Breaching the Social Matrix...

Some of you will have undoubtedly seen the film 'The Matrix' starring Keanu Reeves...

Some of you may even have understood it!

For those of you who haven't seen the film the basic premise is that the earth and human beings have been taken over by machines who, in order to survive, have farmed the human race in one giant complex where they use their body heat to power their own existence.

As an extra layer to ensure their survival, the machines have plugged the humans into what they call 'The Matrix'...A super sophisticated computer simulation which contains a replica of 20th century civilization thus giving the human the illusion that they are living in the world when in actual fact they are being controlled and used as energy by the machines...

As fantastical a plot as this may be it's a great analogy to use when talking about social anxiety, social confidence & social interaction in general...

To a certain extent we all live in a kind of 'Social Matrix'...In other words a kind of social construct containing beliefs and values that have been set by someone out with ourselves and that we believe to be true and absolute.

Think about it...were you ever told from a young age any of the following:

"Don't talk to strangers!"

"Wait until you're properly introduced!"

"Don't be pushy, all good things come to those who wait!"

"Better safe than sorry"

In her book 'How to Work a Room' Susan Roane calls these 'Mother's dire warnings'. Rules designed to get you to conform that may have served a useful purpose at some stage but now, in adulthood, need to be seriously revised.

Social norms and rules can have such a power over us if we let them. Obviously many of them are there to keep society in place and ensure working order but a lot of them just simply no longer apply...The world is changing at such a rate that we can no longer afford to hold on to out-dated belief systems and ways of viewing the world...

I once read somewhere that the illiterate of the future will not be those who cannot read or write but those who cannot learn and un-learn. As time goes on I'm finding myself buying into this notion more and more...

For me this is where the social matrix comes in. Most of us live our lives immensely restricted due to fear of what might happen if we break some invisible social norm. That somehow we will be ostracized from society because we do something that breaks the status quo.

In the 1960's sociologist Harold Garfinkel conducted a series of interesting experiments on this phenomenon called 'Breaching experiments'. He asked his students to go out into the world and do things that involved breaching the social norm. Things like going into a shop and haggling for the price of a pair of jeans or purposely dropping litter in front of people to see their reaction.

The interesting thing about the breaching experiments was that, the first time someone carried one out, they experienced intense feelings of fear and anxiety...Even though logically they knew they were safe, deep down something stirred inside that made them feel under threat...

Even more interestingly, after they had done 3 or 4 breaching experiments in a row this fear disappeared and was replaced by a strange feeling of liberation and freedom...

This strange feeling of liberation and freedom is what happens when you step through those social norms and rules...

When you have the deep realisation that these social rules that have held you back aren't really rules...they aren't fixed in stone, in fact some of them are actually the opposite of what works. They are only really guidelines from the past that may or may not be useful depending on who you are with and the situation you are in...

It's a beautiful realisation to make...it's like the world starts to open up, the layers of illusionary social fear start to peel back and your belief in what you thought was possible suddenly expands...

Of course just because you see them for what they are doesn't mean you can't still play the many games of society. You won't get very far if you don't. social guidelines are useful just remember that's all they are...They don't really stop you from doing the things you want to do...

So my challenge to you is this...for the rest of the week start conducting your own breaching experiments. Don't start with the scariest thing you can possibly think of, start off small and work your way up. It could be something simple like walking up and talking to stranger for five minutes or going into a Chinese restaurant and asking for pie, chips and beans...

You'll find the number of times you do your breaching experiments to be the most important thing...Most people when they reach about 3 or 4 over a relatively short space of time they start to experience this sense of strange liberation and freedom that comes with Breaching The Social Matrix.

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