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How Does Conformity Influence Our Lives?

Updated: Jul 19, 2018

We comply and obey at the risk of losing our true identity.

I was always wondering why it took me so long to understand what it is I really wanted to be and I have a sneaky suspicion this has played a part. At school I was never taught how to find what it is that I want to do. I wasn't mature or educated enough to know that I should have followed what I was interested in, what came naturally to me and how I can learn new skills that don't come naturally. All I knew was that the "smart" people go to university and study something hard to get a really well paid job. I am dyslexic, so being smart did not cross my mind. I thought I was really stupid academically. I knew I wasn't socially and I was really good at sports, but when it came to school work, I was not very good at all. I learnt how to read at the age 13 and I didn't learn how to write essays until my last year of university. The thing is, I decided to prove everyone wrong and push on through to university. Although this has its benefits, it also means I never truly found my purpose. I was living the "smart" life without asking the WHY question. Why am I going to university? Why am I applying for this job? I accomplished what I set out to do, then I became stuck in a life that was not for me. I felt like I was just doing what everyone else around was doing and it felt wrong. I felt anxious before, during and after work and I had 1000 things running through my mind at once. I would distract myself with podcasts, facebook and sport to try and get rid of that uncomfortable feeling of being bored. I couldn't put my finger on it but I just didn't want to work a 9-5 job in a corporate organisation. However everyone else was doing it, so what was wrong with me? Then I realised nothing is wrong with me, it's perfectly normal to want to live my life.

Are you told by others, "go to school, university, get a job, get married and have kids."

There! You should be fulfilled and happy!

Let's talk about the psychology around this.

“Conformity = Compliance and Obedience we follow an authority figure even if we don’t agree with their values.”

Repeat, "even when we don't agree."

Conformity: change in behaviour or beliefs in accordance with others. We all conform in one way or another, so when does it become a problem? Well, in my eyes it’s when we are conforming to please others, leading us to lack authenticity.

Solomon Asch conducted a perception experiment with 8 participants. There was only one participant that had no idea what the experiment was about. He asked all participants to judge whether there was any difference in the lines presented to him (in the photo). Clearly there was a difference, however all 7 participants said there was no difference. The results found that the participant being experimented on would go along with what everyone else was saying even though it was clearly wrong. INTERESTING !

How bad can it be making decisions based on what others will think of us, or what others are doing? I personally think it costs us our true identity and our individuality. What would you be or do for a career if you started questioning the way you lived your life? Would you start taking deliberate action towards something you like?

We follow what others are doing even if we don’t agree with their values. Yes, it is necessary at times, such as when we are required to follow the guidelines of the law even if we don’t agree. However, when you are following what seems "normal", you are not living by your values, you're living by societies definition of what's a normal lifestyle.

What if you want to live your life and not the one your parents, friends or society think you should live?

Maybe you wanted to play the guitar and sing for a living or be an artist and so many people told you how that’s not a job. It’s so hard, ruthless and critical industry anyway, so you decided not to follow through with that idea. Instead you get a job behind a desk or in a laboratory, it pays the bills, however it doesn’t fulfill your creative side.

We know we're not following the right path when we feel no desire to talk about the job we wake up for every morning.

Ask yourself

Are you letting others impact the decisions you make in life?

Let's discuss ways you can start living your life the way you want.

Start getting to know yourself.

When you feel stressed, happy, fearful or anxious become curious about it. Ask yourself questions and reflect. Who would you be with no limitations? What do you desire and what is undesirable to you?

List your values.

Define whether your living by them. Values are things that are really important to you. Things that energise you. They shape the way you live your life, however we don't always priorities our highest values. Or, you might sacrifice your values to make others happy. This is conforming. Start making decisions based on making yourself happy and this will have a chain reaction throughout your life.

Start living by design rather than by default.

When you make decisions don't do it because you feel guilty, pressured or you just want to fit in. Start making decisions based on improving your future. E.g. Ask yourself why your starting that new job? Start becoming curious about what is using up your time, energy and why are you doing it in the first place. START WITH WHY.

The photos I used in this blog were taken from my Psychology text book. Lilienfeld O, S., Steven, L. J., Laura, N. L., Nancy, W. J., Graham, J., Anthony, M., & Virginia, S. (2014). Psychology from Inquiry to understaning (2nd Ed.). Australia by Pearson Australia Group

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