Are your friends the easiest route to self-improvement and a long, healthy life?

The people around you affect you far more than you believe.

The Longevity Project, which studied over 1000 people from youth to death had this to say:

The groups you associate with often determine the type of person you become. For people who want improved health, association with other healthy people is usually the strongest and most direct path of change.

In The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career, Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha talk about how the best way to improve particular qualities in yourself is to spend more time with people who are already like that.

In Charles Duhigg’s excellent book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business:

In a 1994 Harvard study that examined people who had radically changed their lives, for instance, researchers found that some people had remade their habits after a personal tragedy, such as a divorce or a life-threatening illness. Others changed after they saw a friend go through something awful, the same way that Dungy’s players watched him struggle.

Just as frequently, however, there was no tragedy that preceded people’s transformations. Rather, they changed because they were embedded in social groups that made change easier… When people join groups where change seems possible, the potential for that change to occur becomes more real.  

In fact, for most, friend selection may be the only method of sustainable change.

I’ve posted about how manipulating context is the most powerful method of change and who we spend time with — who influences us on a daily basis — may be the most powerful form of manipulating context.

Checklists require effort and people often fail at anything that requires sustained effort. The Longevity Project explains:

The second core error about health, which we’ve described in our research above, is the idea that we can make a major difference in health and longevity by giving people lists of health recommendations. We often hear physicians say, “Of course eat right, stop smoking, lose weight, sleep more, exercise, etc., etc., etc., should be the first choice in staying healthy but most of my patients can’t do this, so it is a great thing that we have these effective medications.” Such sentiments are perfectly natural, because if you hand most patients a list of life-altering changes, they will not make them.

Peer pressure, more often than not, is a very good thing. Just pick the right peers and make sure the pressure is working for you, not against you.

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About Eric Barker