How much influence does a friend have?

02.18.22 |

Our family, friends, and co-workers have a tremendous impact on how we act and their influence is a powerful contributor to how we eat, move, sleep, handle stress, spend our free time, and enjoy our occupations. Studies have shown that if we radically change our surroundings then we can radically change our behaviors.

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to go for a jog or a long walk during a vacation but when you get home you can’t keep the routine going?

Have you ever attended an event surrounded by inspiring people and left that event feeling like you could move mountains? How did you feel a few weeks later when those people were no longer around?

It is no accident that these experiences are almost universal. Your surroundings, both the physical environment as well as the people in it, have a profound impact on the choices you make.

When you’re on vacation, the brand new surroundings are like a clean slate. Nothing there is tied to your existing habits so you may find that it’s easier to be active.

When you interact with people, their mood and behaviors are infectious, so when you spend a weekend at an OPTAVIA Convention, for example, you get a taste for what it’s like to be immersed in a community of people who value the same things and who want to see each other succeed.

If you think back over your life, you can probably think of a time when spending a good deal of time with a negative or an angry person also made you feel those emotions.

A huge longitudinal Harvard study by Nicholas Christakis et al. (check out page 141 of Dr. A’s Habits of Health for the full explanation) showed the direct impact that an individual’s total social network has on health, weight, fitness, happiness, and overall wellbeing. If a friend of yours becomes obese, it increases your probability of becoming obese by 57%.

But there is good news too: If your best friend exercises regularly and is really active, it triples your chances of also being physically active. If a best friend eats healthily? You are five times more likely to also have a healthy dietary pattern.

The takeaway here isn’t that you should immediately jettison everything and everyone in your life to start over, but it should make you think more deeply about the bubble you have built for yourself. If you find that you aren’t getting positive support, your health coach and the Habits of Health Community are there to fill that void. If you find that a person in your life is not a positive force for you and your goals, it may be worth talking to them about your concerns.

There is not necessarily a perfect next step here because our lives are complicated, but for the parts we can control, the Habits of Health makes it clear: Even a small improvement can make a big impact.