Peer pressure can be positive. The sad truth is that we are products of our physical and social environments. With regards to the latter, the people around us can sometimes make or break us. Thus, we can construct our social circles to help us become more self-discipline. You can use accountability partners, role models, mentors, and teachers. You can also dip into the dark side and use the negative emotions of public shame and embarrassment to keep you accountable. After all, we work harder to avoid a punch in the face than to eat our favorite food.
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As a teenager, you were probably warned of the pitfalls of peer pressure. And yet you still probably uttered the words “but everyone else is doing it” more than once because it was nearly impossible to resist at the time. The fact of the matter is that we decide far less on our own than we think. We are victims of our social and physical environments.
Peer pressure is the direct influence upon someone by his or her social circle. In the teenage context, it’s almost always talked about in the negative sense. Even as adults, we may still experience peer pressure in some of the more negative ways we did as teens. It’s often in the sense of “keeping up with the Joneses.”
But is there a positive side to peer pressure? Like most things, it all depends on whether you can control it or you become controlled by it. Peer pressure in self-discipline allows you to partially place your burden on others – which is amazing, because it means self-discipline doesn’t have to be something you carry internally and individually anymore.
We’ve previously discussed that the environment makes a difference in your discipline, and one aspect of environment includes the people around you. At the basic level, this means you have to be proactive and conscious about whom you surround yourself with. You don’t have to start from zero, but at least recognize that there are certainly people who will push you up as well as drag you down. It is within your control to surround yourself with the most disciplined and motivated people, which will inevitably rub off on you. You may not be able to choose your family or coworkers, but the people you spend your free time with are up for grabs.
Aside from the general level of support you find in your social atmosphere, there are a variety of ways to take advantage of positive peer pressure. We can utilize mentors or role models. We can create accountability groups or partners.
An accountability partner is someone who helps keep you on track toward your goals. You check in or report to them, and you update them on your progress or lapses. You are more likely to work toward your goals and stay on course if you have someone to whom you’re accountable. It can be a mutual relationship (working toward similar goals) or they can simply act as your daily or weekly alarm clock.
When looking for an accountability partner, you want someone who won’t buy your excuses or rationalizations. They should be instructed to take a black or white view on you – you either did something or not, and you either abstained from something or not. The more room you leave for flexibility, the more you might as well not use an accountability partner. This should be a person whom you trust and someone who isn’t afraid to “tell it like it is.” You want someone who won’t judge you, but you also want someone who won’t sugarcoat the tough stuff.
This is the person whom you call every day before you start your gym workout to check in. You’re no longer letting yourself down; you’re letting someone else down, so the stakes are higher as well.
You also want someone who is goal-oriented and is able to act as a good influence on you. Their successes can be things that help and motivate you to your own wins. Perhaps you even start to compete with them. Your accountability partner should both help you through your obstacles and celebrate your successes with you.
Frequent contact is preferable, because you leave less room for cycles of lapses and then trying to compensate for them. Frequent contact encourages better consistency. It’s also a good idea to articulate a set duration of the relationship. Having a deadline creates a small sense of urgency – or at least the importance of progress; having no deadline can simply make matters too relaxed and slow-paced for any real progress to occur.
This important person seems elusive, but potential accountability partners are all around you. Remember, they just need to be willing to be honest with you. Think about friends and acquaintances that might fit the bill for what you need. Ask your partner, family, or circle of friends if they have suggestions for you. Some workplaces or professional programs have mentor programs where you can be paired with a colleague. You don’t actually have to know them personally.
If this idea seems too bizarre or invasive, another approach is to find a role model, someone you respect and has had success in the area you’re working on. This would be a person you would like to emulate; you don’t have to interact with them. You can approach situations in your life and ask, “What would this person do in a situation of this nature?” Again, you don’t have to actually know this person; the most important part is that they possess traits that you admire.
You can imagine this person when you start to stumble with your self-discipline. Detach yourself from the immediacy of the situation and put yourself in your role model’s shoes. Instead of struggling with negotiating with yourself, take your struggles and use your role model’s convictions to fight them. Your own internal dialogue is admittedly a little lazy and overly flexible, so what about someone with magnificent self-discipline? What would they do, and how would it differ from your own choice? You instantly know what to do now. You have a new course of action to take that comes from a role model you like and trust.
Above all, having a role model should serve as a reminder that you don’t get what you want through inaction.
What if you can’t find an accountability partner and there’s no role model springing to mind? Well, you can still use that adult peer pressure to your favor simply by mentioning your goal or task to someone. It may be someone in your circle of family or friends, or you could post your plans on social media. Make it public, loud, and proud.
Are you going to live up to your proclamations? What will people think? How can you face people after having essentially lied to them? By making your intentions known publicly, you create a sense of accountability.
Of course, here you are being motivated into self-discipline by negative feelings of shame and embarrassment – but remember that it’s all about whether you control emotions or you let them control you. While you may have someone call you out on not working toward your goal, this is much more of an internal motivation. There’s nothing wrong with being pushed by something negative; the reality is that negativity is a far stronger motivator than anything positive. You would work much harder to avoid being lashed with a whip than you would to eat the fanciest meal in the world.
If you want to lose weight and share it with the world, imagine how you might feel loafing around with your family and friends. Will they say something? Are they thinking about what you said and judging you for eating a family-sized bag of chips? Or even worse yet, did they not take your public proclamation seriously because you’re that unreliable?
Negative as it may be, it has the real ability to spark action.
By involving others, whether an accountability partner, friend or family member, coach, role model or mentor, or the world of social media, you are held to standards that you might not otherwise keep. Whether you want to explicitly label this as self-discipline is up to you, but if your goal is to get things done, you should use all the tools at your disposal.
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Peter Hollins is a bestselling author, human psychology researcher, and a dedicated student of the human condition. Visit https://bit.ly/peterhollins to pick up your FREE human nature cheat sheet: 7 surprising psychology studies that will change the way you think.
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