· By Case Kenny
The Beautiful Mess Effect
Let's talk about vulnerability.
We can be huge hypocrites in life. We live with a mentality that says "vulnerability is courage in you but inadequacy in me."
The Beautiful Mess effect reflects a study that says there’s something beautiful about embracing your vulnerability. It’s beautiful in the sense that other people appreciate it, relate to it and are even attracted to it.
People are attracted to real, vulnerable humans.
This comes from a study by researchers at the University of Germany in 2018.
The research showed that “we love seeing raw truth and openness in other people, but we are afraid to let them see it in us.”
In one experiment the researchers asked participants to sing an unrehearsed song in front of a jury and would ask the jury to rate.
They didn’t actually have the first group sing or be rated by the jury but right before they were told they were to begin singing, the participants were asked to rate themselves and their vulnerability in that moment.
The results showed that they were very harsh on themselves - saying they wish they could avoid it, that others would be repelled by it, that it would not be well received.
At the same time they asked the jury to do the same - before the singers were to perform - and they basically said the opposite: the singing of the unrehearsed song was courageous and bold and admirable.
In other experiments, the researchers ran hundreds of participants through scenarios where they were asked to display international vulnerability or rate someone else’s intentional vulnerability and each time, the participants rated their own vulnerability more negatively than when judging other people’s.
The vulnerability included things like confessing love or admiration for someone, admitting a mistake, singing a song and so on.
The researchers wanted to know why. Why do we apparently value vulnerability in other people but we are overly critical of it in ourselves?
Why is it a beautiful mess in others but just a mess in ourselves?
They found evidence around a term called construal level - when we think about our own vulnerability we do very concretely and specifically with facts. That is a low construal level.
For our own vulnerability we interpret it and judge it from a very close, tangible, concrete perspective. But when we think about others, we do the opposite.
We think with a high construal level that is broad and abstract. The result is the higher the construal level, the more abstract our thinking of vulnerability is and that tends to be more positive and admirable while low construal level is more specific and concrete and more negative.
So what do we do with this revelation?
Our flaws, our vulnerability, our true feelings, and our true character... whether we believe it or not, those things are more attractive than we think.
At a minimum they are not as messy as we think. They are not as detracting as we think.
We admire it in others - we think their vulnerability and honesty is great, it’s attractive, it’s humanizing, it’s relatable - but when it comes to our own we adopt the opposite point of view. It’s it’s too much, it’s too little, etc.
A well-intentioned, compassionate, honest beautiful mess is attractive.
Showing that mess or showing your vulnerability doesn’t make you weak or unqualified or inadequate. To others it is attractive.
If there's a possibility that that’s true, maybe that might change how you approach presenting yourself?
Maybe we should be a bit kinder to ourselves and embrace our mess?
Maybe we should embrace our vulnerability? We think others judge us just as we judge ourselves BUT if we took time to challenge that, we can provide exactly what the researchers proved: it’s not true.
We are so close to ourselves, our pasts, all of our missteps, all of our mistakes, all of our thoughts, our irrational, and self loathing thoughts. We’re so close to years and years and years of collected data… and it’s easy to assign negative judgment in the present AND in the future to things we might do or say.
But we rarely do the same to others? We applaud their honesty, we find comfort in it, and we appreciate someone who is real and raw and authentic.
What would happen if we tried approaching ourselves from that same mentality?
Maybe that's enough for you to hit pause and reset how you judge yourself?
Maybe that's enough for you to try something new?
Maybe that’s enough to recognize that where you see a mess others see being human others see relatability.
They see what you see in others… a beautiful mess - realness, authentic.
And that’s attractive.