“If Johnny jumps off a cliff, are you going to jump off of one too?” You can substitute your friend’s name in place of Johnny, but you probably remember hearing that question when you were a kid. The admonishment boiled down to this: just because your friend does something stupid, it doesn’t mean you should do it too. But the truth is you’re more likely to.
Psychologically, we are affected by our social network. Ever heard that you’re the average of the five people you hang out with the most? Well, it’s true. In a 2007 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that when one person gains weight, their closest friends gain weight too. Family members had less influence than friends. Friends mattered the most, even if they lived far away.
All of this to say, be careful who you choose to be friends with. If you spend your free time with friends who are negative, odds are you’re going to find yourself feeling more negative. On the other hand, happy and hard-working friends can influence you in a positive way.
So, how do you take advantage of “Friendfluence”?
1. Know What Your Ambitions Are.
In order to find the people who will help you be the best you can be, you have to know what you really want to be doing with your own life. Do you want to run marathons? Do you want to speak another language? Do you want to stress less? Once you know the life you want to create, you can seek out exactly the group of people who can help you achieve that life.
2. Create a “V.I. Me” Group.
Put together a group of three to five friends whom you would classify as “Very Influential (to) Me.” These are people who make you say “wow” when you hear what they’re up to, or their latest projects excite you. Or there’s something about their demeanor that you admire. Try to meet up with these friends or talk with them at least once a week to encourage each other.
3. Get New Friends.
If you’re going to be the best version of yourself, you need to hang around with people who are similar to your ideal. They can show you how they got there. Success leaves clues! The people you surround yourself set the bar for what’s normal. If you don’t have any “role model” friends yet, find a group of friends for whom “extraordinary” is their “normal.”
Good friends can make you happier and healthier. As social creatures, we adapt to the values and behaviors of our social group. Remember that the next time you’re standing on a cliff next to Johnny.