Tuesdsay Psych Post ~ Who Are You Going to Hang Out With?
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn
This is an oft-cited quote that is meant to stress that who we spend our time with will greatly influence how close we get to succeeding in any endeavor.
This article will demonstrate how the people you surround yourself with will tend to typically make or break your success.
For example, say your goal was to lose 40 pounds, but you live with your Mom or spouse who cooks you extremely calorie dense, fast digesting carb-laded foods almost every night. On Monday she cooks spaghetti and a couple of small meatballs. On Tuesday she makes Rice with some canned corn and some chicken. Wednesday, it’s back to Pasta.
On top of that, the person you sit close to at your job has the biggest sweet tooth imaginable and brings in cakes, cookies and candy snacks almost everyday.
So what do you do? Do you start cooking your own meals? Do you tell your Mom or spouse something, to which she agrees, but then keeps cooking the same meals, night after night? Do you tell your co-worker to stop bringing in foods? What do you do? At the end of the day, the only thing to do is to speak up and take action.
You and People at Work
Let’s pretend that you start working at a company that encourages health and fitness. They promote 5K’s and give you added incentives to get to the gym at least 10 times every month. For example, they give you an extra vacation day for every 10 days that you show up in the gym. In this sort of culture, what would you expect from the people that work there? Would you expect them, individually to encourage health and fitness? Would you expect them to encourage you to join the gym when you first start working there?
In this example, the answer seems obvious that they would.
Now, let’s say you have to move and start working at another company that discourages leaving your desk for any amount of time. Go to the bathroom 3 times a day and your manager starts to wonder where you’ve been all day. Would you think the people in this company would encourage you to go to the gym during the work day? In this example, this answer also seems obvious, but towards the negative.
Now let’s combine these two examples. Let’s say you work at a company that encourages you to go to the gym by giving you incentives to go to the gym (the vacation for every 10 visits to the gym). So you work in this company who has this great incentivized program for health and fitness, but you have a manager who highly discourages leaving your desk to go to the desk. You work in finance and you have too many things to do in order to get your work done on time.
The culture when you start working for this company, and in particular this department, is one of long workdays. In fact, the people in this department pride themselves on the hours they work. They look at the other departments that don’t work nearly as long as being “slackers” and don’t understand how they can continually shirk their work in order to go to the gym.
While this is happening, you befriend someone in another department who has a manger that encourages the use of the gym. The people in this department can’t believe that your manager is so strict and can’t see how your manager doesn’t understand that by using the gym more often, you become more productive at work.
Now that you’ve been at the company for a couple of months, you start to agree more with the people in your group and start to hang out less with the person from the other department, because that person now “bothers you” because they’re so “lazy.”
How did this happen?
Groups and Extreme Opinions
Many studies have shown that being in a group setting makes you take more risks…or it makes you more conservative. In other words, being in groups leads towards extremes of positions. There is no middle ground.
If you’re a Republican then Obama is the worst President ever! If you’re a Democrat then George W. was the worst President ever! Why the extremes?
The extremes come about as a result of the polarization that comes from being in a group.
For the previous example, the people in the culture had to explain their long hours. If you were just by yourself though, you might have said, “This sucks, but it’s a choice I make for my career.” If you were in a group though, you would lead more to the polarization of opinions. In other words, the group may have explained the long hours in one of two ways – either by saying “This sucks,” or by saying, “We’re the best and other groups suck.” Either way would’ve allowed for a good explanation to get through the work day.
But it would be a more polarized opinion then one that you might’ve had on your own. In other words, being in a group exaggerates people’s opinions.
Why is this? Here’s a summation from Richard Wiseman’s book 59 seconds:
Teaming up with people who share your attitudes and opinions reinforces your existing beliefs in several ways. You hear new arguments and find yourself openly expressing a position that you may have only vaguely considered before. You may have been secretly harboring thoughts that you believed to be unusual, extreme or socially unacceptable. However, when you are surrounded by other like-minded people, these secret thoughts often find a way of bubbling to the surface, which in turn encourages others to share their extreme feelings with you…Other studies have shown that compared to individuals, groups tend to be more dogmatic, better able to justify irrational actions, more likely to see their actions as highly moral, and ore apt to form stereotypical views of outsiders.
Psychologists speculate that the reason is that as once an opinion starts to form, people tend to agree with that opinion. People that oppose the original position are drowned out by the extremes and as such, people that may have not told such a previous position start to express theirs believing they have social support for that opinion. As time goes on, these ideas become more concrete in nature and lead to extremes or polarization of opinions.
Group Think and Fat Loss
Let’s bring this article back to you.
Say, you have a group of friends that don’t work out. In fact they absolutely abhor the concept of “exercising.” They say things like, “It’s so boring,” or, “It’s so masochistic.” In other words these group of friends do NOT see the benefits of working out. This is like the self-righteous group at work who works long hours and think they’re the “best” because of it.
You have another group of friends (alright, let’s be honest – one friend) who loves working out. He always seems happy and enjoys the challenge of pushing himself to his limits. He’s in “great shape” and you always seem to go to him whenever you have a question about the gym or nutrition. This is like the group who is encouraged to go to the gym.
Who do you choose to hang out with if you’re trying to lose fat and live a healthier lifestyle?
Most likely you continue to hang out with your friends who abhor working out. You tell yourself, “I have enough self-control and I’m my own person. I can do what I want.” This for 99% of people, a majority of the time, is delusional at best and just plain BS at worst.
You see, as explained above, almost anytime you are in a group, your opinions will become polarized. This occurs most often when you have unrealistic expectations, such as losing 40 pounds in 2 months, combined with a group that thinks exercise is “stupid.” What happens is that the first week, you don’t lose any weight. The second week, you lose a total of 1 pound and your friend asks you, “So, how’s working out going?” You say, “Uh, it’s going.” And leave it at that.
The third week, you don’t lose any weight again and you start doing the math. One pound in three weeks. This Sucks! Your friend asks you again, and this time you say, “It sucks. I’m working so hard and not seeing any results.” Immediately that person says, “See, that’s why I don’t work out. It’s just not worth it.”
You don’t say anything, but all of a sudden your thoughts start to agree with that friend. So the next Monday when you’re supposed to go to the gym, you feel tired and tell yourself, “It’s not worth it. I’d rather sleep.” After three more weeks of these little excuses of not getting to the gym, you all of a sudden convert into one of your friends. YOU start telling people, “Exercise sucks. It’s just not worth it.” And you use your three week trial of trying to lose weight as a “perfect example” of how this is true.
This is my biggest pet peeve when people enter into weak group settings. The loss of an individualized opinion and instead one that is polarized as either/or.
What would happen if you were in the other group?
The group that didn’t focus on weight loss, but on how exercise adds to their lives? This time you go to the gym and don’t lose any weight and they say, “It’s alright, it’s just the first week.” The second week, you lose a pound. This time, they’re like, “That’s great. Keep going!” The following week, you don’t lose any weight and so they ask you, “But how do you feel? Do you have more energy? Are your clothes fitting better?” You say, you’re not sure, but you have a little more energy. That following Monday, when the alarm goes off you tell yourself that you, “Have to keep going.”
No matter what the results, your friends have a suggestion.
Not losing weight? They ask about your diet or about how your clothes fit, or how you feel. They ask about your sleep. They recommend working out harder either on the treadmill or by hiring a trainer.
In other words, you still have a LONG way to go. Despite not seeing the results as quickly as you would have liked, you stick with the workouts. In fact, you start going more often. Not only do you start going more often, but you change your diet slowly and consistently. Within a year and a half, you’ve hit your goals while looking and feeling better than you ever have.
Someone that hasn’t seen you in a couple of years comes up to you and tells you that, “You look great. What did you do?” You tell them that you’ve been working out and eating better.
Now this person has a choice? Either they can befriend you or go back to their other friends that “hate exercising,” and so the cycle continues.
The question is, who are you going to be? Are you going to be the person that hangs out with the people that “hate exercise” or are you going to hang out with the person that “loves working out.”
This choice, although seemingly small and innocuous will often times be the make or break factor in your quest for a healthier and more aesthetically pleasing body. The choice is yours.
What are you going to do?
Next week’s Psych Post will discuss strategies to make the transition to hanging out with a group that is aligned with your goals.