Ok, maybe this is going to be a very German-ish post. Germans are really hardcore into the stuff I’ll be talking about. But I noticed it, even if it was in a much more subtile way, in other cultures as well.
Let me start with a little introduction so you see where I am getting it.
It was last Saturday and with 90 degrees and the sun out I had nothing better to do but to join my brother shopping for his new apartment. After walking – for what seemed like a half life-time – we got a drink and I went to the bathroom.
And there it was again. A line of women. Inevitable wherever you go. I assume it’s a global thing. But when I looked at the bathroom doors along the line, one of them was wide open. There were 7 women in front of me and nobody walked in.
“Why?” I wondered. And then I saw the sign of a mother and her baby.
The thing was: There were no mothers with babies in sight.
The image of an old western movie came to my mind, in the middle of the desert, an old town, the sun is up, all you hear is the wind and nothing else to see but a hay ball….
You get the picture.
So I figured if there was no woman with a baby I might as well use it.
The others waited for at least 7 minutes to get in, only because a sign designated the toilet to women with babies.
Without hesitation, or at least without visible hesitation, they waited. No questions asks.
That got me thinking.
How often in life do we miss opportunities because we listen to social norms? Are we just blindly following or do we think for ourselves?
In a recent article I talked about how we trust personality tests to know us better than we know ourselves.
It is true for our everyday life as well. And it has tremendous effects.
If you are still not convinced that this can cause you serious problems, here are some more examples that are a lot more important in your life
- Most of us believe in diet books. They tell us what to eat and when to eat. What’s left out is the question of what we WANT to eat and when we are HUNGRY. We trust the diet book more than ourselves. Our bodies know what we need, yet we are so used to distrusting it, that we unlearned how to.
- Society tells us what a good job is and what we need to do in order to be “successful”. But have you ever asked yourself, what success means to YOU?
- When we are sick we go the doctor and trust the doctor and medicine more than we trust our self-healing abilities. Kids still know what to do when they are sick. They sleep and they eat less. When we, as adults, are sick we get some pills and keep going.
People are social beings, and we rely on our interactions with others to thrive, and even survive, in the world. To avoid chaos in these interactions, we create social norms.
We need social norms to interact with each other.
Research found out that we follow social norms, because we are scared of getting in trouble. Numerous studies demonstrate that, when the threat of punishment is removed, people tend to disregard social norms.
But there is a thin line between reasonable and unreasonable social norms.
Waiting in line, even though there is an empty bathroom seems unreasonable to me.
For you that might be different. There is no global standard defining reasonable and unreasonable social norms.
So how do you know if it makes sense to follow the norm or if it stops you from truly living the life you want?
There is no way to eliminate social norms all together. This is, if you don’t want to life in a cave meditating all day long.
But you can use this three step formula to decrease the impact.
3 steps to making your own decisions
Recognise it’s there. Even if it’s hard to admit, it’s there. It influences your everyday life. And if you are no super-human-alien, you most probably get trapped in social norms over and over again.
Increase your awareness.
This is hard work. But whenever you make a decision, ask yourself “WHY?”. If you have no good answer it’s probably just an autopilot decision, created by social norms.
Note: The answer “Because it’s always been that way” is not valid.
You can start with big decisions first, like what you want to be when you grow up.
Try to integrate it more and more into your life and get deeper into the details. Like asking yourself “Why do I want to buy that shirt? Why do I think I have to go to this event? Why don’t I go to the bathroom?”
This will help you getting out of autopilot-mode.
When you can’t find reasonable BECAUSES, make your own, unconventional, new decisions. There are endless possibilities on how to do things, find your own way and do it.