How do you feel when a friend or family member picks up a preference or habit from you? Maybe they start liking the same types of music or develop mannerisms similar to yours.
Do you say, “Hey, you got that from me!” Are you proud and happy that you were able to influence them? What if it is one of your bad habits they picked up - especially if it is one of your children?
More and more research highlights "the social proximity effect" and shows that we become like the people we hang around with. We pick up not just their tastes, but their decision making and performance habits as well. The entrepreneur and motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, famously said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
You are also more likely to buy things your closest friends buy and develop similar values to theirs.
That this happens should not be a surprise but the effect can be larger than you may have guessed, and It often happens without our awareness - at the subconscious level. Unfortunately, sometimes the contagious behavior is something we would rather avoid.
I can think of a few undesirable behaviors I picked up in my college years that, in hindsight, I realize I probably wouldn’t have adopted if I lived in a different dorm or even on a different floor. (Yes, I exercised some rather poor decision making at times.)
How much of an influence do people in close proximity have? Here’s one example - while many factors lead to obesity, research has shown that a person’s chance of becoming obese increases by 37% if their spouse is obese. It increases 40% if you have an obese sibling, and a whopping 57% if a close friend is obese.
Likewise, studies show that people who hang around smokers or drinkers are more likely to smoke and drink themselves.
The same holds true for habits dealing with money, exercise, and social behavior.
The good news is that positive behaviors are transferable too. If you spend more time with people that eat healthy, spend money wisely or behave conscientiously, you are more likely to pick up or continue those behaviors too.
Focus on the positive but be aware of the negative
It’s important to think about the habits of the people you hang around with and what you may be emulating without knowing it. A good place to start is to take a mental inventory of your habits and behaviors that you would like to change, Who among your closest friends exhibit those as well? Did you pick up the bad habits from them? If those habits are truly damaging and harmful to you, think about spending less time around those influencers.
However, watch out for the trap of judging others harshly. No one is perfect and we are all a combination of good and bad habits. Expecting perfection from your friends is a sure recipe for ending up lonely!
Another approach it to try reversing the direction of the influence. Be more influential on them in a positive way. Remember - we need to be active in both directions and that means being cognizant of how others are influencing us as well as how we are influencing others, in both good ways and bad.
Then focus on how you do want to be and spend more time with people you are like that. That’s easier said than done, though, as deep friendships are difficult and take time to develop and nurture. But you don’t need to become close friends with them - just spend more of your time around them.
Social media and other tools for connecting with others have made it very easy to find people who are interested in, or exhibit, the habits and behaviors you would like to emulate. Do you want to be more frugal? There are plenty of groups of like minded people. If you want to contribute more of your time, energy and money to worthy causes - find people who are involved in philanthropic groups.
Think well and be well.
- Steve Haffner
Want to learn more about improving your decision performance?
Click here for my free book, 7 Strategies for Making Better Decisions