I want you to think about the last time you had a really big choice to make. When it came to making that decision, did you choose the option that you felt was best or did you let the expectations and opinions of others decide for you?
Many of us allow outside influences to heavily shape our thoughts and opinions. And while it can be helpful to learn from others, you don’t want to lose your own voice in the process. Because when you truly learn to think for yourself, you can begin to live in a way that is aligned with who you are and what you really want out of life. And you’re less likely to experience the stress and anxiety that often accompanies the desire to constantly live up to someone else’s expectations.
In this article, I will teach you how to hear your own voice again amidst the noise of others and our society, so you can craft your life experience just the way you want.
This article is part of a much bigger guide on learning how to become happy that I’m sure is the biggest freely available guide on the internet. This article contains some great tips, but you’ll find a lot more actionable tips in the section Happiness Tips!
Why it is hard to form your own opinion
You would think it shouldn’t be so hard to have your own opinions and thoughts. I mean, who knows you better than you, right?
But the reality is our world and our own psychology are set up in a way that makes it easier to follow the crowd.
For the vast majority of us mere mortals, the research demonstrates that we are more likely to share our opinion and thoughts if we feel supported by the group. This means that we are likely to shift our thought process to match that of the group to fit in.
And studies show that the media also influences the way we think. The media gives us insight into politics, global issues, and local concerns in a way that can make us shift our thoughts to align with public opinion. In fact, the media we consume can even influence our moods.
With all this outside noise from peers and the media, it’s no wonder we have a hard time figuring out what we actually think on our own.
Why you should develop your own thoughts
I often find it appealing to just go with the crowd and avoid the challenging process of thinking for myself. But every time I do this, I find I’m not quite as satisfied.
I tried to go along with the recent trend of parting my hair down the middle, but the reality is I don’t like doing this. I’m a true millennial and prefer the side part. Yet I tried to follow the popular opinion because sometimes that seems easier.
But even the research suggests that acting in alignment with your own values and forming your own way of thinking is what leads to well-being no matter what your cultural background may be.
I personally think this is because if you’re always trying to do what makes other people happy (people-pleasing), you never end up doing what makes you happy. And sometimes you get frustrated and break from the pressure of always trying to live up to someone else’s ideals for your life.
Needless to say, my side part is staying.
5 ways to think for yourself
Let’s dive into 5 simple tips for helping you put on your own personal thinking cap so you can block out all the outside noise.
1. Define your values
Values are what help us understand why we think the way we do in the first place. If you have no sense of your own values, it is easy to allow your opinion to sway like a blade of grass in the wind.
Before I truly understood how much I value gender equality on all fronts, I shied away from saying anything when my male co-workers would make punchy jokes about females in our workspace. I just laughed along and tried to hide how uncomfortable I felt when hearing some of their less than pleasant remarks about females.
But once I took the time to establish that gender-biased jokes don’t align with my personal values, I took a stand against these comments and my male co-workers actually respected it. And this not only made me feel more comfortable at work, but it also meant they started to tell jokes that were actually funny instead.
If you don’t define your own values, others will do it for you. And this is bound to shape how you think and act.
2. Practice saying no
No. It’s a two-letter word that is oddly hard to say.
I grew up as a Grade A people-pleaser and as such, I am often inclined to say yes to things. But sometimes to find your own voice and thought process, you need to say no.
I had a close friend invite me to a religious service one time. And being the people-pleaser I am, I said yes to going to the service. And while it was a lovely experience, I knew quickly that I was not interested in this particular religious practice.
Afterward, my friend and I discussed my thoughts. She said I should come with her every Sunday because I needed to learn more before I made a decision to not come.
This was one of the hardest “no’s” I have ever said, but thankfully I did it. Because saying no was what led me to find the religious group that I do align with and amazing experiences have stemmed from me following my own thought process.
3. Speak up
Usually, I have no problem speaking at all. But when it comes to having a different opinion than others or the majority, I have this tendency to lose my voice.
But if you don’t actually speak up about your own thoughts and beliefs, you will find that you may start to take on the thoughts or opinions of the group. And while this is not always a bad thing, this is a slippery slope that can lead you to lose yourself and your own sense of purpose.
And the thing that really blows my mind is that often the group that we’re afraid to express our personal opinions to has a set of broad opinions or thought processes that emphasize the negative and keep them stuck in life.
If you want to be in control of your life and not let the crowd dictate the direction of your life, speak up and you will strengthen your own voice in the process.
4. Do your own unbiased research
If you don’t know what you think or feel about a situation, it’s time to consult good old Google.
But it’s important to do your research with a skeptical eye. Because so many of our modern-day sources are drowning in bias.
This is a technique I try to implement when it comes to political or local issues. There are loud voices on either end of the spectrum.
So what I try my best to do is find the hard facts. And based on the hard facts and my own personal set of values, I can make my own decision that reflects a well-informed personal choice.
5. Limit media consumption
This can be a hard one to implement because we have such easy and convenient access on our phones to any form of media we want.
And while I’m not suggesting you completely ignore the outside world or live in ignorance, I am suggesting that you don’t binge-watch news stations or spend hours on social media day in and day out.
As human beings, our opinions are often shaped by our emotions. And the media knows this and uses it to their advantage.
So if you constantly consume media coverage, you are allowing these sources to subconsciously impact how you think and feel.
About six months ago I started limiting my media coverage to 1 hour a day and it was surprisingly powerful because my thoughts began to feel clear. And I don’t have to scream into a pillow out of sheer anger and frustration with the world anymore, which my lungs certainly appreciate.
The outside world is happy to control your mind if you let it. Fight back by following the tips in this article, so you can develop your own thoughts that turn into actions to create your desired reality. And then the next time you have to make a decision- big or small -you can rest assured that the choice is yours and yours alone.
What do you think? Do you find it hard to think for yourself? Or do you want to share a story that this article reminded you of with our readers? Let me know in the comments below!