Why We Want Approval So Much
Social media is a game we play to find a place to belong.
It’s wired into us to be part of something.
A community. A tribe. A family. An organization. When we’re part of something, we find our identity in it.
People like us.
Being part of a community becomes part of our identity. And when we find a group that accepts us just as we are, we bend to fit in. Even if the group is a bit different than what we value deep down, the fact that they care (or claim to) makes all the difference in the world.
You compromise when your needs are met.
That’s why kids take up smoking or drinking or drugs — because their “friends” do. If the crowd they really want to belong to finds fault with them, they look for a crowd that will accept them.
Now, before you get too critical here, consider this.
It’s hard to take a stand alone.
You’ve got to be totally committed to doing the right thing to stand someplace where NOBODY will stand with you. And if NOBODY will, you may be standing in the wrong place. Or everybody else is wrong. Either way, it’s extremely tempting to bend so just one person will believe in you.
It’s tough to choose truth over acceptance.
When people like us, or our words, we feel validated.
There’s some truth to the saying that if you believe something is true, you make it come true by your actions. If you believe something and you do nothing about it, it may as well be a lie, right?
Approval makes us do things.
To fit in, we do what’s trendy. Post cat videos. Talk about politics. Rant about what’s wrong with the world. It feels good when we can tap into what others are thinking, even if we can’t do anything significant about it.
But then, swaying opinion is something, is it not?
Of course, you have to be seen to be followed. Therein lies the attraction of social media. Not only do you find approval there; if you play the game right, you can even become a celebrity to some.
Maybe you couldn’t do that at home. If you blended into the wallpaper at school, now you can create a persona online that can do everything that scares you in public. You can turn it on whenever you open your Facebook app, and shut it off when you sign off. Nobody has to know whether that’s the real you or a part you play online.
The person you are online
Chances are it’s the real you, the one you wish the busy world could see (but are too scared to show face to face). The advantage is you have a platform, a stage where you are in the spotlight. You can capture attention here. And all you have to do is do something catchy enough that people will read, watch, and comment on what you’re doing.
If you want to play the long game, do this.
It’s hard to be fake for a long time.
Actors complain about being typecast after they’ve played a role for years. But do you know what? It’s them we see on the screen. A least a part of them. They’re not bringing this charisma in from someplace outside. It’s coming from deep inside them.
And if it’s making them money, they’re tapping into the need for approval, aren’t they?
So, if you’re going to play the long game, remember this. You’re better off being yourself. It’s far easier to be authentic than it is to be trendy. Being trendy means you have to do constant research to find out where people’s hearts are drifting.
But even then, it’s their attention that’s drifting. And why is that?
They’re looking for something to satisfy them. To make life worth living. The one thing that will make all their pain go away, even if that pain is as simple as boredom.
We can’t stand to be bored.
That’s why we can’t put down our smartphones. It’s not just fear of missing out that scares us. It’s the fear of having nothing to do. It’s the fear that we’ll be alone with ourselves — and we won’t like what we see. It’s the fear that we don’t measure up to what we hoped for that keeps us from facing our own painful truth.
The only way we can make that fear go away is to work against it.
What do you long for? What do you want your future to look like? Do you care whether others approve of what makes you happy? Or do you want it because you want it?
If you want friends, you can’t totally escape the approval trap. You have to bend a little to please others. But that doesn’t mean you have to change who you are.
Practice conversational generosity.
When you talk with someone, make it about them. Talk to them because you want to learn more about them. What makes them happy? What drives them to do what they do? What do they dream about the future?
Only talk about yourself when they ask.
If you’re generous, and make your conversation about them, something amazing will happen.
They’ll think you’re awesome.
They’ll love spending time with you.
They’ll consider you a friend.
Because you’ve just satisfied their need for approval. You’ve accepted them for who they are, without judgment. You might not turn into best friends, but who cares? Do this often enough and you’ll cultivate enough real friends that you’ll rarely have to feel alone.
And you won’t waste effort trying to get people to like you.
It’s a funny game, isn’t it? You get what you want by giving it away.
If you want to have friends, be one.
If you want approval, give it to others.
And strangely enough, you’ll find you have the approval you seek when you decide you don’t care about it.
Be who you are. And when you get on stage to share, focus on who’s watching. They’ve given you their most precious resource — their attention. Don’t waste it. They’re giving you time to get something. Entertainment. An escape from their boring ordinary world. Give them what you’d like to have yourself.
The surprising thing is, if you do this enough, in time you’ll have all the approval you could ever want.