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Build Better Habits

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The Role of Family and Friends in Shaping Habits


One of the most powerful drivers of habits and behavior change is the social environment. The social environment influences our habits through the communities we belong to and the groups we are a part of.


We are all part of multiple communities. The groups we belong to shape our behavior. This is true in large and small ways. Large communities like nations, religions, and businesses can influence our behavior. And small groups, like what neighborhood you live in, the school you attend, or the organization you volunteer with, can also influence your behavior. The key factor in any of these communities is our sense of belonging. When you want to belong to a group, you want to repeat the habits of that community.


We naturally soak up the habits of those around us. If you move to a new neighborhood where your neighbors meticulously maintain their lawns, you might also start gardening or landscaping your lawn. If you start attending a CrossFit class where all your classmates eat a Paleo diet, you might also start eating that way. If you join a church or mosque that values community service, you might also start volunteering your time. Your culture sets your expectation for what is “normal.” Surround yourself with people who have the habits you want to have yourself. You’ll rise together.


Mike Massimino, an astronaut, is a perfect example of this concept. Massimino took a small robotics class at MIT. Of the ten people in the class, four became astronauts. If the goal was to make it into space, then that room was one of the best groups to be in. The "normal" level of performance in that room was much higher than average. Massimino soaked up all sorts of habits related to becoming an astronaut, many of which he probably wasn’t even aware of. This strategy can be utilized no matter what habits you desire to build. The key step is to join a group where your desired behavior is normal.


New habits seem achievable when you see others doing them every day. If readers surround you, you’re more likely to consider reading to be a common habit. If you’re surrounded by people who recycle, you’re more likely to start recycling too. If your child is surrounded by friends who value studying and getting good grades, he or she will likely develop studious habits too.


People who meditate say it is much easier to do with someone else. When you’re meditating alone, you can give up whenever your mind wanders. Maybe you were planning on doing ten minutes of meditation, but it’s been seven minutes and, whatever, that’s good enough. But when you’re meditating with a friend and seven minutes pass, you don’t want to be the first to quit. You’ll sit there the entire time. Nothing sustains motivation better than belonging to the community. It transforms a personal quest into a shared one.


Previously, you were on your own. Your identity was singular. You are a reader. You are a musician. You are an athlete. When you join a book club, band, or cycling group, your identity becomes linked to those around you. Growth and change is no longer an individual pursuit. We are readers. We are musicians. We are cyclists. The shared identity begins to reinforce your personal identity. This is why remaining in a group after achieving a goal is crucial to maintaining your habits. Friendship and community embed a new identity and help behaviors last over the long run.


QUESTION: What communities or groups are you that shape your habits? Please comment below.

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