In 2004, I had Lasik. Let me start off by saying, that procedure is the bomb. My vision wasn’t too bad to start with–I could navigate my apartment without glasses–but I had to wear them if I left the house, drove, or wanted to watch a tv that was more than three feet from my face. Plus, glasses are annoying. They irritate your ears and nose, fog up when you cook or exercise or move from air conditioned areas, and get super-dirty all the time.
After I had the surgery, I was thrilled with my new 20/15 (!!!!) vision. But one unexpected outcome was that I found myself really missing my glasses in two situations:
- When I was working hard. I was in graduate school in 2004, and when I was reading an intense article or cranking out dissertation chapters, I found myself really missing my glasses. The glasses had always been my signifier that it was Serious Time, and without them, I felt somehow less serious.
- Before bed when I wanted to relax, but wasn’t quite ready for sleep. I had developed a habit without realizing it of taking off my glasses some time before bed as a way to wind down. I’d be able to see well enough to read, walk around the apartment, etc., but not well enough to watch tv or see the alarm clock. I hadn’t realized how much of a signal removing my glasses had become for relaxation.
I was reading a lighthearted take on happiness by adopting celebrity lifestyles called Jennifer, Gwyneth, and Me by Rachel Bertsche when I came across the phrase that explains why I miss my glasses: enrobed cognition.
Enrobed cognition (also called enclothed cognition) is an idea that we take a cue from the way we dress to understand how to be in the moment. Bertsche cites studies showing that students wearing a white lab coat behaved more seriously and were more attentive to information than students wearing a white artist’s smock (in reality it was the same article of clothing for both groups). Clothes are a symbol for the roles we play, and may serve as cues for habit behaviors (such as relaxing before bed).
Suddenly my longing for my glasses makes more sense.
Enrobed cognition also suggests clothing-based tweaks I could make for self-improvement:
- I might be able to boost my productivity (or at least my feelings of industriousness) by dressing professionally when I work from home.
- Putting on a power suit before a meeting may not just help me cast the right impression, but may also help me to behave more authoritatively.
- Wearing “real” running gear, which I’ve been investing in more, might be helping me to train more seriously than repurposed yoga pants and old ratty t-shirts did.
There’s truth to the sayings: “Look good to feel good.” “Fake it till you make it.” “Dress for the job you want to have.”
So knowing my glasses helped me focus and relax, would I make a different decision about having Lasik? No way! The benefits of not wearing glasses far outweigh the costs. I can also replace the glasses with other symbols; I’ll sit in a designated work area at home when concentrating on a task, or pull on pajamas when it’s time to relax. There is more than one outfit for any occasion.