A Coaching Power Tool By Marianna Rolikova, Transformational Coach, SLOVAKIA
Conformity vs. Purpose: Balance Social Norm Compliance with Your Own Values
Everyone holds his fortune in his own hands, like a sculptor the raw material he will fashion into a figure. But it’s the same with that type of artistic activity as with all others: We are merely born with the capability to do it. The skill to mold the material into what we want must be learned and attentively cultivated. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
This power tool is called “Conformity vs. Purpose,” and is helpful for anyone, individuals, and teams alike, who are struggling to find a balance between fitting in with societal norms, rules, and what others are pursuing vs. pursuing their own personal goals, passions, and dreams.
Interestingly, from a coaching perspective, behind Conformity on one side and Purpose on the other is a struggle of two competing human needs: the need to fit in and belong and the need to be true to oneself. While Conformity can provide a sense of safety and acceptance, it can also lead to a loss of individuality and a lack of fulfillment. On the other hand, Purpose can provide a sense of direction and meaning, but it can also be challenging and require stepping outside of one’s comfort zone (Panizza et al., 2021).
Conformity vs. Purpose Definition
According to the Britannica dictionary, Conformity is “the behavior that is the same as the behavior of most other people in a society, group.” (www.britannica.com, n.d.).Many factors, such as culture, social norms, and individual differences in personality and motivation, influence conformity. Understanding various ways Conformity can show up in behavior and emotions is crucial. It helps us – the coaches – to recognize the adverse effects on our clients. In his book Laws of Human Nature (2018), Robert Greene said it very well: “When this social personality comes and dominates who we are, we slowly lose a sense of our uniqueness and the ability to think for ourselves.”
In What Way Does Conformity Show Up in Our Behaviors and Emotions?
Conformity can show up in a variety of ways in people’s behaviors and emotions, with recent research focusing on the behavioral aspects of social Conformity (Panizza et al., 2021), for instance:
- Either feeling a sense of safety, belonging, and acceptance – when shifting attitudes and behaviors towards others in the same group– fitting. When our views are not being heard or respected, we can end up feeling anxious, frustrated, insecure, or resentful.
- Either feeling happy or relieved– when adopting (conforming to) the opinions or attitudes of others [gaining social approval]. However, if we compromise our values or beliefs, we can end up feeling[internally] guilty or ashamed.
- Either feeling proud and responsible- when following rules or norms (a sense of order and structure in one’s life), even if these are not aligned with our values. Yet we can end up feeling restricted or frustrated if our freedom is limited.
When bottled up inside us and not dealt with, these emotions can negatively affect our mental and emotional well-being. Some potential consequences we might see in clients are a negative impact on relationships, lack of creativity and innovation, loss of motivation, low self-esteem, stress and anxiety, and many others.
Generally, Purpose in life refers to the sense of meaning and direction that individuals get from their daily activities, relationships, and anything they love doing. Research has shown that individuals with a clear sense of Purpose are more likely to experience positive emotions, engage in goal-directed behavior, and have better physical and mental health outcomes (www.psychologytoday.com, n.d.). However, discovering and developing one’s sense of Purpose can be challenging and may require individuals to explore their values, passions, and interests and step out of their comfort zone.
In What Way Does Purpose Show Up in Our Behaviors and Emotions?
Dr. Hill, who leads research at the Washington University in St. Louis’s Purpose, Aging, Transitions, and Health Lab, sees Purpose in two ways, one based on the character of goals and the other based on the feeling of goals (www.everydayhealth.com, n.d.). When it comes to feeling a sense of Purpose, some examples include:
- Feeling a sense of passion or excitement – a powerful driver for individuals creating motivating goals
- Feeling a sense of fulfillment – especially when seeking out experiences and supportive relationships that align with our values
- Feeling hopeful and motivated – when proactively engaging, for instance, in self-reflection (self-leadership)
- Feeling determination, courage, and confidence – when taking risks to overcome obstacles (through having a clear sense of Purpose)
Who Can Use Conformity vs. Purpose Power Tool?
The “Conformity vs. Purpose” power tool is for individual clients, groups and teams, families, facilitators, and different types of educators and learning & development practitioners.
Testing the Conformity vs. Purpose Power Tool on individual client coaching sessions, based on the FlipIt framework (ICA, n.d.), enabled the client to reframe her perspective and shift from a conformity-focused mindset to a purpose-driven one.
Coaching Case Study (This Is an Actual Peer-To-Peer Case Study, With the Name of a Client Changed)
Jane is a 38-year-old corporate executive, who has been climbing the corporate ladder, working in marketing/project management for a large corporation for the past ten years, and while she is known as a well-respected expert in her field, she feels like something is missing. She largely attributes everything to the stress and pressure of her job that she feels no longer fulfills her. Jane mentioned having struggled with negative feelings (for instance, sadness, anxiety, tiredness, and unhappiness despite an achievement at work) and she came to the session wondering if this is the root cause or if she needs to reflect more.
Find It. Identify an Issue or Challenge
We use official FlipIt picture cards for a visualization exercise. Jane immediately chooses an image of a woman (picture #1) from the FlipIt Coaching Kit (learnsite.icacoach.com, n.d.) and mentions that this is how she feels and [she believes] looks every morning when she has to get up for work and every evening when she comes back.
Feel It. Work Out How You Feel About It
When asking Jane what she feels when she thinks about her work and corporate career? She responds that she does not understand why but feels unhappy, stuck, and unmotivated, with anxiety and tiredness, which also come up during weekends. Jane feels frustrated with herself, wasting another weekend and feeling miserable. The next question is what might be the dominant feeling among those she mentioned when she thinks about her challenge. She mentions that being unmotivated is the biggest one, as she feels all other negative feelings would disappear if she is motivated. How strong the feeling of being unmotivated is on a scale of 1-10, Jane spends some time thinking and says it is seven on good days and nine on bad days. Jane was asked where in her body does she feel anxiety? She points to her chest and belly.
We test and use the Conformity vs. Purpose power tool without Jane knowing what is on the other side of Conformity. Asking Jane what she feels about being unmotivated and not wanting to go to work when she thinks from a ‘conformity’ perspective. Jane thinks that all the rules, procedures, and processes at work make her feel a little dead and not alive and unmotivated. She feels she cannot do things her way, often feeling being stopped, corrected, and silenced. Regarding how Jane looks at people around her when taking the ‘conformity’ perspective, Jane pauses and shares a realization: many of her friends are from work and not outside it. Asking Jane how she feels about solving her challenge of being unmotivated using the ‘conformity’ perspective, she came up with a ‘cornering’ scenario: I either have to change a role at work or step up in my role. Finally, when asked what she thought would be a probable outcome of either of the proposals she mentioned, Jane shared a realization and answered that nothing would change.
We Flip the tool and uncover the Purpose. Jane starts talking by herself: she sees she has been conforming not only to the expectations and standards of her job and her industry but also expectations of her family and some of her friends to have this type of job and career. She realizes she has a career goal, but she can see this is not important to her anymore. Jane now looks at herself and her challenge from a ‘purpose’ perspective. Jane’s first word is unfulfilled. Then she goes on to say that she does not even know what her life’s Purpose is and how that can connect to her job. Asking her what might come up when she connects fulfillment, purpose, and job together – looking at the combination from a ‘purpose’ perspective, she passionately mentions two topics: animals and sustainability.
Jane starts to sense how her problem – being unmotivated and unfulfilled at work – feels now to her from a ‘purpose’ perspective, keeping in mind her two passions.
Jane smiles. She says she realizes that her expertise in marketing with NGOs would stand out. Jane mentions that it is the first time she understands how values need to be aligned with work and ends up saying that she wants to find work that aligns with her values. When asked what emotions and feelings arise when looking at her challenge from a ‘purpose’ perspective, Jane says she feels hopeful and inspired, as she is excited about the possibility of finding work that can make her feel ‘smiling from the inside.’
Overall, using the Conformity vs. Purpose analysis and the FlipIt tool, the coaching session helped Jane shift her perspective and focus on her internal motivations and values rather than external validation. We worked together more to identify other activities aligned with Jane’s values and bring out positive emotions.
Bring Self-Awareness to the Client Through Conformity vs. Purpose
This power tool intends to bring self-awareness to the client on the destructive power of conformities and its impact on the client’s identity, Purpose, and emotions that accompany it. Emotions are complex and interconnected in many ways, depending on, for instance, people’s upbringing, experiences, and attitudes. Self-awareness around Conformity and Purpose is a balancing act, as is self-understanding. Whether Conformity or Purpose, the side we feed more will dominate our life in terms of thinking, feeling, and perspectives.
As Robert Greene says: “it all starts with something very simple, which is the power over yourself. If you have no power over yourself, then you’re at the whim of everything else in this world. So what does that mean to have power over yourself? Well, … it begins with something very simple, which is: You have to know who you are.”(Greene quoted in Howes 2021).
EverydayHealth.com. (n.d.). Purpose: The Definition and Why It’s Good for You. [online] [Accessed: 25 October. 2022].
Howes, L. (2021). Find Your Inner Power & The Skills You Need To Master w/ Robert Greene. [online] Lewis Howes. [Accessed: 25 October. 2022].
ICA (2022). About FLIPIT | International Coach Academy. [online] [Accessed: 25 October. 2022].
learnsite.icacoach.com. (n.d.). FlipIt Photos. [online]| Copyrights: Veronique Mergaux Accessed: 25 October. 2022].
Panizza, F., Vostroknutov, A. and Coricelli, G. (2021). How Conformity can lead to polarised social behavior. PLOS Computational Biology, 17(10), p.e1009530 [Accessed: 25 October. 2022].
www.britannica.com. (n.d.). Conformity Definition & Meaning | Britannica Dictionary. [online] [Accessed: 25 October. 2022].
www.psychologytoday.com. (n.d.). How Creating a Sense of Purpose Can Impact Your Mental Health | Psychology Today Ireland. [online] [Accessed 25 October. 2023].