Everybody Knows That! The Pull of Conventional Wisdom

Continuing our “Gravity Series” at Free of Gravity, where we’re delving into some of the most common (and most powerful) types of Gravity that keep us from escaping our comfort zones and achieving our heroic potential.


Our previous entries in this series focused on the Gravity of comfort zones and the Gravity of guilt over doing for ourselves. Today’s Gravity “henchman” is no less insidious, no less powerful than his other two companions.

I’m talking about that sneaky bastard Conventional Wisdom. Ol’ CW (not to be confused with “The CW” television network… whose tag line, interestingly, is “Dare to Defy.”) rears his ugly head all over our lives—anywhere a set of established beliefs set the standard for what is right, or good, or true. And where that standard is applied to everyone, regardless of individual circumstances or experiences.

Where have you encountered a piece of prevailing knowledge or belief that you found just patently wrong based on your own individual experience? How difficult did you find it to argue your case against the weight of that belief in others? Tough sometimes, isn’t it? Even with facts to back you up.

It’s hard to challenge the group-think that CW creates. Sometimes it’s the power of an authority that “encourages” compliance with a particular belief set (FDA Food Pyramid, anyone?). Sometimes it’s just the weight of so many people believing in the truth of something, whether or not that truth has even been proven, or proven true for everyone (“Everyone should own a home instead of renting,” or “Everyone should go to college, get a good job at a good company, and work your ass off to make a lot of money, to buy a lot of crap…”)

For most things, it’s easier to follow everyone else than to set out on our own. It’s hard to question the assumptions on which we’ve built our decisions, to research and experiment and find our own path, to stand up against others who use Conventional Wisdom as a shield against reasoned opposition. “Everybody knows that!” is the refrain.

But throughout history, there have been instances where mavericks were brave enough to challenge the prevailing beliefs of the time: that the Earth was round not flat, or that the Earth was not the center of the universe. New scientific knowledge eventually proved the truth of those beliefs, and they became the new common knowledge.

Who knows—you might just be one of those mavericks—maybe not for the history books, but for right now, for yourself and the people who matter to you. Here are some suggestions on how you might do that:

  1. Become a self-expert. My dear friend Scott Dinsmore of Live Your Legend had this at the top of his “How to Find and Do Work You Love” list (check out the video here). But it’s not just for work; it’s important to any and every facet of our lives. Find out what you really want out of life, what your values are, what your goals are. Figure out the kind of person you want to be. Figure out what sort of legacy you want to leave. Use that self-knowledge to power the decisions and actions you take going forward.
  2. Take time to question. Don’t blindly follow the herd. Resist the easy lure of Conventional Wisdom. Take a moment to ask questions about commonly held beliefs, and see if they stand up to what you know about yourself. Even if you believe in something strongly, it’s useful to take the opposite view, and question it in the way someone in the opposite camp might. Or you might seek out someone with those opposing beliefs, and have a conversation. Who knows what you might learn?
  3. Do your research. The internet puts the knowledge of the world at your fingertips. Get good at asking the right questions of your favorite search engine. It may take some time for you to sift through all the results, but as you refine your search, you’ll get to the answers you seek. And yes, for most every topic, there will be more than one position, and people advocating each one. Which position makes the most sense to you, based on your own experience, and the veracity of their arguments? That’s the one to start with. Then find out for yourself…
  4. Experiment. If you sense that the CW answer isn’t right for you, or you’re considering among several options you’ve researched, conduct your own experiment for a week or a month. For example, you may have researched nutrition plans for health and weight loss, and found compelling information in favor of Vegan and Paleo methods. So try them out for a couple weeks or a month each, and see what your own results are.
  5. Share your discoveries and your truth with others. Once you’ve found something that does work for you, or that you’ve confirmed by your own experiments, share it. Your tribe is waiting for you to do exactly that. Your followers (especially your kids) are waiting for you to stand up, power pose—fists on hips, emblemed chest out, cape flapping—fully embrace your heroic self and lead by example.

Here’s hoping these tools help you to identify instances where Conventional Wisdom is exerting influence on your thoughts and beliefs… which in turn affects your actions and decisions… and ultimately the direction of your life. Make your own deliberate choices about the direction that’s best for you, and not just what “everyone else knows” is the right thing.


If you’d like additional resources and encouragement to help you overcome the manifestations of Gravity in your own life, and become your most heroic self, be sure to subscribe by entering your email in the box in the sidebar to your right. You’ll get your own copy of the Be Your Own Hero manifesto, updates from the blog, and other subscriber-only tools and goodies.

[photo courtesy of Maria J Aleman (cc)]

One thought on “Everybody Knows That! The Pull of Conventional Wisdom

  1. James Michael Taylor

    I believe in Tim Ferriss.

    So when Tim Ferriss wrote The Four Hour Body, I invested faith in his diet plan.

    But I didn’t test and measure, experiment and earn feedback; I bought in zealously, unconsciously committing to doing this diet or doing nothing at all, because nothing else could possibly work for me.

    This sent me down a six-year path of failed starts in my efforts to lose weight and rebuild health.

    It wasn’t until yours and my recent conversation about other options that the (painfully obvious) epiphany struck me: Tim’s diet may not be the right one for me. Here I spent years making almost zero progress because my own Conventional Wisdom was built on Tim’s Unconventional Wisdom.

    This is an awesome post Steve, to help folks (my hand held high) test their assumptions, and kill off the ones that aren’t serving the lives they want to be living.

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