How to Be a Nonconformist

Three Parts:Understanding Social PressuresFinding Your PerspectiveBeing a Nonconformist in Daily Life

It's a little ironic to follow steps on how to become a nonconformist, but this is not the same as conforming to restrictive social pressures. Use this advice and suggested strategies to help form your own understanding on nonconformity, and your own perspective, behavior, and style.

Part 1
Understanding Social Pressures

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    Avoid knee-jerk rebellion. You might be sincerely unhappy about the pressure to conform, or society's requirements. Try not to let this spread to "nonconformity for its own sake." Becoming a nonconformist is about discovering what works for your personally, not choosing the more difficult path out of spite.
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    Let others run their own lives. Stereotypes and snap judgements are just another side of social pressure. Don't form an opinion of someone based on their membership in a subculture, whether that's a religion, a fandom, or a school clique.
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    Think about the groups you belong to. Keep in mind that even a subculture without mainstream status or social respect has its own codes of behavior. Examine these pressures, as well as mainstream social pressures. A group of like-minded people can make you feel comfortable and accepted, but it will not necessarily teach you how to find your own path.
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    Use social media less often. If you use social media, try to restrict your use to a few minutes a day or less. Constantly checking on other people's behavior, and/or sharing what you are doing yourself, can make it hard to develop your own genuine opinions.
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    Critique mass media messages. Popular television shows, magazines, music, video games, and other media are major forces in shaping conformist expectations and pressuring people to follow them. Consume these in small doses, if at all, and use a critical eye to examine them. Ask yourself questions like the ones below, and come up with the answers yourself:
    • If you have a strong emotional reaction to a television character, do you think the show creators intended you to? Why would they choose that character to be a villain, a hero, or a sidekick?
    • How do advertisements and song lyrics portray a good time, a good person, a romantic or sexual relationship? Is there a better alternative, or more options that should be encouraged?
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    Examine your own actions. After each social encounter, or after you make plans for one, reflect on your behavior and the decisions you made. If your actions or decisions were made to please someone else, or to avoid teasing, recognize that these were reactions to conforming pressures. Equally, if you avoided doing something "popular" or expressed a negative opinion because other people were interested in the topic, the social pressures around the action or topic were still determining your behavior. Make a mental note of these occurrences, so you can think honestly about your preferences the next time the situation comes up.

Part 2
Finding Your Perspective

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    Expose yourself to different viewpoints. The more educated and experienced you are about diverse perspectives, the less you'll take mainstream opinions for granted. Talk to community members you wouldn't normally encounter, outside of your religion, ethnicity, sex, and age group. If at all possible, travel to new places and spend time getting to know the locals.
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    List your priorities. Sit down and think about what would make you most happy, if social pressures didn't exist. Decide whether you'd like your clothes to be comfortable or stylish, and which kind of clothing you think falls under that description. List the activities you enjoy, or ones that you would like to try out.
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    Examine your inspirations. Copying someone is antithetical to the whole idea of nonconformity, but using individuals or movements as inspiration for your own ideas and behavior is perfectly acceptable. Ideally, critically examine many influences to help direct your own style, political opinion, and behavior. These can be individuals, such as Nikola Tesla or Gandhi, or groups, such as a political movement, a band, or a sports team.
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    Experiment. Try out different behaviors and styles. Learn who you are, what you like and dislike. Many people will assert their standards, opinions, and ideals. Think for yourself and choose the ones that seem right to you.
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    Read a variety of books. Read authors from other countries and centuries, especially ones who originally wrote in another language. Seek out authors who defied the literary and social conventions of their time, to get a perspective not included in mainstream works. Here are a few examples:
    • U.S. counterculture authors, such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Kurt Vonnegut, and Hakim Bey.
    • Novelists that experiment with form and style, such as James Joyce, Flann O'Brien, Andrei Bely, Milorad Pavić, and Gabriel García Márquez.
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    Read books that deal directly with nonconformity. If you'd like to understand conformity and social pressures better, many books discuss the issue directly. Two main categories of books deal with this especially:
    • Many young adult novels deal with issues of nonconformity, including the high school novel Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, and the sci-fi series Uglies by Scott Westerfield.
    • Scholars who have written directly against conformity include Ralph Waldo Emerson, Freidrich Nietzsche, Henry David Thoreau, and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Part 3
Being a Nonconformist in Daily Life

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    Persevere regardless of feedback. Negative feedback doesn't matter. Positive feedback is not required. Remind yourself of this whenever you feel anxious or stressed because of social pressures.
    • Just because you don't follow social convention blindly doesn't mean you're immune to it. Try to minimize time spent with friends or family members who discourage you or give you unpleasant feedback.
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    Talk about your perspective. If anyone wants to talk to you about your nonconformist behavior, be open and honest about your perspective. There's a reason you make the decisions you do, and talking about them can help reinforce your confidence, and maybe even encourage others to think for themselves.
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    Lose the drama. Do not overreact or tersely call out words; it tends to aggravate those around you. You may be acting differently than everyone else, but don't confront their behavior unless you find it actively harmful. Most of all, don't try to convince people to conform to your personal, nonconformist behavior. Be an example, not a proselytizer.
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    Understand consequences. Being comfortable with your behavior does not make you free from consequences. Make sure you are prepared to face negative reactions or punishment for your actions, and move forward only when expressing yourself or challenging the status quo is important enough to outweigh them.
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    Wear what makes you happy. When shopping, ignore everything you've heard about fashion, what's emo, what's preppy, and all the rest of it. When you see a shirt you like, decide why you like it. Is it because you truly like it, or because you saw a magazine feature it? Decide whether you're comfortable with the answer. If you are, buy the shirt; if not, move on. Nonconformity isn't about wearing controversial clothes, it's about wearing whatever you like.


  • You might find a group or a location with fewer social "rules," or less enforcement of them, where you can be yourself without fear of harassment. The anarchist author Hakim Bey describes these as "Temporary Autonomous Zones" (TAZ).
  • Change can be a good thing. Creating your own rules once and sticking to them forever is not the point of becoming a nonconformist.


  • It can be difficult to gather the strength and clarity to strike forward regardless of opinion, especially if friends and family members react negatively. Try changing your behaviors slowly, gaining confidence along the way.

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Categories: Nonconformist Styles