The Drive for Social Acceptance
We are social creatures. We all want approval and acceptance from our friends and colleagues. That’s why we want to drive nice cars, dress nicely (at least some of us), and constantly compare ourselves to others.
At all levels of life, social acceptance and the ultimate need to connect with our colleagues on an emotional level define our actions. You may think that it’s only in high school where defined social constructs and cliques are a reality (and, often, painfully exclusive), but everything we do in life and sport involves the power of social acceptance. In both of these areas, we compare ourselves to those who are – or who are perceived to be – slightly higher on the social ladder. We want to be liked and valued. On the flipside, the comparisons also involve those with a lower perceived social status, but the motivation is different. In this scenario, it is about avoiding the group that we are trying to break away from or avoid regressing back into. Very simply, we run in groups and strive to run in groups that we desire.
Humans are driven at a core level to find connection and support from those around us. But as we’ll discuss later in the book, when that desire for connection and validation from others comes at our own expense, we lose our ability to succeed.
Social media is a perfect example of this inherent need. From Twitter to Instagram, the power of a simple “like” is tremendously influential on our future actions. So much so, that our decisions are guided by our ability to collect more likes and make ever-wider social connections. In the advertising world, advertisers measure the ability of the contracted celebrity and the depth of the celebrity’s personality on the social connection to their followers, simply to determine if product investors can quantify their results by leveraging that social connection to sell products. At the core of that is the need for social acceptance.
How it Translates to Athletics
Athletes are not immune to this, but the motivation may be different than club-goers. Many pros simply want to “make it”, but after “making it” some shift their vision to become an all-star. Very few shift their desires to become a hall-of-famer, but those that do continually set sub-goals to reach their desires. This progression is not for everyone as only those willing to sacrifice everything can reach the ultimate levels of success. Those that are willing to make those sacrifices are those that are willing to shift their mindset for greater challenges.
For junior athletes, the desire to be recruited by colleges falls right into this paradigm. Deep down, every athlete wants every coach to be clamoring for his or her services. But when the athlete is on the outside, the need for social acceptance rears it ugly head. This negatively shifts their level of performance because the athlete becomes concerned with their performance equaling a college scholarship, rather than competing in the present challenge. It is an amazingly predictable trap that often has tough consequences.
Impact of Social Isolation
In my opinion, isolation is the fastest way to crush a person’s spirit. The adverse impact of social isolation has been well documented in numerous studies of prisoners of war. Prison inmates are subjected to long periods of solitary confinement and it’s clear that a lack of regular personal connection and communication can be simply devastating to the human psyche. Remove a person’s social reinforcements and connections and you can singlehandedly break that person down.
The need for social acceptability is really a matter of finding peace with those around you. It is not until you realize that the futile efforts and negative impact of chasing approval are robbing you of your true ability, and as a result, the only way to maximize social acceptance is to invest in your own performance as opposed to what it means.
Social acceptance is also about social respect. We want others to know what we’ve gone through to succeed, and being accepted by a group that you strive to be valued by only reinforces the idea that you’ve persevered just like they have. (The old saying that “misery loves company” also applies here.) In every endeavor in life and sports, human beings want to be connected to those who have walked the same paths, climbed the same stairways, and jumped the same fences.