Appearance vs. Substance

Mike Robbins
3 min readMar 15, 2024

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What does the saying, “Appearance versus substance,” mean to you?

Here’s a statement I’ve heard many times…

“It’s better to look good than feel good.”

I understand this sentiment and have felt it myself. However, as I think about this and the implications for our lives and our culture, I’m deeply disturbed by this notice. It really isn’t better to look good than to feel good, but many of us live as if this is true, especially in today’s world.

The problem with the saying, “It’s better to look good than feel good,” is that it prioritizes outward appearance over inner wellbeing. While it’s important to take care of our appearance to some extent, focusing solely on looking good can lead us to neglect our physical and mental health. It can also lead to unhealthy behaviors like extreme dieting, excessive exercise, or even substance abuse, all of which can be detrimental and even deadly.

Ultimately, this saying promotes a superficial mindset that places undue emphasis on external appearances at the expense of genuine wellness.

Appearance vs. Substance

For me personally, concerns about my own appearance — both my physical appearance and other people’s perceptions of me — have caused me a great deal of pain, suffering, and stress throughout my life. More often than I would like to admit, and even to this day, I waste a good amount of energy worrying about how I look physically, wondering what others think about me, and spending time and even money in an effort to appear as positively as I can on lots of superficial levels.

From listening to many people, paying attention to the messages in the media, and noticing the state of our culture, I know I’m not alone in this.

Why do we do this?

Fundamentally it comes down to an issue of appearance vs. substance. Many of us would rather have a nice house, a nice car, a great body, a lot of money, and all the outward material signs of happiness, wealth, and success…rather than actually being truly happy and fulfilled, feeling a sense of abundance and gratitude, and genuinely creating success and peace in our lives. We don’t do this in a malicious way or to intentionally sabotage ourselves, I think we do much of this unconsciously and get caught up in a variety of social pressures and expectations.

The Importance of Going Deeper

The challenge we face is that we must all dive deeper, being honest about our identities, emotions, and intentions. We must then adjust our thoughts, beliefs, and actions accordingly. By prioritizing our genuine desires — such as self-acceptance, fulfillment, and inner peace — the rest often falls into place. Even if it doesn’t, redirecting our focus toward authenticity remains essential, regardless of external outcomes.

In other words, if we first stop and appreciate how great we already are and how wonderful our life already is…and, we focus on the true SUBSTANCE of who we are and what we want to create (not just the superficial APPEARANCE of those things), we can experience a grounded sense of trust and gratitude for ourselves and our lives, as they actually are right now.

In doing so, we will be able to take our energy and attention back from those things that do not matter (like how we look, what others think about us, our material obsessions, etc.) and put them on the things that are more important (like loving ourselves, loving others, being grateful, giving, and more).

Diving deeper into who we are reveals our true essence. By aligning our thoughts, beliefs, and actions with who we are, we create genuine wellbeing, deeper connections, and ultimately more fulfilling lives.

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Mike Robbins

Mike Robbins is the author of five books including his latest, We’re All in This Together, which released April 2020. He’s an expert in teamwork and leadership.