Are you the kind of person who accepts some things as true without actually questioning the facts and weighing the possibilities? It’s called conventional wisdom and we’re all susceptible to it to one degree or another. Who hasn’t heard that you need to spend three months’ salary on an engagement ring or you need to change the oil in your car every 3000 miles?
By the way, both of those pieces of conventional wisdom are actually wrong, but are generally accepted as true by a large number of people. While those things might not be that big a deal to you, there are bigger dangers to accepting conventional wisdom at face value. By tying yourself down to how you think things are supposed to be when it’s not necessarily true, you can miss a lot of opportunities to live life on your terms.
Thinking Outside the Conventional
First let’s go back several decades to the 1940s and early 1950s. One long commonly held belief back then was that no one could possibly run a mile under four minutes. Most doctors claimed that the human body wouldn’t be able to handle so much stress. Some even said that someone’s body would break apart before such a speed could be reached.
No one should have been able to break the four minute mile as that was the conventional wisdom at the time. People had come close, but no one could actually break that illusive barrier. But on May 6th, 1954 Roger Bannister broke four minutes by running a mile in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds just barely making it.
Since then, the four minute mile has been broken on thousands of occasions because someone like Roger Bannister could show the way. But the breaking of the record isn’t even the amazing part of the story. This comes from the fact that two years before he broke the barrier, he almost decided to quit running altogether.
When Roger went to the 1952 Olympics, Roger felt he was ready. But due to an announcement that favored runners with different training regimens, he ended up finishing fourth just out of the reach of medals. Defeated and disappointed, he almost quit running completely.
Instead of quitting, he set himself a goal: break the four minute mile. Accordingly, he intensified his training and did hard intervals. Roger pushed himself as far as he could in pursuit of this one goal until one day he broke the record, broke people’s expectations and entered history.
Your “Four Minute Mile” Barrier
Are you someone who takes conventional wisdom at face value or are you a Roger Bannister who questions things and rejects limitations? For every piece of conventional wisdom there are thousands of people who accept it without question and only one or two who decide to put it to the test.
Some of the most popular pieces of life-limiting conventional wisdom I’ve heard is:
Conventional wisdom: Once you have kids, your traveling days are over.
My response: I’ve traveled all over the world and I’ve seen many parents traveling with their children. And these countries aren’t just in first-world European capitals. I’ve seen children traveling with their parents through Nicaragua and Costa Rica. There are many travel blogs out there specifically aimed at how to travel with kids.
Conventional wisdom: Don’t burn your bridges.
My response: Sometimes burning your bridges is one of the best and quickest ways to success. When Cortez arrived in the New World, the first thing he did was burn all the ships. For him, there was either victory or success.
Conventional wisdom: You need to go to college to become successful.
My response: Many successful people have dropped out of college including Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Bill Gates. College is a great way to conventional success, but it isn’t completely necessary.
Doing Things Differently
Don’t always accept everything as it is. The majority of people do what they are doing because they see everyone else doing it. They don’t take the time to think and question how everything is done. Often, they will dismiss unconventional ideas simply because it isn’t what is expected of them or because they don’t see anyone else doing it.
The biggest thing you can do to develop an unconventional mindset is to question the accepted norm. Why is everyone doing things the way they are? Do you have to do things this way or are people missing something? Look for as many alternatives as possible.
Think about everything in these terms. Do you want to live your life the way everyone else has accepted as the way to live it or are you going to make things work for you even if everyone says it can’t be done? Just like Roger Bannister set his goals and persevered despite the opposition, you can set and achieve your life goals.
Following what’s conventionally considered the right path can be hard to avoid. After all, if that way of living and thinking is the route most people take then it is the one most readily available and easiest to do. That’s why questioning conventional wisdom is so important. It helps you see opportunities you might otherwise miss.
photo credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery