I heard a report on NPR this morning that the IRS in some states is employing the age old tactic of peer pressure to force tax delinquent citizens to make good on their tax bills. These states have chosen to make public the names of delinquent tax payers and the amounts owed. Each person with a bill was sent a letter informing them that they had an outstanding balance, and then informed that their neighbors were also receiving a letter about the outstanding balance. 20% more of the people who received the peer pressure letter paid their bill, than those who only received the bill without the caveat that the neighbors were going to be notified. Not a huge increase, but by statistical standards the peer pressure worked.
Maybe there is no where that peer pressure is more evident than inside the lunch room of your local public middle school. Actually I think you could make the case that some folks never leave that lunch room. Every experience that they have they perceive through the experiences they had when they were an awkward 12 year old. This is true for all of your favorite middle school stereotypes. Some of the cool kids can’t get past the glory days, the nerds always feel left out or overlooked (even if they make an obscene amount of money these days), and so it goes… old wounds are powerful predictors of future behaviors. I think this is why the peer pressure tactic still holds water with adults.
There would be no struggle to keep up with the Joneses in this were not true.
Even saying “I don’t care what anyone thinks about me” is so rooted in wanting to be perceived as above all of the drama of peer pressure. The irony is thick.
What if there was a positive angle on all of this pressure? If was can accept that peer pressure is a real thing, how do we leverage it for our good? I’m still working out the implications of this idea, but I think there are some merits to the old adage “if you can’t beat them, join them.” Below are two ideas that help me get the most out of the pressure that I feel from my peers.
1. Choose your peers carefully.
You can choose the group of people that you allow to have influence in your life. This is a significant departure from the middle school version of the game, but you can actually determine whose opinion matters to you most. Choosing to have relationships with people who affirm and inspire you is possible, that sort of peer pressure would be welcome. This is sometimes called accountability, and it doesn’t have to be a bad word. Inviting people into your life that will challenge and push you, even pressure you to move forward can be powerful.
It is also helpful to surround yourself with people that you would like to emulate. If you respond to the pressure to fit in, make sure you are trying to fit in with the right people. Obviously there are some unhealthy ways to play this game, so you have to be aware of that, but striving to be successful in business because your peers are successful in business might be really effective in keeping you moving toward your goals. If you want to be a good parent, surround yourself with people you regard as good parents, and so on.
2. Say it out loud.
Another facet of accountability is to make your goals known to your peers, and to invite their pressure to keep you on point. Once you have said something out loud you have to follow through with it, or hear about it over and over again from your peers. This is why earlier this year I told a circle of my peers that I am writing a book this year, that I wanted to lose a little weight, and that I wanted to start dressing like a professional.
These are a few of my goals that were they unshared would be easy to forget about.
Each week now I have a few friends who askabout how the book is coming, they push me to keep writing to make progress and connections to help the book idea become a reality. They challenge me about what I eat and if I have been active, gently and not-so-gently reminding me that those 15 lbs won’t lose themselves. They comment on my new shoes and sweaters and offer advice on where to shop. They even pass along gear they no longer use that matches my new wardrobe goals.
These might seem like simple ideas, but they work for me. I have determined which peers I want to be pressured by, and I have invited them to push me. I no longer say “I don’t care anyone thinks about me.” I have modified that statement to “I only care what certain people think about me.”
How do you respond to peer pressure?
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