To be honest, the road to my personal success was road I was walking with no one else beside me. If I get back in time and see myself not letting go of all the chit-chat days and nights with my friends, I wouldn’t be where I am standing today. My personal story worked for me because I stepped out of the people that dragged me down. Don’t get me wrong, I was having a great fun time with my friends back then, but I had to step out in order to reach another level of personal success.
We are generally taught that in order to succeed we have to walk the road less traveled, which means we will have to walk alone. To reach a higher level of personal success we must’ve been told to leave all the naysayers behind us and surround ourselves with people close to our vision, people like us.
Is this a general truth or statement? Is there any actual science behind this so-called ‘must’ for success?
A straight line can shrink or grow
When one 1950s Swarthmore College psychologist, Solomon Asch, assembled a group of volunteers and asked them to estimate the length of a vertical black line on a plain white card, he made an stunning observation. He found that each person surrounded by people who underestimated its length, underestimated it too. The same was true for overestimation. They literally saw the line differently, depending on who was around them. A person’s estimate varied depending on what everyone else thought.
The question is: how can a clear black like look different, depending on the opinions of others?
Swarthmore college psychology Solomon Asch was simply confirming what polymath Gustave Le Bon had written over half a century before, in his seminal treatise The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, a work reputed to have been read by Lenin, Mussolini and Hitler. Le Bon wrote that in a crowd, “the sentiments and ideas of all the persons take one and the same direction and their conscious personality vanishes”.
What’s happening in your brain
Say, you have a perfect idea. If the idea matches with that of the people you are surrounded with, your brain’s reward ‘system’ engages, and you feel good.
But if your idea or an opinion is not accepted by people around you, a part of your brain that fires when you feel pain (the anterior insula), gets activated. When it happens, you have two options (although a recent study paper suggests you may be using the second option more often than you think)
- Option A – you ‘pretend’ to agree with others but secretly hold on to your own thoughts.
- Option B – your brain actively changes how your think and molds your innermost thoughts to be just another sheep in the crowd.
A network within your brain (involving the medial frontal cortex and anterior insula) monitors “errors” in how you are conforming with people around you. It becomes active as soon as you and your crowd disagree on something and heralds your brain’s efforts to try to reduce this disagreement gap.
One study has shown how this network becomes active before people change their innermost beliefs to match the beliefs they outwardly pretend to hold.
What this means for you
Even if you are born Albert Einstein, and have the biggest, brightest, innovative mind, you are exposed to risk of becoming mediocre mind if you surround yourself with the pessimists.
On the contrary, if you surround yourself with positive, optimistic individuals who aspire you to grow, you are likely to rewire your entire brain and become successful entrepreneur, even if you weren’t “born Einstein” in the first place.
Bottom line: you are who you surround yourself with. Pick wisely, because you are picking the person you want to become.
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