Does my behaviour give me insights into who I really am?

We have learnt that monitoring our own thoughts (introspection) is not always the most accurate and positive way to understand ourselves. Another way to understand ourselves is through observing our own behaviour. is not always the easiest feat whilst you are actually in gear, in action and behaving. Trying to monitor whilst doing may also lead to unnatural behaviour or inaccurate observations. Therefore it is easier and more beneficial to reflect on past behaviour in order to gain self-insight. 

In fact, you probably are already doing this. 

Have you ever read an old email or text message that you sent and thought, ‘Wow I was so angry. I really let that get out of hand. I cannot believe I said that.’ Or maybe the morning after, you looked back to your actions of the night before and realised you drank way too much. On further reflection you may realise you were actually just trying to impress your colleagues with your beer chugging ability.

These are examples of making observations about our behaviours. In both these cases, the internal cues driving this behaviour were difficult to interpret. The first example was probably due to the reactionary nature of anger, and the second example was probably due to a state of intoxication. So essentially, in those moments we usually are not thinking out our actions, the reasons why, or the repercussions. We are just acting on our impulses. 

Self-perception theory is observing your own behaviour and how this can lead to both gaining insight and forming new attitudes and beliefs. It occurs when internal states are unclear and when the situation alone could not explain their behaviour.

The situation and your behaviour 

The situation or environment itself cannot be cause of the behaviour. So back to the drinking with colleagues example, if you were being pressured heavily by your colleagues, or worse, your boss, to keep drinking, or there was a Happy Hour special on beer, then your behaviour could probably be attributed to these external factors. You’d be reluctant to attribute any personal characteristics to this situation – particularly as it may feel like you did not have a say.

So there is little self-insight to gain when external factors are at influence. But if you feel responsible for how you acted, you’ll more than likely observe something about your personality.

How others can influence your behaviour

Have you ever looked back on a situation and wondered how you were persuaded into doing some of the unexpected things that you did? More than likely, your internal state was not clear – you did not have a firm stance, or you weren’t clear on how you felt. In these instances we often find ourselves relying on past usual behaviour or statements about ourselves.

But if you weren’t sure if you should go home or not (internal state not clear), you’ll rely on your usual behaviour or statement you have of yourself (keeping on drinking) and you may be coaxed into having that extra drink.

Can I change who I am? Can I change my default behaviour?

A great deal of scientific psychological research support self-perception theory (SPT). In a study, researchers wanted to see if they could change an individual’s perception of themselves. The experiment asked some individuals to describe themselves in the most flattering terms possible. Later, when their self-esteem was tested they scored much higher than those who were asked to describe themselves more modestly.

The possibilities here are promising. This research suggest that when participants held flattering statements of themselves, when their self-esteem was tested, they tended to score higher than those participants who described themselves more modestly.

Be mindful of the statements you have about yourself. If describing yourself in a very positive light can increase your self-esteem, then what effect could negative statements be having?

Think hard about the stories you tell yourself. If you are struggling to lose weight and you actually tell yourself this, “I love sweets so much. I just can’t control myself when I’m around sweets!” How do you think you’re going to act when you’re presented with a plate of sweets? 

Also, be careful of how you respond to other people’s statements about you. If someone close to you says something about how they perceive you or your personal attributes, it could influence you.

If your internal state is unclear, you may act in accordance with how others describe you.

Some ways to handle any negative statements is to:

  1. Challenge them
  2. Change the way people see you
  3. Change the statements you have about yourself

Self-Perception Theory Summarised

  1. To provide self-insight it is best to look into past behaviour or behaviour that has already occured
  2. Behaviour cannot be driven by internal cues or situational factors
  3. When internal cues are weak we often rely on past behaviour, statements we have of ourselves and the statements others have of us to determine our future behaviour
  4. The statements we have of ourselves can influence our future behaviour

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