How do you act when nobody is watching?

Photo by Kevin Lee on Unsplash

Yesterday was a bank holiday in Belgium so I flicked on a show on Netflix called ‘Insiders’ – a reality TV show which brings together contestants who think they are in the final round of a casting call for a show. What they don’t know is that the camera is already rolling and they are actually already on the show.

Honestly, the show is problematic in many ways. Nonetheless, it prompted me to think about how differently people behave when they think no one is looking. What is fascinating is that as individuals the people on the show build narratives about their personalities – invincible, brave, caring, loving – and yet when the cameras are ‘off’ (or in this case still on) the behaviour that comes out is completely different.

Now we can sit at home and point at such contestants and judge. After all, it also makes us feel better that other people are flawed human beings. In reality, many of us would fall foul to the exact same behaviour as the people on this show.

The reason we behave differently when no one is watching is because we are no longer behaving to impress or please others. We are not looking to prove anything to anyone, meaning there is usually a very different set of behaviour, depending on how much of it was originally put on with a people-pleasing mindset on. The person who talked about being fearless ends up breaking down due to the stress of the situation. The person who talked about being a nice person complains about how they hate other people.

Some people were consistent to what they said their personalities were like in terms of how they acted ‘off camera’. One of the first people to be removed this season said he was a nice person, and broadly acted as such despite the psychological stress put on them all. This not making good TV was the reason he was removed.

Now for the rest of us, we are not in the midst of an intense reality TV show demonstrating our character flaws. And yet, the way we act when the curtains are drawn still has an impact in how we are being as a human being. A few years ago we saw Ellen Degeneres apologising for bullying her staff, which demonstrated how the way she behaved off-air was completely different to the persona she had whilst on TV. The things we think people don’t see often are far more visible than we think.

I do not think the solution is to ‘always be on guard’. If our value comes from the judgment of others, we are forever putting up a front as to how we think we should behave to make others happy. There is no way we can keep this up forever, and it is actually this act which causes such a fragmentation between people’s public image and the way they behave behind closed doors.

Instead, I believe people can decide how they want to be. People can decide this for themselves, rather than for others. If you want to be ambitious, creative or anything else, you can be. Once you’ve set your frame of how you want to behave, it is then about embodying those values at any time, including those that no one sees you.

Few musicians or artists who ‘make it’ are successful simply due to a drive for the fame and glory. Instead, they embody a passion and love for their craft. They practice in their own time, when nobody is watching, and strive to get better. This requires a far deeper, intrinsic motivation than anything that you will get by making people like you.

The way we want to be can also embody basic human traits. We can decide to be considerate, caring and loving as part of our being. We can then strive to embody this throughout the moments in our life, particularly so when we are challenged. Whilst most of us would consider ourselves as loving individuals, many of us do not examine how we have acted and whether this is really in accordance with what we say about ourselves. I know I certainly haven’t in my life.

I find it hard to accept this idea of a person being a horrible boss or person at work but a loving parent and spouse when they get home. How you act in one area of life is how you act in everything. The old adage goes that if you want to get to know somebody, look at how they treat the waiter in the restaurant.

You might be thinking that simply ‘deciding’ to be a certain way is a gross simplification. After all, what about our personality traits and born characteristics? Whilst I do not deny that such things exist, I also believe that we can often let these labels define us. I’m sure we’ve all heard someone saying at some point that ‘that’s just the way I am’, yet I’ve seen so many examples of people fundamentally changing themselves as they were willing to question what they are able to achieve.

The reason this self-examination can be so powerful is because it can make us understand far more about ourselves. It can reveal to us our blind spots, which may be negatively affecting our relationships, performance and happiness. It can also allow us to just be better human beings, making a greater impact whilst also being more loving at the same time. I find that people who are in congruence with who they want to be tend to be happier, and in the long run more successful in the endeavours they pursue.

The way I put this into practice is shifting my mindset from long term goals to how I act on a day-to-day basis. Rather than building lofy ambitions of where I want to be in 5 years, I can look at what I am doing now, and how I can be a better human being based upon the areas that I’d like to put more energy towards. For me, this has been a massive shift which has made me more at peace with my own existence, and find a more accessible way to achieve my own aims.

So I invite you to ask yourself how you behave when people aren’t watching – this may be more indicative of how you actually feel about yourself. And if you want to, you may want to decide how you want to act based upon how you want to be. From there, it’s a case of living by these ideals in the difficult moments, even if it can be challenging to do so.

I’d love to hear from you what you got from this article. Drop a comment or mail.

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