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The Reality Distortion Principle Helps You Make Happier Choices In Life, Work, And Beyond

Once a year, thousands of people in cities all around the world come together to take part in the infamous World Naked Bike Ride [NSFW!]. If you don’t know what that is, well, it’s exactly what you think.

About as many come out to watch gawk. The riders want to say, “What’s so wrong with being naked?” The clothed spectators want to say, “There’s something wrong with being naked, but this is pretty interesting.”

In a way, the naked riders are out together “getting away” with something. As a society, we’ve pretty much said: “If you’re out in public, you should have clothes on.”

But where did that rule come from? And why do we follow it? Wouldn’t it be easier if we could all just wander around naked as we please? What about other areas of life where you follow some sort of social rule that seems unnecessary or unhelpful?

The answer lies in how your brain perceives pleasure and relates to other people. That’s important. But what’s really important is, once you understand it, you can decide when to break these social rules to live a happier, healthier life using what I call the Reality Distortion Principle.

Freud’s Theory: The Reality Principle

Sigmund Freud—one of the first modern psychologists—dedicated his life to understanding why people do the things they do. One fundamental theory he pioneered was that we’re all controlled by the Reality Principle—your mind’s ability to see how others around you behave, and try to mimic it—in order to minimize conflict.

As you develop into an adult, you learn the social norms of the people around you. Then, you learn how to follow them so you fit in.

The Reality Principle is important—it’s what helps all of us get along and, for the most part, not at constant war with each other.

But the Reality Principle can also get in the way, holding you back from doing things that make you happy even when they aren’t harmful to anyone else. Surely you can think of something you’d happily make a part of your life if only your family/friends/co-workers would understand.

Maybe you’d ride your bike around naked? Here’s how you can actually do that…

Reality Distortion Principle: All The Rules You Know Are About To Change

Ever thought about all the different rules you follow each day just to get by in a crowded world? Probably not, actually; most are subconscious. But the few you do think about from time to time…

  • Why do I wear clothes?
  • Why do I work eight hours every day?
  • Why does the checkout guy ask me how I’m doing when he doesn’t care? And why do I say, “Great!” when I’m feeling terrible?

…are usually answered with a shrug and, “I don’t know. That’s how it’s always been.”

But, truth is, it hasn’t always been that way. Before clothes, we walked around naked as we pleased. Before the modern workday, we worked only when we needed to. And before common courtesy… well, I don’t know about that one. Maybe we all just punched each other in the face.

What’s important to understand is what’s socially “correct” today has not always been that way and probably won’t be forever, either.

Our morals, feelings, and how we think about life are always in a slow state of change, but hopefully headed in the right direction. For a glaring example, look at the history of the world through the lens of human rights.

And how did all these things change? Someone decided to change them! Somebody thought critically about they way they lived their life, decided something everyone else did wasn’t right for them (or others), and distorted Freud’s Reality Principle.

Slowly, others decided to follow the lead and a new world of social norms came to be. The Reality Principle is still alive and well, but now the rules have changed. They’ve been distorted.

Do You Want To Change Or Be Changed?

You genetically wired to follow the rules of society. In many ways, this is a good thing. But you also know the rules are ever-changing, and you’ve been gifted with a highly developed brain able to think critically about what rules you should and shouldn’t follow.

Every day, as you lead your life, you have to decide if you want to change the rules, or if you want them to be changed around you.

If you find yourself bumping into a social norm that doesn’t sit right with you, you don’t have to follow it. You won’t be an outcast—at least not forever. Living a happy, meaningful life doesn’t always mean fitting in. And if you find it hard to do it on your own, try find others who’ll support you.

Reality and its rules are not set in stone. Enjoy your naked bike ride.