On Approval

Everyone wants to be liked. Humans seem to have a genetically inbuilt need for approval. It is deep-rooted in our psyche. We are social animals, pack animals, and it is a primal urge within us to be accepted by others of our kind. We fear being outcast, alone and unneeded, and we endeavour to do whatever it takes to please others, be accepted by them, and cement our position within the fold. All of this behaviour is understandable in the context of prehistoric humans, where mere survival dictated the necessity for grouping; safety in numbers was the key. Looking out for each other, protecting each other, working together to find food—life was hard and being part of a community was a natural way to make things easier for all. Going it alone back then was not a great option if you wanted to survive.

Fast forward to the 21st century, the digital age, and you would think we might have evolved into more autonomous beings, perfectly equipped to go it alone. After all, we can get just about anything we need delivered to us at the click of a button online. We can also interact with other people online, anywhere in the world. There’s no longer any reason to be accepted as part of the local pack for now we can be part of the global pack. Therein, perhaps, lies the problem. It is no longer enough to welcomed within our own little community—nowadays we feel pressure to be accepted within the ultimate pack, the whole of humanity. Because the internet gives us access to everyone in the world we have come to feel as though we need everyone in the world to like us in order to validate our membership into this global club.

As is usually the case, amongst the first to recognise human needs and behaviour are marketing people. And you can quickly see how the tech giants are all fully switched on to this. Look at all the major players: Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, and so on. What do you notice they have in common? They are all taking advantage of our need to be liked. Everywhere you go on the internet you are confronted with it—approval ratings, feedback requests, ‘likes’ and ‘followers’. How much of our day is now spent engaging with such things? The answer is probably more than you realise. We are becoming obsessed with these concepts. If we are buying or selling something we become paranoid about ratings and reviews. Doesn’t matter if you are in the market for a pencil or a Porsche, an app or an amphibious landing vehicle, whatever it is you won’t be able to get through the transaction without being begged for ratings and reviews. You can buy a bog-standard toilet brush (sorry) on Amazon and in the days following you will get emails pleading with you to rate it and write a review about it. It is bordering on insanity.

Social media does basically the same thing but it is far more sinister for in effect we are being asked to rate and review each other. Oh, that innocent little heart symbol, how it consumes us! It was such a good idea to give people a way to share their photos and thoughts with the world, ah but they had to go and spoil it didn’t they? Likes and comments. Two jovial, friendly little words that are quietly taking over our minds and ruling our lives. It is no longer enough to simply share a lovely thought or photo with everyone—now we need feedback. We need to see how many likes it gets, how many comments it receives. If the response exceeds our expectations we are filled with childish excitement; if it fails to meet them then we are crushed. We become fixated on the feedback. We can be disappointed that a photo we were particularly proud of gets few likes, then elated when we put out a pic of our sleeping cat and it wins the internet. What does that say about us? About all of us? Why are we even playing this game? It is madness, and living for the tally of those little hearts is a dead end if you are searching for the road to happiness. But what can we do? The ‘like’ culture has already become engrained in us. It isn’t simply going to go away; it is here to stay. Well, I have an answer for you, a little advice.

I call it ‘pre-approval’. In effect, it is ‘self-liking’ but that’s not a term I particularly want to promote. Pre-approval is a simple idea—before you post anything stop for a moment and try to see it through the eyes of your intended audience. If you are happy with it then mentally give yourself a like, and then post it. If you can’t give yourself a like then hold back on posting. If you are true to yourself and follow this idea strictly then you can have confidence that you are happy with whatever you post. And if it meets your own approval then that is all the approval you need. Once you have posted it then you need to let go of expectations. You have no control over the approval of others so don’t give it any consideration. If you were happy with your post then you have done a good thing in sharing it but move on and get your mind back to things that are within your control. If you are curious later on to see how your post was received then fine, take a look, but don’t allow the figures to consume you. It really isn’t that important. Whether hit or miss, just move on to your next thing. You really don’t need approval from the rest of the world. You just need to focus on gaining approval from the only person you have control of—yourself.