People Can Smell Fear, Too
This is a video I like a lot: People in Order: 1. Age – it’s only three minutes long, so if you don’t know it, watch it here:
Video description: Nearly 100 people are shown, full-frontal, centered, in order of their age. All have a tin drum, and hit it in various ways. Some, about a third of them, also announce their age.
When you have finished watching the video, you’ll have formed instinctive impressions of the people in it. To some, you’ll have reacted with delight, to others with reservation. You’ll have an image of how impulsive they are, how outgoing, how open towards others, how passive, how joyful, how private.
First impressions are magic. You form them in under a second, and if the other person is behaving genuinely and not trying to deceive you, you’ll typically be more accurate in your assessment than you might assume. The phenomenon of first impressions is reasonably well-known and well-described. But unless we are directly exposed to it, like in the video above, it’s easy to ignore or disregard a first impression. If you’re not used to pay attention to your gut feeling, you may only pick up on broad strokes, or even counteract your “irrational instincts” on principle.
Why not instead pay close attention to your first impressions – and later impressions, too? I’ve found that just looking at people to get a quick impression, and then forcing myself to put it into words is an excellent exercise to pass the time while out and about. It will make you more perceptive, show you more of the world, and improve your verbalisation skills, too. (Though the last one might be less important for those of you who usually think in words.)
This type of impression is very much a bodily impression, so a very interesting extension of the exercise is this: Try to summon the gut feeling (the bodily impression) you have of a person. Imagine your best friend, and notice the gut feeling this imagination conjures up. Then, contrast it with the gut feeling you get when thinking about your boss, or a family member. Paying close attention to this bodily impression is pretty valuable, and <upcoming blogpost> will talk more about it. 😉
While this type of first impression works best in person, it also applies remotely. If you (god forbid) talk to somebody on the phone, you’ll also form a very strong impression of that person. It usually goes to the point that you’ll often enough be surprised when you finally meet the person, and it turns out that they look differently from what you imagined – even if you weren’t aware that you were imagining anything. Seeing a book turned into a movie often has the same effect. I remember vividly that my Prof Snape looked nothing like Alan Rickman, and neither was my Aragorn anything like Viggo Mortensen.
But this impression extends further. If you read books or blog posts, you’ll not only have a background impression of the characters – you’ll get one of the author, too. It’s a lot of fun to pay attention to this impression. To be fair, this applies more to conversationally written pieces – which is why it works so terribly well on social media. Social media shitposting is an entire art genre on this premise, don’t @ me
Final thought: Guess at the impression you make on others. How would you like to be perceived? How do you think you are perceived?