Great question! In our primal days, feeling uncomfortable around people who looked, spoke, or acted differently from us was a survival instinct. Others represented a dangerous unknown that could bring chaos, disease, or violence to the tribe. The world, however, has moved on since our paleolithic days! If you’re out to create something truly fantastic in your life, you’re going to want to challenge some of your deep-seated beliefs and ‘conventional wisdom’ about the world around you. To do that, you’re going to need to step outside that cozy box of people who live just like you and broaden that worldview a bit! Getting comfortable with people from different cultures and backgrounds is key to living an evolved life- and it’s easier than you may think!

Why conformity mattered to your ancestors (and shouldn’t matter to you)

Why do people follow the crowd? Imagine yourself a paleolithic hunter-gatherer. Do you think that your quickest way to a meal lies in boldly striking out on your own, or in following the rest of the tribe who are heading to a known gathering ground? There’s some solid evidence that the need to conform to the crowd is at least partially influenced by our biology

It’s certainly ingrained in our brains. We will sometimes contort ourselves ridiculously just to fit in with a group we like. There’s even a notorious set of experiments (known now as the Asch paradigm) where it’s been proven we will bend our own brain to group consensus even with no pressure to do so and where we know something is wrong. Peer pressure is a powerful thing.

So, if everyone around you disagrees with your view, the chances of your own logic and information winning the battle are very low. So low, in fact, that it’s known for humans to ignore their knowledge in order to repeat patterns inherited from predecessors. 

So if conformity is so critical to the human mind, and we’re prone to creating our echo chambers in which truth will fall to what the group thinks is ‘right’, how do we break free of the pattern and learn to embrace a world that’s varied and different? How do we get comfortable with people from different cultures, races, and backgrounds than us? It’s not as hard as you may think- but it takes some effort to better ourselves. Here are some smart mindfulness strategies to help you feel comfortable around people different from you.

1. Focus on the conversation, not your opinion

Perhaps the biggest behavioral change to develop is learning to listen, not waiting for space to speak your opinion. Your mind is going to want to rebel, we guarantee! You need to calmly bring your focus back to the interaction and learn active listening habits. The ‘5 Whys’ can be a great tool to learn not to knee jerk and dismiss ideas different from those you hold. Instead, explore if the idea has merit, but it merely ‘seems wrong’ because it’s pushing your conformity comfort zone. Learning to actively listen, instead of treating a conversation as a one-sided chance to talk at others, is the biggest step you can take. It’s so big, it’s worth noting that this is the issue that many new activists have when joining racial and cultural causes- telling others what they need based on your life experience, not listening to what they say is important.

2. Actively seek diversity

 You can’t get comfortable outside the echo chamber if you never leave it! Interact with diverse people from a range of religions, sexual orientations, races, genders, and ages. This way, you will have a chance to meet biases different from yours, have your worldview expanded, and learn to escape conformist group-think.

3. Remember what matters and focus on that

If you’re meeting a radically different new work colleague, for example, remember that the only thing that matters in your interaction is how good their skill set for your work is. Rather than focusing on how their dress, skin, or accent is different from you, put your focus where it matters- on the work you’re doing together. You’ll soon find your mind’s focus also switches and you will feel more comfortable.

4. Look for heroes who aren’t like youWith the internet at our fingertips, you’re connected to a wealth of world experiences that aren’t like yours. Instead of following the herd and seeking out only places where your held opinions and beliefs are dominant, look for active ways to experience cultures and people who are different from you. A fantastic way to do this is to search for heroes who resonate with you for their actions, values, and legacies- but don’t look like you and would have experienced the world differently than you. This helps you train your brain to see the admirable in people who don’t echo your experience of the world- as well as give you some nifty inspiration to lead a better life yourself!It’s not always easy to overcome our baser human instincts. What were once meaningful survival strategies have become, in a globalized world, a way to keep us apart. Learning to get comfortable around people different from you will not only make your life a richer, more diverse experience, but it will strengthen your mind against conformity and prejudice, and help you look past the obvious to novel new solutions and experiences. You’ll live a richer, happier life and create something far greater than the sum of your parts.
Want To Keep Improving Your Thoughts Towards Others?Happego can help prime your mind, getting you that much closer to your goals. Download the app today to get started and to find out how Happego can help further improve your mental health and your life. We offer guided visualizations and a Cherish Diversity pack for your journey this month. 

Curious about how Happego can help? Download the app today to get started!