Social pressure is the direct influence of other people on your thoughts, desires, and actions. It’s the feeling that you should live your life according to other people’s narratives, following a path that’s considered “acceptable” by modern society. Social pressure confines us to a box, limiting the options of what’s considered a “successful life.” We’ve all been there, watching our friends enter the corporate workforce, get married, have children, and more, wondering all the while, “is this what I want for myself?”
But social pressure isn’t an external force exerted by society in an attempt to keep you confined to a path you ultimately don’t want. Rather, it’s internal pressure you put on yourself based on your subconscious need to fit in with those around you. This means that we have the power to break social norms and live the lives that make us truly happy. In this article, we’ll discuss the ways in which you can overcome your feelings of social pressure in order to live your best life.
How to Overcome Social Pressure
Social pressure is the pressure we put on ourselves to live a life considered traditionally successful by our peers. It stems from our internal desire to fit in with the tribe around us and our need to be accepted by the people in our lives. Unfortunately, social pressure is a constraint that keeps us in line as a functioning member of society instead of encouraging us to follow our unique interests in an attempt to find sustainable happiness.
If we can overcome our social pressure and break social norms, we’re able to live life in a way that resonates with your core self. Remember that happiness is expectations minus reality. If your reality doesn’t jive with your subconscious expectations about how you think your life should be, it causes internal strife that manifests itself in feelings of unfulfillment, anger, and heaven forbid, numbness towards life.
The following 5 ways will help you overcome social pressure and live your best life:
1. Clearly Define Your “Why?”
One of the biggest issues with social pressure is that people often don’t have a firm understand of what drives them. Instead, they default to the things that society says should drive us – money, job titles, material possessions, and cheap thrills. But is that what drives you personally? Be honest with yourself. I’m sure it’s not.
However, if you’re unable to define what drives you, it’s easy to follow the narrative that other people say results in “success.” But what if the success of one person doesn’t result in the success of the other? What if the goals of your friend are the opposite of what you truly want deep down inside? Well, if you follow that opposite path, you might seem successful in the traditional sense, but you’ll feel incongruent with your true self, resulting in unhappiness.
This is why it’s extremely important to clearly define your “why.” Your why is the underlying reason for all of your actions. For example, the fact that you want to be touring musician may be the why that causes you to go to music school rather than a traditional college. If you want to be an entrepreneur, business ownership might be the why that forces you to drop out of college and take an entry-level job with an interesting startup that’ll teach you how to scale a company.
If you know what your why is, it becomes much easier to say “no” when your social pressure rears its ugly head. No one can see the vision for your life, but if you can’t see it either, then there’s no chance that you’ll be able to live it. For this reason, when you want to overcome social pressure, you need to have a firm understanding of the “why” that drives your actions, so when someone tries to influence you in another direction, you can identify right away that it’s not the right direction for you.
2. Find People Further Outside the Box
Another reason why people feel social pressure is because of who they surround themselves with. For example, if your friends are all traditional people who want the traditional things that society says is “good,” then it becomes easy to follow their path. Jim Rohn was right when he said that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. If those people are the same ones who make you feel pressure to live a traditional life society approves of, chances are you’ll succumb to that pressure.
Conversely, if you surround yourself with people who think outside the box (maybe even further outside the box than you), then it becomes easier to march to the beat of your own drum. For example, if you have a musician friend and you watch them achieve success in the arena of their choosing, it becomes more normalized to think you can do something similar. It’s much harder to do if all your friends are mid-level managers. So, if you’re not ready for things like marriage or the corporate life, make sure you have friends and mentors that aren’t either.
3. Consciously Break Social Norms
We all have an innate fear of going against the norms of society. This stems from our animalistic need to be accepted within a tribe. However, while this was integral to our survival thousands of years ago, it’s much less so today. And yet still, we all worry to some extent about breaking social norms…but for what? What can truly go wrong if you go against the grain of society? Nothing much, really, other than a flaming Instagram comment or two.
When you’re dealing with social pressure, it’s important to consciously break social norms for two reasons. The first is it lets you explore the constructs of society and figure out where the walls are hard and where they’re soft and malleable. The second is that it helps you answer the question, “what’s the worst that can happen?” The answer, you’ll find, is typically “not much.”
Tim Ferriss calls this fear setting. It’s the act of sitting down and visualizing the worst that can happen from a potential course of action. This is extremely helpful because usually the things we’re afraid of either won’t come to pass or aren’t that scary at all. However, when you consciously break social norms, you take fear setting one step further and actually commit the action you might fear.
For example, if you want to become an entrepreneur, you might take part in the coffee challenge, which is the act of going to a Starbucks and asking for a free cup of coffee. The idea here is that you’ll quickly realize there’s no downside other than a polite no. Over time, if you do this repeatedly, you train your brain to ask for discounts and deals, which will help you with entrepreneurship. Consciously breaking social norms, however big or small, puts you in the habit of questioning the social constraints that cause us to feel social pressure, rather than quietly abiding by a life you don’t agree with.
4. Become a Walking Contrarian
I personally love being a contrarian. I think I’ve always identified myself in that way. One quick and easy way to break free of social pressure and live your best life is to embrace – and play up – your contrarian nature. If you can do this, you become a natural contrarian in other people’s minds, so that when you march to the beat of your own drum, people can’t help to think that it’s normal.
There’s a perfect example from my own life. I identify as both a businessman and a writer. One is a quantitative field while the other is much more qualitative. When I have my business hat on in a business setting, I love to play up the fact that I’m a creative writer. When I have my writing hat on and interfacing with other creatives, I love to play up the fact I have a background in business and technology. The result is that I’m the most creative person in a business setting and the savviest businessperson in a creative setting.
This way, people in both setting expect me to zag when others are zigging. So when I feel social pressure and choose to follow my own path, people are much more likely to accept it as “normal.” This results in less social pressure put on me by those around me, allowing me to pursue a unique path of creative writing and business ownership without anyone telling me it’s not possible or sustainable.
5. Realize That You’re a Monkey in Clothes
This might make you feel uncomfortable, but this makes me extremely comfortable. The best way to beat social pressure is to realize that deep down, all you are is a monkey in clothes. You’re a primate, an animal, and all your fears about not fitting in with society are silly when you think about it in these terms. In fact, for me, it creates a bit of absurdity that allows me to laugh in almost any situation, making it easier to do what I want even if other people won’t get it.
So what if you don’t follow society’s defined path? Who cares if you ignore the social pressure you feel and march to the beat of your own drum. Ultimately, all you are is an advanced primate who finds him or herself playing house every day. So, where is the real risk when deciding whether to go against the grain or not? The worst that can happen is that a bunch of other monkeys in clothes get mad at you for not fitting into a box they understand. Silly monkeys.
Understanding the Social Norms Theory & How to Use it
The social norms theory is a theory that says that a person’s behavior is often influenced by incorrect perceptions of how other people expect us to act. It states that the influence of peers is one of the biggest factors that affect our beliefs, thoughts, and actions. The result is that we often engage in behavior that we would personally consider negative (like doing drugs), only because we expect that other people expect us to engage in the behavior.
Which is all to say, often the social pressure we feel isn’t even real. It’s a self-inflicted wound caused by our erroneous perception of other people. This means that if we’re able to understand and overcome the social norms theory, we have an even better shot at overcoming our feelings of peer pressure and break social norms. Ultimately, the social norms theory states two things:
- Individual behavior is influenced by perceptions of what other people expect and accept in terms of behavior
- An individual’s perception of what other people expect and accept of them is typically inaccurate
With that being said, lets now take a look at two ways we can combat the social norms theory so we have a better chance of overcoming social pressure and break social norms.
1. Increase Positive Peer Pressure
The first way we can overcome the social norms theory is to understand that peer pressure can actually be positive. The crux of the social norms theory tells us that we often overvalue the expectations of our peers in negative situations and undervalue them in positive situations. For example, we might be more inclined to take drugs because we think others are doing it, but we may be less inclined to go to the gym since we assume our peers don’t care about that.
However, this isn’t necessarily true. In fact, the opposite is typically correct, even though it might not seem so. This is why we need to do a better job of using peer pressure as a positive and not a negative. Put up positive constraints around your life via the positive expectations of others. If you have a creative friend that inspires you to pursue the arts, use your perceived expectation as a way to motivate yourself to put in the time and effort needed to become successful in that domain.
2. Decrease Negative Peer Pressure
Conversely, you’ll also want to decrease the negative peer pressure in your life, or at least decrease your susceptibility to it. In the context of this article, negative peer pressure is the pressure you feel to follow a path that society tells you is right. Unlike positive peer pressure, this is a negative constraint that confines you rather than forces you into positive action and ultimate liberation.
Luckily, you can decrease negative peer pressure by following the five steps above. Over time, you’ll not only remove this negativity from your life, but you’ll also reduce its hold over you, allowing you to freely pursue your best life.
Overall, living your best life is something that only you can do. Sometimes, your best life is exactly what society says it should be. Other times, it’s exactly what society says it shouldn’t. Regardless, if it feels right to you, then it is right.
Evan Tarver is an author, nonfiction writer and editor, screenwriter, and small business owner with a background in finance and technology. Overall, the content he creates is meant to shift the way people think and encourage them to act. Some ideas explore the social environment on the macro level, some ideas explore the transformative power of personal growth on the micro-level, while most fall somewhere in between.