Break the mould

Do you remember the last time someone told you what you could or cannot do? Or that you have changed completely? Or you haven’t changed at all? Well, most of the times they are not talking about you. They are talking about themselves. They formed a mould about you, and now you don’t fit into it.

What is a mould?

A mould or pattern is a set of expectations about a person/thing/situation fixed by a person, group of people or a society.

Moulds are at personal, racial, and international levels. For example, students who score over 90% are considered successful (these days it is 95–97% in Indian schools). Success in life is about getting married by thirty and having a kid or two before 35. Success at work is about getting a big paycheck (did you read big?). Work is supposed to be hard. Mondays are such a pain. Girls aren’t supposed to do this. He is terrible at that. I am not this person. I can’t do it… and the list goes on. These stereotypic moulds vary further within cultures, age groups, and societies.

Why do you need to break these moulds?

From an evolutionary point of view, we developed preconceived notions to navigate the world quickly. They were useful when we had to decide about fight or flight like, Lion — danger, fire — hot, fruit — eat. But now we are a long way from the cave. Further, coming to conclusions about everything cuts us off the ability to appreciate something that we haven’t experienced before.

The problem with all these presumptions is if we miss the order, or if things get delayed, we are labelled as failures or not so successful people. This is crazy because, in reality, those standards never exist. We are all different with our timelines, preferences, and lives. But we are still expected to have some “default” settings, and behave like humanoids who follow societal norms.

Fitting in is the greatest barrier to belonging — Brene Brown

This societal pressure causes depression in people when they don’t fit into the so-called expectations. Children take up careers they aren’t passionate about. People get stressed when they don’t find a life partner within a certain age. Girls are ill-treated for expressing themselves. Parents are made to feel bad when their children don’t do well. And these norms are the biggest reason for “what will others think” syndrome in most of the people who stopped following their dreams. And those who conform to these rules do things they don’t like, push their feelings down, shut their inner voices, and carry a fake smile around.

How to break these moulds?

To learn how to break the moulds, we need to understand how we form them in the first place. This can be best explained using the Pygmalion effect.

Everything begins with the observation of the world from a tiny window of our subjective reality. We form opinions about things based on what we see or hear. Now when we observe a particular situation many times, our opinions reinforce to form beliefs. Our beliefs will affect our actions towards others. Just as we observe others, they follow us and form their beliefs, and in turn act accordingly. Others’ reactions towards us will reinforce our expectations, making us dead sure about something.

This often happens in schools when children are classified into “clever” and “dumb” based on how they score in a test. A dumb child is punished, and his behavior is negatively reinforced. If the same incident repeats multiple times, he starts believing he is dumb. And lo, his reactions will follow his beliefs. I was lucky, the day when I was feeling down about my low score, my biology teacher said, “marks are just numbers, they don’t matter.”


So how do we come out of this vicious circle? There isn’t one formula. Here are some ways that worked for me:

  1. Break your moulds first.

Know the limitations you placed on yourself. Every time you think, ‘I cannot do this,’ give yourself one more chance. Remember the days when you were a kid, everything was possible? Whenever you lose that spirit, and people around you say, ‘this is what life is’ know that they are reciting the world’s greatest lie.

“What’s the world’s greatest lie?” the boy asked, completely surprised. “It’s this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.”
Paulo Coelho, Alchemist

Knowing life is dynamic, be prepared to take routes that you haven’t planned in the first place. Do not plan your life till the tiniest detail. This seems counterintuitive, but it works. If you invest your time and energy in preparing the smallest details, you will lose the perspective of the bigger picture. Moving away from details gives space for creativity.

2. Break others’ mould about you.

Don’t be afraid to defy the norm. If someone says ‘this is how things are done around here,’ ask why. It’s okay to push the borders and work on things that are beyond societal expectations. The same people who challenged you now will praise you later for what you did. They want liberation too; they are just looking for someone like you.
Some of us are very good at ignoring the societal noise, but we get stuck in our rut. We form frames around others even without knowing. Well, how do you know that you are getting stuck?

3. Being aware.

Observe your day to day activities and the people you work with. Ask them if they feel empowered or constrained? If it is the latter, you know you have to change something. Breaking a pattern is hard. As humans, we forget and fall back on our underlying habits. If you had a preconceived notion about something, it would come out eventually. By being aware of your predispositions, assumptions, and expectations, you can change.

When you decide to break the patterns, two things will happen, actually three.

  1. You will enter into a no-man zone of uncertainty. Be prepared to get comfortable with this uncertain state.
  2. Your close friends and relatives will resist your move and might take a step back. Their expectations are based on the limited knowledge they have about you. They might prefer things the way things are because that’s how they know you and love you — the way you are, not the way you may become. It’s not that they are trying to be unhelpful, it’s just that they don’t know your world one-millionth of what you see.
  3. People might be unhappy for a short time, but you will stop being what the world wants you to become and start being what you truly can be.

This is the ultimate freedom.

Courtesy: Zenos Frudakis, 2000, Freedom Sculpture