Most of us cringe at the thought of criticism, conflict, or breaking the rules. That’s why we hesitate to step out of line with conventional thinking. While going along with the crowd may keep us within the tribe’s good graces, we sometimes miss out on opportunity as a result. Therefore, it’s helpful to consider why we get caught up in the herd mentality and how to escape.
In Line with the Herd
A few years ago, my son and daughter-in-law went to the Black Friday midnight opening at a department store. They arrived to find a long line extending from the entrance well into the parking lot. As shoppers slowly made their way in, they noticed something else.
There were three sets of double doors in front of the store but customers were only entering through the center doors. The pair walked up to the entrance wondering if the others were locked since no staff prohibited anyone from going through.
To their surprise, the doors were unlocked. As they opened one of the glass doors to walk in, several shoppers yelled at them and pointed toward the end of the line. While each person waiting was free to enter one of the other doors as well, they chose to stay back.
This is a classic example of the herd mentality at work. Just like there was nothing preventing people in line from entering another door, there’s nothing preventing us from doing things differently except our own limited thinking.
Taught to Conform
As kids, we’re taught good people play by the rules. But who exactly made all those rules we’re “supposed to” follow? Why were they made? What about those unwritten, unsaid, but generally accepted rules? And do so-called rules that applied decades ago still apply today?
Most were trained what to think instead of how to think for themselves. Growing up, we were told to stand in an orderly line and wait our turn. That’s so embedded within us, we do it our entire lives.
Instead of taking risks, we seek permission or stay back. Rather than speaking up, we remain silent. People retire at 65 because they think that’s what they’re supposed to do. We ignore the fact that we have other options.
Yet, it’s the risk-takers who change the world. The ones who speak up are the people who start a movement. Those who continue to work after 65 recognize they are still well able and happy to make a contribution.
Escape the Herd Mentality
Those with whom we share the same environment have a profound influence on us, good or bad. The shopping trip was a small matter, but what about when it really counts? Like what we eat, what we do in our spare time, the type of career we choose? Or even broader concerns like philosophy, spirituality, or political views?
Even though it’s easy to get caught up in the herd mentality, we can escape this mindset by taking a few vigilant steps.
- Question if the majority is really where we want to be. Mark Twain wrote, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
- Stop and consider why we think the way we do. Instead of forming our own beliefs as children, we generally accept what we’ve been taught as truth. Try to find the root source of the belief.
- Consider if there are other, better options available.
- And then, make our own conscious choice.
When we hold back to fit in, attend a party because “everyone else” is, or wear the same brand of clothes to be one of the cool kids, these are red flags we might be caving to the herd.
But once we’re aware, we can resist the temptation to conform and break away from the mental barriers that hold us back.
Is there some part of you that’s been trying to fit in, but you feel the tug to resist?