Social networks are extremely important, not just in keeping us connected with people and encouraging communication and interaction, but for influencing what kinds of decisions we make.
The Situationist has an article describing recent research that found a tremendously strong link between social networks and obesity. From the perspective of social networks, obesity, much like drug use and memes in general, spreads like a disease through groups of people.
Be careful who your friends are
This isn’t really a new idea. We’ve known for quite a while that who you spend time with affects how you turn up. Especially growing up, your peer group has a stronger effect on who you are than your parents.
There are a million different methods for breaking bad habits, all focused on changing how you should behave. But these methods neglect the importance of your social group.
Why is Silicon Valley such a strong attraction for startups? The costs are huge and it’s packed with a bunch of people at least some of which are probably trying to do the exact same thing you are.
There is benefit in terms of access to venture capitalists and skilled workers, but the real benefit seems like the simple fact that you are surrounded by people all trying to start a company. Everyone talks about it all the time, and it encourages you to think and work even harder on your own idea.
The same is true for obesity. No matter how many diets or motivational techniques you use, if you are eating meals with friends and family that want big portions of bad food, you will have a really hard time saying no yourself.
I’ve noticed that this is particularly true in relationships. There is something special about sharing an indulgence with the person you love. If normally you never consider ice cream, you might walk by an ice cream store with your partner and think about the two of you eating ice cream together and laughing in the sun…and it’s all over.
So what is to be done?
Change who you spend time with
What do you think of when you look at the people you spend time with? What bad habits do they have that you are trying to avoid? What good habits do they have that you value?
Try to find some people who you admire and want to learn from. These are the people you should be spending time with.
It is very hard to consciously change your social group, especially for negative reasons. Still, changing your friends can have a very real impact on your ability to make changes in yourself. There are at least two ways to make things a little easier:
- Make incremental changes. If you have weight problems don’t start spending all your time with marathon runners. This will probably just demoralize you. Instead, find people who are more active than you, but perhaps not fitness nuts. As you progress, you can move to a new and even better group.
- Don’t actively reject old friends. In fact, they may accompany you as you move to a different lifestyle. Instead, focus on the people you admire and want to spend time with. As you spend more and more time with these people, you will spend less with your old group, but important people from your old group will maintain contact.
It may seem harsh to suggest getting rid of social groups, but in a very real way the people you spend time with are either encouraging you to be better or holding you back. And if they are holding you back, how much is the relationship really worth?