Solomon Asch’s 1951 study unveiled key facts on human nature: we are social beings, who want to be liked. Yet this desire can come at an expensive cost to ourselves.
This is clear in the study, 75% of people will conform to social norms and give an answer despite thinking differently and knowing the correct answer. This stems from a desire to fit in, or a fear of the consequences of not doing so.
These findings can be extrapolated in to the real world. We publicly conform and act in ways that are driven by a desire to fit in, and privately we often disagree with our actions. Thousands of 18 year old’s annually applying for University, or applying for 9–5 office jobs. Not because they want to, but because they are driven by a fear of the consequences of not following the crowd, despite privately disagreeing with their decisions.
“People want to be loved; failing that admired; failing that feared; failing that hated and despised. They want to evoke some sort of sentiment. The soul shudders before oblivion and seeks connection at any price.” —Hjalmar Soderberg.
If this is something you have privately questioned before, then it is up to you to take back control of your life, and have the confidence to be the person you want to be.
1. Care only what the people who matter think.
In situations of social pressure, make note of who it is that is driving you to conform.
Unfortunately, as humans with a connection at any price attitude, we often don’t do this and lose touch with ourselves as a means to please others. But this is totally irrational, in reality: you shouldn’t want to form a connection with just anyone. In fact, if someone is putting social pressure on you: I strongly encourage you to question whether forming a connection with them is worthwhile.
Instead, strive for a deep connection with the people who, instead of pressuring you into being someone you’re not, appreciate your character the way it is.
To illustrate, in Asch’s study: people conformed with complete strangers. But this is irrational; why care what a stranger thinks when you will never see them again!
The same applies day to day: instead of caring what that one person who constantly pressures you thinks, instead care more about what the people who matter think: your genuine friends, family, loved ones.
But most importantly, care what you think.
Develop self-respect, love yourself and want to be your true self, rather than settling for someone you are not.
If you achieve this, you will be in a suitable environment away from social pressures that will allow you to flourish and express the person you want to be.
“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.” —Harvey Fierstein.
2. Don’t be afraid to be wrong.
The truth is, no one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes and occasionally fails
The only reason you don’t realise this is because people are extremely good at concealing this. In reality, for every success , there are numerous failures.
A strong desire to appear perfect, similarly stems from the strong desire to appear attractive as a means to form social connections with others. It is this that causes us to attribute negative connotations to failure.
But, instead of perceiving failure as negative, you must acknowledge it as a positive learning experience.
If someone competitively asks you how your recent job interview went, instead of answering:
a) I failed.
b) It went well, I didn’t get it this time but I will be a stronger, more developed character who will get it next time.
Doing so allows you to perceive failure as positive, it helps you to illustrate parts of yourself you are unhappy with and allows you to improve as a means to succeed in the future.
This will also help you to realise that success is not the be all and end all. Instead, not achieving it can be positive as it can shape you into a stronger, healthier person.
If you adopt this, you will no longer perceive failure as negative, and will no longer take low risk strategies as a means to succeed. Instead, you will be able to take on ambitious tasks without the restriction of the desire to succeed.
For example, This will even allow Asch’s student to be ambitious enough not to go against the majority and give the correct answer in his study, regardless of the possibility of being wrong.
As well as the benefits of this, you will also become more socially attractive. You will become perceived as an individual with a positive outlook and who strives for what they want. This then will indirectly lead to more social connections in the future… and will allow you to be yourself!
“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” — Jack Canfield.
3. Find out who you want to be.
Now I have given you some tips to allow you to practice having the confidence to be the person you want to be.
But this assumes you already know who you want to be.
If you do not yet know, then to find out; I recommend taking a break from socially demanding situations, and removing yourself from social pressures.
Instead, take some time out to reflect and be alone.
Doing so will allow you to develop genuine thoughts, feelings and impressions about how you would like to be, rather than thoughts which are unconsciously shaped by social pressures.
Over time, you will develop a strong understanding of the sort of person you want to be, and only then will you be able to put it in to practice using steps 1 and 2.
As human beings, we naturally adopt an attitude which encourages us to conform to social pressures as a means to appear more attractive and form connections with others. But doing so can cause us to lose sight of our true selves.
To regain touch with yourself:
1. When facing social pressures, ask yourself who is pressuring you. Determine who is doing so, and if they are doing so for the wrong reasons, disregard them. Form social connections only with the people who truly care for you.
2. Instead of attempting to appear perfect, acknowledge failure as a positive experience that will shape you into a healthier, rounder individual.
3. If you do not yet know the person you want to be, take time away from social pressures to reflect and discover the person you wish to be, before putting these steps into practice.
Doing so will allow you to have the confidence to regain touch with yourself and express yourself as you wish to be.
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