6 ways to be independent-minded in a world of conformity and convention
Common: Accepting the beliefs and behaviors embedded in the status quo as accurate “best,” “right,” and unchangeable.
Uncommon: There is immense value in being able to think and act independently in a world of conformity and convention – in fact, all innovation and novelty depend on it. It can be challenging to free ourselves from the explicit and implicit forces that keep our brain in the box, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
Not surprisingly though, I am frequently asked, “How do I think and act independently when I am bombarded by constant influences and pressures to conform and/or think in a certain way?” This is an excellent question.
But first, you may be wondering how I view “conformity” in this context. More accurately, I mean social conformity: adhering to a set of very broadly cast beliefs, rules, and habits. And “convention” follows suit: “a set of agreed, stipulated, or generally accepted standards and norms.”
Both serve very important roles in society at times, but the danger lies in the uncanny correlation each has with complacency. Nature’s default setting is the path of least resistance, so just like visiting the gym, it takes an ongoing effort to maintain a creative and original edge in life.
Of course, there is no “correct” way to journey through life, so the “uncommon path” is certainly not required for fulfillment. However, I continue to meet too many people who have regretfully traded their passions for the comfort of popular opinion or the misleading notion of “security.”
Whether you fit into this group or not, many of us (including me) find ourselves ignoring our instincts and our inclinations to tinker, experiment, and support bold new ideas. For many people and professions, this presents a problem.
Because where originality and forward thinking are disproportionately rewarded – and the Maverick thinkers are cashing in.
And now, it’s your turn to benefit. Below are 6 practical ways to maintain a mental edge.
1. Seek information from your opposites.
There are few things that expand horizons of thought faster than challenging our own perspectives. Although not easy and certainly uncomfortable, we quickly learn an important insight:
Conformity, in other words, is merely popular belief put in action. Since non-conformity requires uncommon perspectives, seeking oppositional feedback becomes an effective exercise in lateral thinking and open-mindedness; the catalyst of a shift in perception. This, of course, lays the foundation for recognizing new opportunities.
Originality stems from the adjustment of the perception of what “is” and what “can be.” This is why those who are most creative are those who can challenge their propensity to rely upon or revert to typical habits of thought.
2. Write regularly.
Every great writer I know is also an excellent thinker. Writing carries many benefits: It can increase vocabulary, better organize one’s thought process, and eliminate verbose and unnecessary prose (in both spoken and written realms). But most importantly, I have noticed a profound difference between the type of thinking that takes place when writing as opposed to speaking.
Writing is often more calculated, more thorough, and typically more analytical. It urges us to be more reflective and observational and to ask more questions. I believe this is why the majority of my most intricate and creative ideas come to me during my writing. This may not be the same for everyone, but it still initiates a valuable thought process.
Writing this blog (and others) forces me to look at life through a more perceptive lens. During the longer gaps between posts, I notice my mind losing the diagnostic edge that helps me stay “independent minded.” For this reason alone, writing regularly can be an extremely valuable source of inspiration.
What we consume (or don’t) mentally is almost always reflected outwardly through our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Reading can introduce us to new ideas and perspectives that usually do not emerge in daily conversation. Reading can redirect our internal conversations (thoughts & self-talk) to more thought-provoking and prodigious topics.
The important decision is deciding what to read. I suggest skimming book reviews, magazines, and yes, visiting book stores. Also, be prepared to look in unusual places. Remember,
Many thought leaders often share their reading lists on their blogs or LinkedIn profiles (as I do). The Internet can also be a valuable “scouting” resource. There are also many book reviews, niche communities, and excellent writers who publish impressive articles on personal blogs. I subscribe to numerous blogs that explore ideas on topics you may not find in a newspaper or magazine.
4. Ask “Why?”
As stated earlier, one of our greatest obstacles to originality is our own propensity to rely upon or revert to our usual habits. Many things we do and many of the assumptions we make are silly, outdated, or simply incorrect.
But in order to recognize inanity we must have a contrasting reference point. And this most often stems from a questing disposition to reexamine the obvious and the familiar. Asking “Why?” offers a starting point for this much-needed contrast and understanding.
5. Ask “Why not?”
Conformists do not question the status quo, but Mavericks view conventional thought as an archaic representation of possibility. But the question “Why not?” brings new perspectives to old beliefs about what can and can’t be done.
To a conformist, reality consists of long-standing truths, facts, and governing laws. But a Maverick’s world is always open for interpretation. This spurs an interesting dynamic: Reality suddenly becomes pliable.
It’s also easy to come up with reasons why something shouldn’t be done or cannot be done by assuming the negative: “We can’t do that.” “I don’t have the time.” “We don’t have the money.” “I’m not good enough.” “It’s not realistic.” But creative and innovative people ask, “Why not?”
This question forces us to confront our beliefs and assumptions and explore new possibilities. Without this sense of objection and curiosity, we may never know that other alternatives even exist.
6. Embrace risk.
Consciously or unconsciously, conformists sacrifice a lot to preserve a sense of social approval. Those who hold security as a priority rarely explore the unknown, express their ideas, and experiment with new ideas. Why? Because originality requires boldness and boldness requires a tolerance for risk.
Being unique means risking time, money, energy, and embarrassment. It means being willing to embrace ideas wholeheartedly without the guarantee of success, understanding, or acceptance. This, at times, means being judged and being wrong. But for Mavericks, the potential of novelty and innovation outweighs the possibility of loss or embarrassment.
Finally, I realize that writing about this topic is so much easier than applying it. No one can force you to challenge yourself or popular ideology, or to embrace your uncommon inklings. In the end, it’s always a personal choice to engage or restrain. But as Jim Rohn once wrote:
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