt, yet somehow don’t care to hear about the childhood friend you played chess with, the moment you realized photography was about more than photos, the thing your mom said to you last night on the phone that changed your mind about something. The stain might be new and noticeable to you, but the story is new and noticeable to THEM.
I’m guessing you’re regularly getting it wrong when you say “nah, people won’t care about that.”
People love stories. Even when they hear “common” things, they have a knack for picking out points of connection (“I played chess with a friend too! I feel the same way about the oboe! My dad gave me the same advice!) The things that seem the most benign to you can have incredible power. And people notice.
So start talking. Start engaging. You ARE interesting. You never know what aspect someone might connect with, but there will be something. And if there’s one thing I know – it’s that there’s an audience for every story. Including yours.
Think about it.
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