Make your own labels

THE FOLLOWING EXPERIMENT took place in Brooklyn: sixty-two teenagers were assembled in a room. Labels an inch and a half high were stuck at random on each person’s forehead. The labels were all different, saying things like: “Lazy,” “Ugly,” “Famous,” “Rich,” “Cool,” “Clumsy,” “Wimpy,” etc. Each person could see everyone elses’ label but his or her own, and it was against the rules to tell someone what their label said. They were told to treat each other according to the label on their foreheads. Then they mingled.

At the end of the experiment, one young man said, “I feel distrusted, like I’m some kind of thief. I don’t like it.” The label on his forehead read, “Dishonest.” As you might expect, the people wearing the labels “Rich” and “Famous” enjoyed the way people treated them. The participants could tell, just by the way people treated them, what their label said—maybe not the exact words, but the general idea was pretty clear to each of them.

This illustrates something very useful.

For years self-help authors have implored their readers to change the way they appear to others: Dress well, speak with confidence, move with assurance, smile. In other words, act like a well liked, successful person, even if you don’t feel like one. Believe it or not, this is practical advice. All these ways of expressing yourself are like signs on your forehead. They tell each person you meet, just as surely as if you had it written in big letters, how she or he should treat you. These ways of expressing yourself are signs that say, “I’m successful, well liked, and worthy of respect.”

No matter what you do or how you act, you are telling people how they should treat you, and you’re conveying that message whether you are trying or not. If the sign on your forehead is a good one, leave it alone. But if you’re not getting the response from people you want, make a new label.

Act like a person who is well liked and worthy of respect,
even when you don’t feel that way.

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