“Your nose is located right above your mouth. Suppose you don’t brush your teeth for three days. Though this nose is right here, it won’t tell you [that] you have not brushed your teeth. The whole room will know you have not brushed your teeth, but you will not know. This is the human predicament. It’s very easy to see what’s wrong with this guy [or] what’s wrong with her. It takes a lot of observation to see what’s wrong with [myself].” — Sadhguru

This quote reveals that sometimes you are oblivious to information that is obvious to others. That bias—of not being able to accurately and objectively perceive yourself—is what I call a perceptual blindspot. It can be summarized in the following diagram that shows the four areas of perceptual knowledge.

 

Concealed Information — These are the parts of yourself that you determine others don’t need to know about you. 

  • This is useful on a first date when trying to cultivate a sense of mystery and not playing all your cards right away. 
  • It’s also used in an office setting where your colleagues don’t need to know what you actually do on the weekends.

Public Knowledge — This is the shared perception of how you and everyone else views you.

Perceptual Blindspots — These are the parts of yourself of which you are unaware, yet others can clearly see. Without checking your blindspots, it could lead to crashes in your life.

Unknown Unknowns — These are the things obfuscated to both yourself and to others. They can only be revealed through having novel experiences. 

  • Perhaps you would enjoy horseback riding but haven’t tried it yet. 

 

Examples of perceptual blindspots

  1. Your coworkers secretly think you’re an asshole. But because they’re polite they will never say it to your face—much less help you try to correct your assholeness—and your reputation will continue to decline at work. As a result, perhaps you cease getting promoted, or worse, one day you’re packing your stuff in a cardboard box wondering how this could have ever happened to you.
  2. You’re married and your wife is falling out of love with you. Difficult yet productive conversations about the relationship are out of the question. That’s because they typically end in a shouting match of personal attacks. Therefore, she learned it’s easier not to discuss the things that upset her. Ten years later, divorce papers fall into your lap and you’re shocked because you never saw it coming.

 

How to identify your perceptual blindspots

Simply ask the following question to somebody who knows you well:

What’s something I should know about myself that I’m not aware of? You can say whatever you want and I promise I won’t get upset or argue with you. I just want to learn more about myself.

Brace yourself. Whatever they say will likely be painful to hear. But that’s the point. Personal growth doesn’t come from staying in your comfort zone. It often comes from acknowledging and accepting ugly truths.

 

A personal example

Me: What’s something I should know about myself that I’m not aware of? You can say whatever you want and I promise I won’t get upset or argue with you. I just want to learn more about myself.

Friend: You haven’t started dating yet. Why not?

Me: I want to be the best version of myself before I start dating. For me, that means improving my physical well-being and having an established career I can be proud of.

Friend: Whenever we talk about your dating life, you seem to have a different excuse. Back in college you couldn’t date because you were too focused on graduating and finding a job. And before that in high school you wouldn’t date because you believed most high school relationships don’t last. This trail of excuses has left you with no dating experience. I recommend just putting yourself out there.

Me: Oh…

 

While uncomfortable to hear, my friend was right. I said oops and started dating that week. It was awkward at first, but it got easier over time. By discovering perceptual blindspots you become less at risk of making mistakes that others could help you rectify.

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Brace yourself. Whatever they say will likely be painful to hear.

But will it be true?

Even given the earnest request, are they going to take it all at face value and give you the information you are asking for as best they can (and how good is their best, anyway?), or are they going to either be nicey-nicey, or use it as an open goal to offload their own "stuff" into? I am seeing a lot of ways this could go wrong. It would not be good to acknowledge and accept ugly falsehoods.

Something something Ask vs. Guess culture.

Good point. The question I use to identify perceptual blindspots is best suited to ask people who are interested in your genuine well-being. Asking a toxic ex-girlfriend is probably not going to be a productive conversation...

It was outside the scope of the original post and cut for space, but I'll add that these types of conversations operate best when they are a collaboration. Even when I'm the one receiving constructive criticism, I try to help them make the best argument. Then, we can determine together whether it's an accurate assessment. Regardless of its veracity, you may discover a new way that people perceive you that maybe you weren't aware of before.

I obsess about this. Appreciate the ready made script!

Have fun with it! Let me know the results if you try it.