“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Have you ever been in a situation where you felt pressure to be or do something when you really didn’t want to, or where you negated your own opinions and beliefs because the people around you didn’t seem to be on the same page, and as a result might reject or ridicule you? Most people have at some stage. Let’s face it, it’s easier to blend in with the crowd than stand alone in the spotlight of unknown reactions and possibly not feeling good enough. This is completely understandable considering our human survival has relied on being socially accepted, from day dot. As such, people are conditioned to avoid rejection and make sure to be “good enough” to fit it. This is why people don’t voice objections or fear public speaking, for example. It’s not that they don’t know how to talk or don’t have anything good to say, they just worry about the possible judgment and rejection they could face.
Now if I was to ask you if you think you are a conformist you would probably say no, but when you peel back the layers you might find you have been conforming more than you realise and it has in fact (possibly unknown to you) cut off opportunities and possibilities for you. Unless you realize your uniqueness and accept yourself for who you are, without letting others force upon you their opinions of what seems to be or should be, you will struggle to find peace and contentment.
From the moment you were born until now, someone in a position of authority has been laying down rules for you and you have conformed – parents, teachers, relatives, communities, employers, colleagues, government etc. Of course, some of the rules work well and keep as sense of structure, but in many cases, especially if you don’t understand conformity, it can lead to self-doubt and an adaptation of who you really are and what you believe, in an effort to fit in. So, I’d like to help you understand conformity, so it puts you in a strong position of personal choice and it allows you to be YOUR best self.
By definition conformity is behaviour in accordance with socially accepted conventions, yielding to group pressures. Group pressure can take different forms, for example criticism, bullying, hate speech, persuasion, teasing, etc. and to avoid possible rejection, isolation or ostracization, comes an agreement to the majority position, brought about either by a desire to fit in or be liked, a desire to be correct, or simply to conform to a social role or idea.
There is a lot of research on why people conform and doubt themselves, and the results show that it’s a lot easier to make people conform than you might think, and people conform more than they think! Perhaps the most famous conformity experiment was by Solomon Asch (1951) and his line judgment experiment. You can watch a video of this online, but here’s the nutshell version:
Solomon conducted a classic study of conformity. He exposed students in a group to a series of lines, and the participants were asked to match the length of one line with a standard line, a task with a very clear right answer. Only one individual in the group was a true student, however – the rest were confederates, or actors that were pretending to be students, but knew the true aim of the study. The confederates were instructed to unanimously give the wrong answer (matching the standard line with an incorrect line) in 12 of the 18 trials. The results showed a surprisingly high degree of conformity: A whopping 76% of the students conformed on at least one trial, giving the wrong answer to match the answer of the confederates (who they perceived as actual students). On average people conformed one-third of the time, even in situations where the correct answer was obvious.
Why? Well, conformity happens for three reasons.
Compliance is public conformity, while possibly keeping your own beliefs independent. It is motivated by the need for approval and the fear of being rejected. This is evident when an authority figure, for example, says X is true or not true and people go along with it in fear of looking the odd one out.
Identification is conforming to someone who is liked and respected, such as a celebrity or a favourite aunt. This can be motivated by the attractiveness of the source, and this is a deeper type of conformism than compliance.
Internalization is accepting the belief or behaviour and conforming both publicly and privately. It is the deepest influence on people.
The key here is awareness, so you can make personal choices with confidence and aren’t swayed by influence or pressure of any kind from anyone. Here are 5 things to consider to help you own your own mind and make your own choices.
The first and most important thing you need to do in order to walk the path of non-conformity is to question all the beliefs that have been handed to you by tradition and society. Beliefs can be harmful, if they are not based on solid evidence — they can distort your perception of reality and lead you to behave in irrational ways.
Decide what’s okay for you and what is not.
Unless you do a little review of what you want, other people might live your life for you, not because they are bad people, it’s just you haven’t expressed any discomfort with it and it might suit them better. You need to decide what you want, set your standards and stay true to them. Value your time, value yourself, do what feels right for you, and trust yourself more. Write down your standards.
Listen to your intuition (in- tuition)
Instead of doing things because you “should” do them, do things because you want to. What is your heart saying? What gives meaning and purpose to your life? What do you stand for? What brings you happiness? Taking time out to ask yourself these questions and actually listening to the answers that come to you, can be very worthwhile. You may learn (tuition) something about yourself that opens positive opportunities for you. Writing down the answers will help most.
Learn to be okay with “different”
Don’t let pressure for sameness or fitting in prevent you from pursuing your goals and having your own mind; instead, remember that you are a capable human being who has made many good decisions in your life. You are unique and that is a good thing. Other people’s opinions are based on beliefs they have been handed down, and they are not necessarily true either.
If you want to create your own path in life, you need to be true to yourself and others. Stop saying “yes” when you feel like saying “no.” I mentioned this in my blog on emotional decluttering, but I want to include the importance of it here too. It’s okay to have objections. It’s okay to not like something. Don’t compromise yourself for the sake of people not liking you. Surprisingly, the moment you become honest you’ll turn into a magnet for the right people, like-minded people who will accept you just the way you are. And you are good enough BECAUSE YOU ARE YOU!
In the end, what matters most is that you are authentic and true to yourself. You have your own mind, and your life is your life. Live it well and you never know, you might inspire someone else to do the same.
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