January 15, 2009

Da Vinci and Michelangelo were both fond of saying ogni pittore dipinge se, that “every painter portrays himself.” What they meant wasn’t that artists insert themselves into their own paintings (although they often literally do) but that ultimately art is created under a subtle belief that artist’s lens is in fact reality. The scene that an artist portrays is defined by how they see themselves and its difficult to know where to separate them.

In psychology this is often called the false consensus bias. It’s a belief that that your logic is logic and that the world is in step with your opinions. In everyday life, it’s how people overextend themselves and can’t see outside their own head.

Cynicism and sarcasm are highly underrated tools for avoiding this. My friends email each other examples of people saying things so lame that they couldn’t have possibly considered anything other than their own opinion of themselves. And that mindset is the leading cause of most douche chills. (my two favorites are here and here) We all know what’s coming if we do that stuff ourselves.

I see this with emails or people’s bios all the time, especially with people my age. They’re always these grandiose, absurdly generous descriptions of themselves. Like they never once thought “what would happen if someone who knew me saw this?” Same goes for people’s blogs. What do you get out of being overwrought? And why don’t you have any friends who call you out on it?

You know what you think of yourself and what you think you can become. If you’re on point, people will come to agree with it in time. For now, maybe try to come to terms with the reality of where you are and consider what that might look like to objective people with a few feet of distance. It’s ok to filter your actions and words through what others think, so long as you don’t believe it. It’ll prevent you from looking like a jackass.

Ryan Holiday

I'm a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

15 responses to Self-Absorption

  1. Tucker Max.

  2. This problem haunts me. I have a deep-seated fear of coming across self-absorbed. This is why any of my numerous blogs are pretty much only known to me — a kind of mix between fear of failure and fear of looking inauthentic. At least I’m aware of it, working on it, and I guess I have to trust that overcoming these fears is a work in progress.

  3. Ego is a cruel mistress. Self-deception feels so good..fuck truth if it interferes with me feeling better about myself, right?

    It’s pretty difficult to gain an accurate view reality, if by “accurate” we mean a view discounting ego. Some are born with a reasonable outlook that only takes a bit of nurturing, and some are so fucking maladjusted it takes years of effort to reach any point resembling “normal,” if they’re lucky.

    Filtering your actions through someone else’s viewpoint is generally a good idea, even if just to judge how you appear in somone else’s perception. Unfortunately, it can also lead to the shitty, shitty situation where your emotions depend on someone else’s whim and judgment.

    (My ramblings are just that.)

  4. Yeah that’s good advice, thanks.

  5. You forgot this douche chill:

    I think I originally found that video through your delicious. So unsettling.

  6. Trent —

    Your fears are “coming across self-absorbed” and “looking inauthentic”? Not actually being self-absorbed and inauthentic? And your solution to that is to not show your blogs to anyone and keep typing away in your bubble?

    Am I the only one confused by this?

  7. Dude, I have so many emails in my inbox that all have douchechill as the subject line. It could be it’s own site.

  8. This post is for Mr. Ryan Holiday. After reading some of your posts over the past year, here are some conclusions that I have reached, most of them within the first ten posts that I’ve read. I know you want to consume knowledge in the process of becoming more of a critical thinker and actualized person, but I get the impression that this process has been in the early stages. You sometimes make raw, immature comments in your posts and your comments. The best example is right above this post. When people use the words, “Dude, man, like, you know” among others that I cannot immediately recall, they appear as the immature intellectual who is basing his/her argument on more emotion than logic, even if logic is present. Actually, it has more to do with power – they come across as not having much power over themselves, at least in the emotional department. That’s how I envision you when you write some of these posts. You remind me of me in a way – a lot of built up frustration or anger that’s coming out in a deconstructive mannger.

    Anyway, that’s some constructive criticism for you. I’m trying to understand Ryan Holiday as a person, as an identity, rather than just reading the post’s info. It never hurts to get some feedback from readers, I’m sure.

  9. Ok, I’ll keep that in mind next time I’m anything less than 100% prim and proper.

  10. @Anonymous – Dude, you are, like, rapidly approaching a “douche chill,” you know?

  11. @Nadia: No, my fears are essentially being those things. I like to think I’m not (inauthentic or self-absorbed), but that doesn’t always mean my words will hold up against other people’s perceptions (of inauthenticity or self-absorption). Which is like what Ryan was saying about filtering yourself through what other people think. And “my solution” is rooted in a deep insecurity, I know.

  12. Anonymous Dude,

    Your post was as stupid as it was creepy. You know?

  13. Ryan, what the hell made you such a self-determined individual?

  14. @Trent — Can I recommend, then, linking your blog(s) to your facebook or the emails you send out? What I got from Ryan’s post was that doing something like that may help prevent being or becoming self-absorbed; all the people who actually know you can step in at any time and say, “What the hell are you doing?”

    It’ll keep you being the person in your middle school diary, if you decide to post something like an angsty poem.

  15. Ryan: Although age tempers the bias for some of us, at least some of the time, it seems to be in the DNA of others. I’ve often thought that the bias is similar to the idealistic bias of our twenties.

    Yet, as a management consultant I’ve long since found–and should have recognized earlier–that gaining insight from others is a difficult deal. We don’t ask for it, and it’s rarely given.

    Here’s a heads up: even in our seventies we readily make a jackass of ourselves. Sometimes we recognize it sooner. The good news is that the pain of self-recognition in our self-absorption seems to dissipate faster.