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Social Proof: The Worst Enemy That Lives in Your Head

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Social Proof: The Worst Enemy That Lives in Your Head

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    The concept of “social proof” (or informational social influence, if you’re a sadist for typing) tells us that, often subconsciously, individuals will look to the other people around them in ambiguous social situations to determine the appropriate way to behave. It’s a result of the subconscious mind assuming that those around us are better informed on what is acceptable and appropriate.

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    Unfortunately social proof became a bit of a buzzword for marketers a few years ago. Pesky buzzword or not, I think it’s a concept worth looking at from a personal development point of view. The bottom line is that the concept of social proof as described is something that is built in to the human mind and something we should be trying to build out through intellectual exercise as quickly as we can.

    When your decisions are informed by the assumption that those around you are better informed than you on what the appropriate action to take is, you are destined towards several places, and none of them are good. When you make your decisions according to what other people think or do you end up quite unspectacular and rarely achieving anything of note, nor any of your dreams and goals in life.

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    The right attitude to assume is that you know what you want and you need to do whatever you can to get there. Obviously, acting too far outside of social norms will just have you ostracized and prevented from reaching your goals by others, so those who would argue that trying to evolve out of our in-built “social proof” mechanism causes anti-social and even criminal behavior will be pleased to know that working towards one’s goals (usually) has checks and balances like these in place. You can’t get far alone — as much as you don’t want to follow others, you do need them.

    When my wife and I made the decision to move across the country to a better location, one of our considerations was the people we were living behind. Our families — our children’s grandparents, aunts and uncles — and friends live here and we felt bad about the prospect of leaving them (well, most of them!). But in the end your life is your life, and you need to take control of it and bring about the results you want to see.

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    That isn’t precisely social proof by the book because we weren’t taking cues from anybody but ourselves, but in the context of decision-making processes it’s the same principle at work.

    If you know the results you want to create in your life and you do nothing to go about obtaining them, you are weak. There is no way of pussyfooting around that truth. To have strength of character you must always be moving towards your optimal way of life.

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    Maybe you’re in a situation where you can’t bring about those desired results just now, but you can at least start to plan for a time when that situation changes, or preferably, has been changed by you.

    Staying because others want you to? Not going to help you achieve results. Not giving your dreams a shot because nobody else is giving theirs a shot? Definitely not going to get you anywhere. Social proof is bad. This process is probably a remnant of a time when social proof helped you decide which food was good to eat and which was poisonous; I don’t know, I’m not a scientist. All I know is that it doesn’t serve much of a purpose now. It gets in the way.

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    And while I know that, in a neutral state I’m as prone to it as anyone. The difference is that I do my best to catch myself and take measures — drastic if they have to be — to get out of that rut and leave the cattle behind.

    To improve yourself you need to define your goals and optimal situation and work towards that regardless of whether others are doing the same. That doesn’t mean disregard and disrespect others — it means don’t make your decisions based on what others are doing, thinking, or desiring. You should still formulate decisions that mitigate the negative effects on others, and preferably have positive effects for them — but if the negative effect is an acceptable one and the rewards for your goals are worthwhile, you know what you need to do.

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on November 15, 2021

    20 Ways to Describe Yourself in a Job Interview

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    20 Ways to Describe Yourself in a Job Interview

    “Please describe yourself in a few words”.

    It’s the job interview of your life and you need to come up with something fast. Mental pictures of words are mixing in your head and your tongue tastes like alphabet soup. You mutter words like “deterministic” or “innovativity” and you realize you’re drenched in sweat. You wish you had thought about this. You wish you had read this post before.

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      Image Credit: Career Employer

      Here are 20 sentences that you could use when you are asked to describe yourself. Choose the ones that describe you the best.

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      “I am someone who…”:

      1. “can adapt to any situation. I thrive in a fluctuating environment and I transform unexpected obstacles into stepping stones for achievements.”
      2. “consistently innovates to create value. I find opportunities where other people see none: I turn ideas into projects, and projects into serial success.”
      3. “has a very creative mind. I always have a unique perspective when approaching an issue due to my broad range of interests and hobbies. Creativity is the source of differentiation and therefore, at the root of competitive advantage.”
      4. “always has an eye on my target. I endeavour to deliver high-quality work on time, every time. Hiring me is the only real guarantee for results.”
      5. “knows this job inside and out. With many years of relevant experience, there is no question whether I will be efficient on the job. I can bring the best practices to the company.”
      6. “has a high level of motivation to work here. I have studied the entire company history and observed its business strategies. Since I am also a long-time customer, I took the opportunity to write this report with some suggestions for how to improve your services.”
      7. “has a pragmatic approach to things. I don’t waste time talking about theory or the latest buzz words of the bullshit bingo. Only one question matters to me: ‘Does it work or not?'”
      8. “takes work ethics very seriously. I do what I am paid for, and I do it well.”
      9. “can make decisions rapidly if needed. Everybody can make good decisions with sufficient time and information. The reality of our domain is different. Even with time pressure and high stakes, we need to move forward by taking charge and being decisive. I can do that.”
      10. “is considered to be ‘fun.’ I believe that we are way more productive when we are working with people with which we enjoy spending time. When the situation gets tough with a customer, a touch of humour can save the day.”
      11. “works as a real team-player. I bring the best out of the people I work with and I always do what I think is best for the company.”
      12. “is completely autonomous. I won’t need to be micromanaged. I won’t need to be trained. I understand high-level targets and I know how to achieve them.”
      13. “leads people. I can unite people around a vision and motivate a team to excellence. I expect no more from the others than what I expect from myself.”
      14. “understands the complexity of advanced project management. It’s not just pushing triangles on a GANTT chart; it’s about getting everyone to sit down together and to agree on the way forward. And that’s a lot more complicated than it sounds.”
      15. “is the absolute expert in the field. Ask anybody in the industry. My name is on their lips because I wrote THE book on the subject.”
      16. “communicates extensively. Good, bad or ugly, I believe that open communication is the most important factor to reach an efficient organization.”
      17. “works enthusiastically. I have enough motivation for myself and my department. I love what I do, and it’s contagious.”
      18. “has an eye for details because details matter the most. How many companies have failed because of just one tiny detail? Hire me and you’ll be sure I’ll find that detail.”
      19. “can see the big picture. Beginners waste time solving minor issues. I understand the purpose of our company, tackle the real subjects and the top management will eventually notice it.”
      20. “is not like anyone you know. I am the candidate you would not expect. You can hire a corporate clone, or you can hire someone who will bring something different to the company. That’s me. “

      Featured photo credit: Tim Gouw via unsplash.com

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