Some of the most successful people you know today have this one trait: the willingness to challenge mainstream ideas. One of the real keys to making the most out of life is the willingness to think differently than most people.

It means you have to be willing to question what most people do and tell you. It means you have to have the courage to try something different. It means you have to be brave enough to stand out from the crowd and not take the safe route.

Most people take the safe route, because they’re afraid of being different and failing. If you do nothing amazing but you go with the crowd, then you don’t look stupid. But then you miss out on the amazing.

If you never stand out from the crowd, you will always be average. And that’s fine, but the people who stand out are the ones who make a mark, who innovate and discover, who learn the freedom of exploration and invention.

If you stand out when you apply for a job, you’ll be more likely to be noticed. If you don’t, and you play it safe, then they’ll likely ignore you.

If you stand out when you start a business, people will be curious and check you out. If you’re just one of many businesses doing the same thing, why should others care about you? Why should they choose you?

And yet, most people play it safe:

–Most people go to school and then college because that’s what everyone else does. They don’t know what they really want to do, so why not take the traditional route? And that’s fine, but it’s good to look into other options.

–Most people get a job and stick to it because that’s the traditional way to make a living. Others might be a solo entrepreneur or start a small business and dare to create something new and live a life they’re passionate about.

Learning to think differently

When you hear an idea that’s different than what you’re used to, pause. Instead of rejecting it outright, consider it — is there some merit? What are the arguments, the evidence?

Let go of the emotions that come up, the defensiveness. When you are told that this is the way to do things, take a second look. Is this really the best way? Are there other possibilities? If no one has thought of them, can you? Just because an idea is different, doesn’t mean you should accept it. Look at the bulk of the evidence, and learn to spot flaws in reasoning.

Test out different ideas. Just because most people don’t do it, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. They might all be wrong, and this might be better. No better way to find out than to test it. If it’s not a good idea, drop it and move on.

Learn to be proud of your ability to test things that people traditionally believe in, and not to worry so much if you stand out. In fact, learn to see standing out as good — not just to stand out, but to forge new ground, to challenge ideas, to express your individual voice rather than blending in.

Never fall victim to the dominant culture of contentedness and the ease of mediocrity. Train your mind to never worry what others think or say, and learn how to eliminate the voices of fear and doubt.

Commit now to doing whatever necessary – as hard and long as it may be, and despite the failures that inevitably result – in order to accomplish your goals and dreams and do something significant from the norm you have to think differently.