You are – primarily – the sum of your friends. Although you spend a lot of time with your family and your peers at work, it’s truly your friends who help shape your behavior.
From your personal life, to your career success and to the way other people see you, your friends can be an asset or a liability. If you truly are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, you don’t want your average to be the lowest common denominator (LCD).
Friends: Assets or Liabilities?
Even the strongest willed person can be led astray by spending time with friends who don’t share their values. There’s plenty of research that backs this up.
Let’s say you are trying to lose weight but your friends never work out, eat the worst diet ever and encourage you to join them in sloth, pizza and chocolate cake. That’s tough to resist for anyone.
When it comes to romantic relationships, a study published by the Journal of Family Psychology found that your friends’ opinions hold more sway over the success of the relationship than do the opinions of family members.
So while couples tend to stress over meeting the family—it’s a sign of commitment, after all—they should potentially be more concerned about meeting the friends. Which makes sense. Numerous studies have shown that our individual behavior can be greatly affected by our peer groups. From our study habits to delinquent behavior, our friends influence us. So if our friends question who we love, we, too, might start to question who we love.
A study done at Duke University illustrates how people often rely on stronger willed friends to make up for their lack of restraint. In essence, some people have the ability to take self-control cues from others and use them as a means of vicarious self-control.
“What we have shown is that low self-control individuals seem to implicitly surround themselves with individuals who can help them overcome temptation — you get by with a little help from your friends,” says psychological scientist Catherine Shea, the author of the study.
The Journal of Consumer Research also found that friends often bond more tightly be helping each other resist temptation. However, in that same study,
Researchers discovered that when it came to resisting temptations — like eating chocolate — sometimes friends were more likely to become partners in crime as they decided to indulge together.
Have you ever really thought about this subject seriously? Have you taken a critical look at the people you spend time with and evaluated your relationships? I did this when I was a much younger man and still striving for some measure of career success. You may find it helpful, as I did, to try this exercise, particularly if you are younger and are striving for personal growth.
Evaluate Your Relationships
- Make a list of the five people with whom you spend the most time on a daily basis.
- Evaluate what each one brings to your relationship. Look at both pros and cons. How happy are they? How successful are they? Are they ambitious? What are their habits – good and bad? Do they bring out the best, or the worst, in you?
- Consider how much they can contribute to your current life journey.
- Allocate more of your time toward those friends who provide the most positive benefits.
Some of the brightest minds all have reached the same conclusion: your success and personal growth are predicated more on who you surround yourself than any other factor. So, it becomes critical to select your closest friends carefully. I’m not telling you to cut off your good friends, since they are so hard to come by. I’m merely suggesting that you need to find a balance between those who help you on your journey of self-improvement and those who don’t.
And for that reason, remember what Benjamin Franklin said, “Be slow in choosing a friend, slower in changing.”