Tuesday Psych Post ~ Who Are You Going to Hang Out With?, part 3
The last two Psych posts discussed how being in groups leads to the polarization of ideas (Part 1) and how to start to have conversations with acquaintances that negatively influence your diet while also overcoming weak motivation towards a goal (Part 2). In this post, I will be discussing two more of the most common problems when it comes to your nutrition goals and the people you surround yourself with.
3 – You don’t have good role models for you to mirror.
Do you know what makes something “normal?” It may not be what you think and it is heavily influenced by other people. Ready? More than anything, what’s defined as “normal” is how other people react to certain situations and events. In psychology, there are a number of different concepts related to how people react to other people. For instance, there’s a concept called the bystander effect and can be seen in when people DON’T take action when a crime is being committed, because there are other people around not taking action. Another concept is Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory.
Here’s two examples:
1 – In the 70’s, there was a crime being committed. Not just any crime though…in fact it was a murder. The sad thing about this murder though was that there were at least 30 people witnessing this event and not one person called the cops. Why did no one take action?
Because no one SINGLE person took action. Since no one took action, they took it as normal or thought that someone else had already called the cops and therefore the responsibility was diffused throughout the group. The more people that act as though nothing “tragic” is happening, the more that no one will step up to take action.
2 – Another example, but from the opposite end of the spectrum is when people have serious phobias. In a classic study by Albert Bandura, he took people that had a serious phobia of snakes. These individuals were able to get over their fear of snakes in less than a couple of hours. How? By watching other people handle snakes and not freaking out. This display of a “different normal” allowed them to start to picture themselves as being able to handle the snakes. Step-by-step, they were able to first observe someone touch a snake in a different room. Then they were able to go in the same room as the snake. Afterwards, they were able to watch as someone played with the snake in the same room. Step-by-step, they were able to overcome their fears of snakes and it all started with the observation of other people handling the snakes.
What both of these examples show is that we define what is “normal” through our observations of other people and what those people are doing. As such, the people that we surround ourselves with can have a huge influence over our ability to stick to a diet and exercise program through their habits.
So what can you do to overcome this? There are two things you can do to start to overcome this problem.
A – Ask yourself two questions – Who do you want to be and how do you want to live and feel?
Realize that innocuous statements such as, “Live a little,” and, “Everything in moderation,” sounds great in theory, but may not be apply to your situation. As such, these statements undermine your efforts and try to convince you of what’s “normal.” By remembering who you want to be and how you want to live and feel, you define the life you want as opposed to having others define it for you.
B – Recruit just one friend that will support you. In psychology there have been numerous studies showing that when people get in groups, they’ll do “crazy” things in order to comply with what everyone else is doing. For example, there have been studies where researchers have asked participants a question they knew the answer to, but before they could answer out loud the researchers had 6 other people give wrong answers. By the time it was that person’s time to answer, almost two-thirds of the people gave the wrong answer. Although this is a ridiculously high number and shows the power of social influence over us, what the researchers did next was fascinating. They ran the same experiment and had 6 people answer the question wrong again. What they did though was have one other person in the group give the correct answer. When the solidarity was broken, nearly 90% gave the correct answer. That’s a difference of over 50% changing the answer to what they originally knew because there was one other person who gave the right answer.
Therefore, when you have a partner or coach to help keep you accountable, whether that be a spouse, friend or simple acquaintance, you have much better odds of sticking to your plan.
4 – The people that might be unwittingly undermining your efforts can be the people closest to us. They can be your best friends, spouses, parents, siblings or other family members.
This section will be highly influenced by the book Change Anything and I will start this example with a quote from the book:
Know Who’s a Friend and Who’s and Accomplice
When it comes to your bad habits, you have two kinds of people around you: friends and accomplices. Friends help keep you on the road to health, happiness and success. Accomplices do the opposite. Accomplices aid and abet the “crime” of your current bad habit.
You may inaccurately call some of your accomplices “friends” because you enjoy being with them…The people around you don’t have to have an agenda to be accomplices. What makes them accomplices is not having bad intentions, but exerting bad influence.”
The authors go on to list different types of accomplices, such as the obvious ones who are in it to make money off of you. An example is a waiter offering you dessert after dinner. They’re not concerned about your health, but you should be.
They also go on to list some “Not So Obvious” accomplices. They list models (as discussed above) and hosts. Hosts set the agenda and the authors state, “is quite visible and active in our lives. They don’t want us to suffer per se, but they do enjoy sharing our weaknesses, and they’re more than willing to speak up. This group doesn’t just passively communicate what’s normal; they decide what’s normal at regular get-togethers. In so doing, they act as hosts to our unhelpful choices.”
For example, have you ever had people who love to gossip. They talk trash about the managers at work, degrade others romantic relationships by saying, “Did you hear…” or simply constantly encourage you to do things like, “Let’s go out and get a drink?”
These friends like the “old, unhealthy” habits and will keep you stuck to those habits if they have it their way. These are the people you can consider your hosts.
What You Can Do:
1 – Make a list of your accomplices. This has to be the first step. If you don’t know who’s holding you back, then it will be hard to figure out who you will need to hold conversations with in order to make the changes you’re making more permanent.
2 – Define Yourself and the guidelines upon which you want to live. Accomplices have power over your decisions because you give them that power. For you to take that power back, you need to know who you are and what you want. The questions from above are still applicable.
3 – Hold a Transformational Conversation. In part 2, I discussed where you should start to have this conversation. During this conversation, you should set the guidelines for the relationship to continue.
As the authors of Change Anything state:
“Don’t wait for people to read your mind. Tell them exactly what you want and need…Let your well-intended friends know what they need to do to help rather than hurt you. And put those who try to coach you back into old habits on notice….Start the transformation conversation by asking others for their help. Don’t blame others, but do explain the role they’re unintentionally playing in your unhealthy behavior…Then ask for a new and healthier relationship – you want them to be friends. Finally, explain exactly what you want them to do.”
4 – Distance Yourself From the Unwilling
If after that conversation, your friends continue to push you back into old, “bad” habits, you might have to distance yourself from those people. Sometimes this will happen pretty naturally. Stop partying and start working out and most of your “drinking buddies” will stop calling, while you will make new friends at the gym. Other times, this will not happen naturally and you may have to end relationships with good friends.
To this point, I will one last time defer to the authors of Change Anything:
“As you might imagine, distancing yourself from accomplices who were once good buddies (or maybe even loved ones) involves complicated value trade-offs and can be quite painful. We offer no advice other than that you not underestimate the role fans, coaches and accomplices play in your life.”
If you have any questions or comments about this series of posts, feel free to leave a comment below.