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By Anonymous 

Question: How do I avoid conformity in the face of social pressure? 

Dear Anonymous, 

Thanks for your submission! 

Honestly,  I confess that I have felt and even succumbed to social pressures myself. I would be lying if I said that I am above the temptation to conform and that this temptation hasn’t caused me anxiety. I used to be resigned to the fact that peer pressure was insurmountable — that it would define my entire high school, and even college, experience. I thought that the choice between acceptance and isolation was binary, and that if I wanted to belong, I would have to be willing to let go of some of my own long-held beliefs. One day, when I got up the courage to say “no,” I realized I was wrong all along. Standing up for myself was really difficult at the moment, but staying true to my values actually felt good, and people respected me more. I went to sleep knowing that my choice made me less of a follower, something I have no interest in becoming.

I realize that saying “no” is easier said than done so here are some actionable tips:  

  1. Getting ahead of the pressure is always easier if you do some advance planning. If you know that you are going to be in a potentially uncomfortable situation, then go in committed to your principles and with an idea of what you might say to someone who pressures you — someone with whom I hope you’re not too close. 
  2. Practice acting with confidence. Remember, these people are your peers and should not have authority over your decisions! Try to incorporate some wit into your responses but do not appear self-deprecating. This is a challenging course to navigate, and I myself am no expert at always finding the right balance of assertiveness and humor. Nonetheless, here are a couple of  suggestions: “No thanks, I’m driving”; “I like my lungs the way they are.”
  3. The most powerful feeling is to enjoy your own power to say no. The important thing is to do it with a smile and without judgment. Your true friends shouldn’t judge anyway. 

Surround yourself with people who exert positive pressures on you, and put your time into making sure you are personally fulfilled.

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