Speak your heart out. Don’t let your life choices be determined by other’s opinions. Trying to please people will drain your energy.
And hundred similar inspiring statements are coated as self-improvement advice around the term “validation.”
I am not going down that path today...
Let me start with a food story.
While placing a home delivery order from a nearby restaurant, my friend (let’s call him Mark because it’s a cool name) turned to me.
He asked if the food will be good. Neither of us had eaten at this place before. Yet, I nodded in agreement like a cute dog.
The food’s taste wasn’t going to change, but Mark felt contented to have my approval onboard.
Similarly, you might regularly confirm your choice of clothes with someone else. You want people to think well of you. You desire to get accepted by others and feel accomplished.
Turns out, seeking validation and encouragement are everyday activities for most of us.
It has gotten a bad name due to a backlash by self-improvement against it.
It’s time that we break down the ‘validity of the advice against seeking validation.’
How we look for confirmation in our everyday conversations?
As much as you might love to say that you’re open-minded:
You can’t handle hearing people with contrary opinions all the time.
You mostly hang out with people with similar tastes that agree with your opinions. You want to have fulfilling relationships and feel loved by friends and family.
As per Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (a psychological theory that mostly holds true till date), esteem and love/belonging are an important component of human motivation.
A great validation seeking example from our daily life is Facebook.
Have you seen that little ‘Like’ thumb?
Yeah! that SCREAMS validation. We share photos and update statuses in the hope of getting approved by our Facebook friends. When the appreciative comments and likes flow in..we feel HAPPY. As long as you don’t consider Facebook as an extension of your identity and get obsessed over forcing people to ‘like’ your updates, you’re doing fine.
Likewise, it’s not difficult to search for instances in your everyday conversations when you want to feel encouraged.
You know one of those moments when you’re looking for people to tell you that you’re doing fine (without judging your actions). You don’t want people to shove technical how-to advice and the practicality of the situation in your face. It only fuels your frustration.
Until recently, I was that cocky guy that liked to push fucking 10 minute-advice down people’s throats - even when they just wanted to have a casual conversation.
I was judgemental about people asking for casual encouragement and thought of them as losers. But the truth is that most of us seek such validation occasionally. People don’t mean most of what they say in small talks.
Changing your behaviour is the trickiest piece of the puzzle and most people don’t even intend to go through the pain anyway. During regular conversations when people ask for advice, you generally want to show empathy and say things like:
- It’s going to be fine,
- Don’t worry...
- You’ll figure it out, I am here for you.
There’s nothing wrong with seeking such validation occasionally. But then why do most self-improvement advice against it?
Evaluating the 'don't seek validation' advice that most self-improvement blogs spit out
Remember I told you about how you hang out with people sharing similar interests?
Psychologists call such a group people with a shared identity as an in-group. Occasionally, you might choose to value yourself based on the opinion of your in-group.
If you regularly seek such validation, then it might escalate to become your NEED. It might start affecting your everyday choices. Your actions will be driven to please people around you. It might conflict with your internal values and feelings. And that’s where it gets ugly.
You might face performance anxiety and get depressed based on what others think of you. Self-improvement blogs try to tackle the low-value issue by providing frameworks for practicing self-acceptance.
They throw advice to rewire your brain to stop depending on others. Just identify your unique talents. And let your life choices be based on your feelings, so that you steer your life’s course. Now go find out what’s right for you and take action.
Will such advice bring rainbows back in your life?
Well, the advice sounds good in theory. You completely get rid of approval by others. You appreciate your skills. You’ve defined what success means for you. You create personal goals and knock them out of the park.
Good for ya!
what about other people?
Now you’re sliding into a dangerous lane where you feel everything is okay as long as it makes you happy. YOU become the center piece of every argument. Let me show you a couple of such instances:
- Your act of being selfish is negatively impacting your customers. You know, like tricking people with bogus offers to close more sales.
Your line of thought: Fuck the repercussions! I’ve to meet my professional goals.
- You get rejected by a series of girls.
Your line of thought: Girls are bitches and they don’t deserve me because I am ENTITLED to be happy and accepted.
Instead of validating your choices from external sources, you’re now completely dependent on YOURSELF. That doesn’t really change things, though - you’ve treated a symptom. Now, you’re a person with a different set of problems.
You can do better:
Instead of simply changing your validation source, search and identify the underlying cause.
For example: If you’re obsessed with what other people post about you on Facebook, than you might be suffering from low self-esteem. Another earlier study went to the extent of recommending that people with low self-esteem shouldn’t use Facebook.
Now since I don’t have any tips to let go of your need for external validation, let’s move on to how to prevent yourself from falling from a bias.
If you plan to get rid of validation, then don’t let THIS bias creep in...
If you’ve lived in a culture that relies on approval of your family, then you might find it difficult to wade through life on your own. You’ll need internalizing that you don’t need to always pursue what’s expected and going down cliched life paths. Eventually, you should start to view life clearly with your unique perspectives.
At this stage, you also need to remain mindful. It’s easy to high-five yesmen that give you an ego boost and disregard the naysayers as bullshitters. What’s difficult is looking at negative feedback objectively.
Sure you might have lived in the mountains for a month to find out your opinions of yourself and gotten over your obsession for external validation. While I appreciate your effort, there’s still a possibility that your hypothesis might be wrong.
If you go by the traditional validation advice, you might end up rationalizing your wrong life decisions. You’ll search for patterns of info that confirm your existing beliefs.
The tendency to look at new evidence in a certain way, that confirms your existing hypothesis and conveniently ignore the facts that clash against your ideologies, has a fancy name in psychology:
Even the best of us have fallen for this bias.
What’s astounding is that when your wrong opinions are repeated sufficient number of times, then your mind will reinforce a feedback loop. And you’ll be more confident that what you believe is indeed true. Even Donald Trump repeats his arguments couple or more times. Now, you know why!
I am sure you don’t want to fall into the trap of rationalizing negative feedback just because it doesn’t match your opinion.
Your voice along with expert feedback. So even if you’re confident about your opinion about yourself, be open to receiving criticism.
Ultimately, it’s about walking the fine line
Your friend might ask you about gymming, writing, relationships or any other aspect of life. The truth is a majority of people won’t even attempt to change their behaviour. She will give you random excuses.
But don’t fucking judge your friend for seeking validation
Your friend is probably looking for a little encouragement from you. Show some empathy and give her a pat on the back!
Similarly, you might also want to feel smart, cool and appreciated. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Such feelings are inherent within all of us. So just upload the fucking picture on Facebook or seek whatever external validation cues are available.
If external validation goes too far, then you’ll let people around you determine your worth and value. Which again brings misery. So identify your insecurities and work ground up to build your identity. Even when you practice such internal validation, beware not to give in to confirmation bias.
Like many things in life, you’ve to strike balance with validation.
Yes, you are sufficient ALONE. But it’s okay to have chocolate cookies with people while casually validating each other's lives.