April 18, 2023 by Dymphna

T-Bomb: Would you rather die or look stupid?

Truth Bomb Tuesday: Is a need to belong keeping you poor?

There was a fascinating psychological study I was reading about recently where a participant was put in a waiting room with a bunch of people. All the other people were actors, but the participant didn’t know that.

After a little while of hanging out in the waiting room, the people conducting the experiment started to slowly fill the room with smoke and the smell of something burning.

The participants started to get worried…

However, everyone else in the room was acting if nothing was wrong. They were filling out their forms, playing on their phones, watching the TV.

And this point, the participant was caught between two contradictory impulses. On one hand, they believed they were in a burning building and their life was at risk.

On the other hand, they didn’t want to look stupid – they didn’t want to be the only person freaking out about a fire if no one else was.

And in the end, people put up with WAAY more smoke than if they were in the room alone.

But think about that for a second.

The instinct to survive is incredibly strong. It governs everything we do.

But the instinct to not look stupid is almost just as strong.

As ridiculous as it sounds, given a choice between dying and looking stupid, people have to actually think about it.

And studies have shown this time and time again. People will go against their own instincts and their own better judgement just to be part of the crowd.

The other story I love is about some monkeys that were shown a particularly efficient way to open a nut.

However, if those monkeys were placed in a group with other monkeys who hadn’t learnt the efficient way to open the nut, the first monkeys would revert to the inefficient nut strategy.

That is, they would take on strategies they knew were inferior, just to be part of the tribe.

And look, this all makes sense. We’re a herd species. On our own, we probably didn’t survive for long.

It’s our ability to work collectively that has landed us at the top of the food chain.

But ancestry is not destiny.

And sometimes you’re going to be much better off forging your own path rather than going with the herd.

I see this all the time in the students I work with.

If everyone around you has got their bums in the air, beavering away at their 9 to 5 job, and they all seem content to just run out the clock on their working careers, then that has a real gravitational weight.

It’s really hard to go against that trend.

And even if I show them another way, and even if that way is more exciting to them, and even if I show them proof that people living exactly the kind of life that they themselves are dreaming of, they can still be resistant.

The instinct to run with the herd is strong.

And this is one of the reasons that we do need to be a bit careful about the company we keep.

If you start handing out with people from a different herd – successful investors, for example – this has a big impact on what you think is possible, but also on what you feel comfortable aspiring to.

But at some point we all have to make the choice.

Live your own life, or die in a burning building with the herd.