Herds. They don’t just describe cattle, they also describe us. Herd mentality, herd behaviour – these phrases exist because they are accurate observations of what we do, following what others are saying and doing, moving along with whatever is the prevailing belief of the day.
We like to belong, as a rule. I think it reaches back to primitive times when survival was the need of the day and being in a group increased your chances of fending off a hungry saber-toothed tiger or other such hostile predator. Being by yourself was the short route to extinction. Ditto for sticking out. You didn’t want to get noticed.
This instinct to blend in and go along with what the group wants hasn’t died out, despite the thousands of years since saber-toothed tigers have died out and we no longer have to worry about basic survival. Theoretically, we can survive by being our individual selves; it’s safe to stick out now. But, we don’t believe it, from the looks of it. Most of us still go along with what society wants, not daring to break away from the community. We celebrate the folks that play within the boundaries and chastise those that meander out of them.
It’s a shame, of course, because millions of individual talents get submerged under the crushing demand of homogeneity. However, there’s a way to harness this predisposition.
What if you could choose the group you belong to? And what if this group exhibits behaviours that you want to imbibe? For example, a runner’s club. If you’re an aspiring marathoner, you’ll find kindred spirits in a runner’s club – people who are already marathoners, so you have role models. These are people who understand the kind of sacrifices and commitment it requires to train for a marathon (family members often grumble about the hours that get taken away from them as you set off on solo training runs). They will celebrate you, guide you, encourage you to become like them. You, in turn, are surrounded by language, actions, and values that extol the joys of running.
Often, when you talk to people who are passionate about what they’re doing, they’ll say “you won’t understand why I work on this through the night.” It’s true. Only someone else also in the same space, sharing the same values, beliefs and behaviours will get it. And when these two people meet, their relief at recognizing each other is palpable.
Finding your group is a highly effective secret to learning new habits. We seem to be genetically wired to want to belong to a herd. Why not choose a herd that reflects the best version of ourselves?