“He’s not really struggling even for material wealth, but for the second-hander’s delusion – prestige. A stamp of approval, not his own. He can find no joy in the struggle and no joy when he has succeeded. He can’t say about a single thing: ‘This is what I wanted because I wanted it, not because it made my neighbors gape at me’. Then he wonders why he’s unhappy.”
Ayn Rand (Author and Philosopher; The Fountainhead)
“Once in awhile it really hits people that they don’t have to experience the world in the way they have been told.”
Alan Keightley (Author; The Gates of Janus)
“You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.”
Colette (French Novelist; Gigi)
Experience fills the soul; approval empties it.
I spent about half of my time in graduate school trying to get my advisor to notice me and to say something mildly positive like “you’re not completely useless.” It never happened. So I tried harder. This had a weird effect of making me resent both him and myself while also slowing my career progress. It’s hard to get ahead when you’re constantly looking back for a gold star or a pat on the back.
Bigger Ponds Are Better …Eventually
There were two pieces of paper on my desk. Both had college logos and a bunch of fancy writing and a signature panel at the bottom. They were college admission letters and I had to sign one by the end of the day. I’d either be going to a college on the other side of the country to wrestle for a Division 1 program or I’d be going to college close to home to wrestle for a smaller Division III program. I was leaning toward the latter because I was afraid of moving far away and not knowing anyone. I was also afraid of being a small fish in a big pond instead of being a big fish in a small pond.
I knew I could be very successful in a Division III program and, in turn, get lots of recognition (from girls) on campus. But, if I wrestled for a Division I program I knew that I would get my lunch handed to me for the first few years – at least – and be a complete unknown. Still, I always wanted to wrestle for a Division 1 program. I wanted the experience of flying to big tournaments to wrestle against big Universities that I had only ever seen on TV or in the movies. I chose the far away school and regretted it immediately. I lost a lot of matches and spent a lot of time alone. But then things got better. I met people and started to win occasionally. I never received a lot of recognition but the experience changed me forever.
Experience Trumps Approval
Never sacrifice experience to approval. A national survey of 12,000 people found that experiential purchases make people happier than material purchases. Other surveys have found that experiences carry more monetary value than material items. Seeking approval, on the other hand, has been shown to reduce happiness and to increase pettiness. And, if left unchecked, approval-seeking behavior can turn into reward dependence, which is associated with several personality and addictive disorders.
Experience is your best investment. This is especially true of bad experiences. Research shows that difficult situations change people faster than easy or comfortable situations. The problem is that most people don’t know how to gauge the value of experiences. This is because there’s no price tag associated with a new experience. And, unlike approval, most experiences are not immediately gratifying. Experiences take time to sink in. Why?
Curb Your Approval-Seeking Behavior
The best way to reduce your need for approval is to increase your desire for new experiences. You have to get used to doing things that only you want to do, without asking other people for permission or validation. This is harder than it sounds. Think of how often you secretly wait for someone to come and tell you that you’re doing a good job or that the big decision your about to make is the right decision. No one is coming to make you feel awesome. And, even if they do, any high feeling you get from it won’t last.
Approval is temporary, experience is forever. The only way to curb approval-seeking behavior is to consistently take on new experiences, especially experiences that other people do not approve. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you sabotage yourself or do reckless things that no one should ever approve. It means that you challenge yourself to do the things that you really want to do, not the things other people want you to do.
5 Consequences Of Seeking Approval
There are many pitfalls associated with valuing approval over experiences. There are also many rewards associated with valuing experiences over approval. Here are 5 consequences of seeking approval and 5 benefits of chasing experiences:
1. You lose your creative edge.
It’s impossible to be creative when you’re seeking approval from other people.
Studies show that individuals working in groups instinctively mimic others’ ideas to gain approval while losing site of their own ideas. Other studies show that taking a stance different from a group activates your amygdala, the part of your brain associated with fear and rejection.
Decades of research show that individuals almost always perform better than groups of people — in both quality and quantity — and group performance gets worse as the size of the group increases.
2. You lose your identity.
Seeking approval destroys your sense of self. The problem is that your brain is built to seek approval and to conform to other people’s opinions.
Brain imaging studies show that conflicts between your opinion and other people’s opinions initiate a long-term conforming response in the brain. This response is characterized by increased activity in the nucleus accumbens, the part of the brain that monitors behavioral outcomes, and the rostral cingulate zone, the part of the brain that anticipates rewards.
As a result, when you see other people behaving in a certain way, your brain’s default response is to seek their approval (the reward) by conforming to their behavior.
3. Your career hits a dead end.
The biggest problem with seeking praise and validation from others is that it takes you off of your own best path. Instead of staying focused on where you really want to go, you start focusing on where other people are going. And, you start following them — you start chasing their dreams instead of chasing your own dreams.
All second-hand dreams are dead ends. You will never do anything great by keeping your head down and grinding it out for someone else. Instead, you’ll look up one day and realize that you’ve boxed yourself into a corner and your only move is to stay put and wait to die.
4. You live in a constant state of obligation and regret.
Approval is a gateway to obligation and regret. The only way to consistently get praise and validation from other people is to obligate yourself to their happiness, not your own. This means that you literally have to live for other people without ever living for yourself. As a result, you end up doing what other people want you to do and regretting all of the things you wish you would have done.
Approval is a drug and it lights up the same reward centers of your brain as both crack and gambling. The only way to not get addicted to this drug, and to not live in a constant state of guilt and disappointment, is to deprive yourself of it as much as possible.
5. You live in fear.
Individuals who spend their waking hours chasing validation also spend their waking hours living in fear. They worry about who likes them and who doesn’t like them and if someone might stop liking them. They also worry about how much respect their getting and if they’re important enough and if other people are talking about them or telling them things soon enough, on and on.
The paradox of being an approval-seeker is that you will be the first one thrown under the bus when things go wrong. It’s a paradox because you think that chasing praise and validation from others means that others will like you more. But they don’t. They hate you.
No one likes (or respects) someone who needs their approval. Instead, they label you as an easy target — as a pawn to sacrifice when the going gets tough.
5 Benefits Of Chasing Experiences
1. You learn what NOT to do.
In college I worked for a cement company and it was the pits. I had to stack pallets with an endless line of bricks coming off a conveyer belt and shovel cement ash from one large pile to another. I learned pretty quickly that I did not want to do this kind of manual labor for a living.
During the same time, I started dating a girl that was training to be an actress. She was incredibly dramatic and turned every issue into a scene from Gone With The Wind. After about a week I figured I’d take a break from dating actresses for the next 50 years or so.
Growing is the process of learning what you don’t want. Experience is a great teacher because it shows you the things in life that you’d rather not be doing. This acts to make the things that you do like doing brighter and more memorable.
2. You learn your values and strengths.
Listening to other people is a poor way to figure out what you’re really good at. It’s a bad way to figure out what you really like too. This is because other people’s opinions are based on their values, not your values.
If someone values safety, they’re less likely to give you approval for being a risk-taker. If someone values humility, they’re less likely to give you approval for being outspoken.
You have to figure out your own values and strengths. The best way to do this is by having as many experiences and reflecting on them as much as possible. When you do this, patterns will emerge. These patterns will show you what your true priorities are as well as the methods you’ve used to successfully meet these priorities.
3. You become much more interesting.
Experiences like randomly flying to China for 3 weeks or starting your own business are much more valuable and interesting than grinding out some horrible project that you hate just to get a gold star for not dying or going insane.
Doing the same things day in and day out for years is not experience. It’s lack of experience. And it’s boring.
Chasing experiences – real experiences – is the best way to boost your charisma capital and to become more magnetic and desirable to other people, including employers.
4. Your relationships will be strong and last a lifetime.
Two years ago I traveled to Australia and New Zealand for 6 weeks and I met a dozen people that I still stay in touch with. A year ago I hopped on a plane last minute to go to a book event in London and met another dozen people that I talk to weekly. I’ve worked with some of these people to start a new business and to write a new book.
When you chase experiences, you build bonds that are unbreakable. This is because unique experiences bind people together. Transition points are sticking points. Chasing experiences lead you to like-minded people who want to be around you and who you want to be around, not for approval, but for growth
5. You gain a bird’s eye view of the world.
Experience turns you into a strategist. When you try new things, you expand your perspective. You raise yourself above the playing field, which allows you to see several steps ahead. This vision translates into wisdom and confidence.
New experiences help you see how things fit together. And the more you understand how things fit together, the more you can change things to fit your needs and your goals. You can do this by connecting things in a new way or by replacing outdated systems with new, better-functioning systems.
What is one of the best life experiences that you’ve ever had and how did it change you?
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