There are two ideas in the personal development field that appear to be contradictions; however, since both appear to be valid, this contradiction must be apparent rather than real. The lack of substance to this contradiction is found when we explore the reason behind the two ideas.

The Conflict

The first idea was first brought to my attention by Earl Nightingale's "The Strangest Secret". In that talk, and probably in other places, Earl makes the point the opposite of courage is not fear but conformity. As he points out, the problem with most people is that they conform, and they conform to the 95% who fail.

The second idea I have heard in many places, but Tony Teegarden's work on Self Confidence is where I found the best presentation. Based on the idea that success leaves clues, he suggested that we use the technique of "modeling", by which he meant copying the behavior of those who have had success in a field where we want to succeed. By copying their behavior, we can reduce the time and effort needed to learn how to be successful in that endeavor.

Both ideas seem to be valid. If you want to be successful, you need to stand out from the herd. Tom Peters made this point very well in his book about the WOW of business. You need to use what makes you special, as Les Brown says. However, as teacher I totally agree that if you are trying to accomplish something, trying to be successful, copying successful people's behavior can dramatically shorten the time needed. This is a foundational premise of athletics, drama, music, and many other fields.

Resolving the Conflict

The key to resolving this apparent dilemma is based not on the act of copying but on the reason for copying. By looking at the reason for copying, we can determine when we should copy and when we should be original.

You see, conformity is copying not to learn but to hide. The purpose of conformity is to do what everyone else is doing so that you are accepted by everyone else, allowing you to hide in the pack. The Chinese have a saying, "The tallest tree is the one cut down." By conforming, you do not stand out, since you act like everyone else. Conformity also is the easy way out because you do not have to think about what you are doing. Just do what everyone else is doing without really thinking about why they are doing it.

Modeling comes from a different source. Modeling involves finding someone in particular and doing what they do. Since you are looking for a particular person, you are not looking at those with normal behavior but at those with unusual behaviors, behaviors which may have made them successful. Modeling is copying the behavior of someone who does not conform, and so you are making yourself a member of the group of those who do not conform. Modeling is actively thinking about the behavior you are copying, and doing so for a unique purpose, your success.

Success does leave clues, and those clues are often observable. You can see what successful people look like, you can hear what successful people sound like, and you can do what successful people do, and you can do all this faster through modeling. So use modeling as a shortcut to break out of conformity.

Author's Bio: 

John Steely has been teaching mathematics, study skills, and habits of success for over 25 years. This material comes from a course on Deep Self Confidence offered on his website.