We have become a society that seeks pleasure and avoids pain at all costs. This is a function of both social conditioning as well as basic neurobiology. Today I want to focus on social conditioning and how it can get in the way of simply being yourself.
What tends to predominate people’s actions more so than seeking pleasure is the avoidance of pain. This may be better known as ‘playing it safe’ or ‘playing not to lose’ rather than ‘playing to win.’ Some people who are afraid of failure outright go the safe route to avoid rejection completely. Some people will try to sell you ‘the dream’ that there is a way that everybody will be nice to you or that you can somehow miraculously make everybody happy. There is no such thing as the non-rejection method. There is no fool proof way to avoid mistakes and failures, no way that you are going to make everyone happy, or guarantee that people will react to you the way you want. If you want a life with no conflict where your goal is to always strive to give other people what they want, go into customer service for a big company and take calls from bratty consumers all day. It will completely drain you and sap every last ounce of energy from your soul.
Part of what social conditioning teaches us is to fit in. Fitting in is not bad, but it can equate to playing it safe and giving into social pressures that go against your own values and emotional well-being. Social conditioning also teaches us what kind of person you need to be to be in a relationship, what you need to look like to be attractive, what you need to wear to be sexy, what kind of man it is that gets the girl, or even more generally defines what success is supposed to be for us. Social conditioning also teaches us that you need to fix something if someone doesn’t like what you’re doing or it elicits an intense reaction, which is not always the case. Often people accept these socially conditioning beliefs without question. People can spend their entire life following what is expected of them by others, not rocking the boat, and avoid ruffling people’s feathers to the point that many people never allow themselves a glimpse into, much less a full experience, of their true self.
There is another danger in playing it safe. It gives into the human tendency to find the path of least resistance. Like any trait, within reason, this can be positive as this tendency may help us find more efficient ways to get things done so we can invest our energy and effort into more important ventures. Unfortunately the path of least resistance typically isn’t taken with such conscious awareness. More often than not it can be similar to acting on auto-pilot, taking action unconsciously, blinding us to other great opportunities surrounding us, dampening our awareness, bogging us down in repetitive patterns of thinking and action, inhibiting our creative impulse and ability to be spontaneous. Without willpower humans will seek the familiar and do what is easy. It takes effort to make lifestyle changes and create new habits that support that lifestyle. It takes effort to identify your own values, particularly if they are divergent from social norms. You have to want to change the status quo in your life. Sometimes, frankly, you have to be in it so deep that you get sick enough of it to really strive for change.
Sometimes it is wise to play it safe. In fact sometimes it is necessary. Again, I am not preaching extremes here. The point is that if playing it safe becomes a habitual pattern in your life, it is going to cause significant problems for you. By playing it safe habitually you lose your authenticity, and also your integrity. How much more rewarding and exciting would it feel if you taste the same success from the frame of purely and confidently being yourself? Not something you ever thought about? Paradigm shift for you? Well, you’re not alone. We are in the midst of such a paradigm shift. In his book ‘Purple Cow’ Seth Godin promotes this paradigm shift and encourages people to do what they do, and not to be afraid to alienate the people who don’t like what they do well.
When you be yourself not everybody is going to like you- that’s why it takes courage. This is where good old fashioned masculinity can come in handy. Masculinity has got a bad rap. Sometimes for good reason, but I doubt my readers will take my advice and engage in some modern form of Manifest Destiny. Some entitlement is not bad. Assertiveness can be healthy, and feeling a sense of deservedness rather than deprivation can be positive. Whether you’re a man or a woman learn to harness this masculine energy. Be bold. A yoga teacher I look up to once said, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.” Take her advice: Free up that same rut you’ve stuck yourself in, get out there to roam and explore. By doing so and living your best self it frees up space for others to do the same and wake up to their own lives.
Give people the full spectrum of what it is to experience you. Live your light. Don't hold yourself back. It is OK to be your best self. By being your best self you inspire others to open up to themselves and do the same.
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Email Dan Bolton, LMHC at: firstname.lastname@example.org