Us humans, we like to think we are in control of everything we do. Many things, however, are influenced by external factors. It goes further.
In Jonah Berger’s new book, Invisible Influence (everyone’s reading it!), he says: “99.9% of all decisions are shaped by others. It’s hard to find a decision or behavior that isn’t affected by other people.”
What is cool and what is not? Are we just sheep in the herd of consumers? Do we actually develop an own opinion about the things we encounter? These are all questions we think to know the reason and answer to. But maybe we are wrong. Have you ever considered that our mind just adopts the opinion from an external source?
Influence is forged
Impulses control our brains. We have ideas based on impulses. As signals ride through the highway inside our heads they carry information across and suddenly we see a solution to a problem we were challenged with. These impulses meet our experiences and memories and shape what we consider to be good and what we consider to be bad.
We develop differentiated hierarchies and without knowing it, mentor-mentee relationships are established. The “admired” person keeps using a certain phrase or term and soon one more individual will adopt the behavior in a matching situation. Soon after that, more people from the same group will follow. Those people are often called influencers or trendsetters.
Conformity can extend to mood
Social influence is a powerful force and being aware of it helps you control it or at least double-check that you are okay with adapting an opinion or a behavior. Such imitation, however, does not just affect logic, opinion, and behavior.
There is a type of conformity that is called emotional mimicry. This can lead to both positive and negative results, therefore it is most relevant to be mindful and aware of it, as it will very likely manipulate your emotions and mood if you let this effects run wild around you.
Many methodologies about positivity, happiness and creativity make use of this effect. In short: Surround yourself with happy people and you will be happy. If you stick around with unhappy people, you will be unhappy. Same goes for all other kinds of spirit and emotions. If people from two different socializations meet, it can result in communication difficulties.
Familiarity and change
Humans pursue to establish a balance between what they know and love and what they don’t know and want to find out about. We want to be part of a group, but within that group, we want to stand out by diverging from the others in some way.
We want what feels familiar to us because it means safety and supports our motivation for survival. New things and change can be exciting, but it’s not proven and entails risk. The risk could as well be a potential for an improvement, yet we often prefer what we know and always did.
No excitement justifies risk to survival in your mind, or instinct if you will. Therefore we strive for a mix of these both worlds. We want to stick to what we love and sometimes try out something new but in a very careful way.
How to positively leverage these effects?
Even though we can’t always directly stay in control of behavior, emotion, opinion and similar aspects of what defines us, knowing how we work makes it easier to leverage effects to our advantage. For instance, you can build groups that pursue a common goal. John Stepper wrote an interesting book to provide information on how such groups can be built and operated. It’s called Working Out Loud: For a better career and life. There’s also a TED Talk if you prefer videos.
Want to do a diet? Build a group of people who have an interest in being fit and reduce a little weight. With the combined powers and hive motivation, you are a lot more likely to succeed and achieve your goals. If you are on a diet and stick around with folks who are all about junk food, you will not only not be supported by them, but you might even encounter attacks on your plans. Of course, this is just an example for any activity of pursuing a personal goal. You could also apply this to pretty much everything else.
The takeaway from this really is that you can make use of these effects and protect yourself from not being absorbed in the negative environments but stick to the positive ones. Be aware of what is happening around you. You might not be in total control of every aspect of your emotions and there are invisible influences but they are not ultimately controlling you.
How do you feel about these subjects? Any thoughts you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you. Any feedback, positive or negative, is welcome for as long it’s constructive. Thank you for reading!