You have likely heard the maxim “you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”
I believe that this rule runs deeper than our basic tendency to simply mimic our peers. Let me explain…
The people you spend time with are constantly influencing your desires. Desires are contagious, we tend to want what our friends want and develop an appetite for what our social circles deem important.
This produces an external motivation to fulfill these (memetic) desires, driving behavioral change almost unconsciously. Here’s how I see it unfolding:
What you and your friends talk about drives what you think about.
What you think about the most often is what your brain interprets as the most important.
What your brain interprets as the most important is what you are motivated to do.
You can easily see how this system can be positive or negative depending on the company you keep. By aligning yourself with people who also value what you (intrinsically) value, you tap into extrinsic motivation to accomplish an intrinsic desire. This is an incredible motivation hack.
However if your friend’s value system is screwed up, you shouldn’t be surprised if you find yourself caring about things that don’t matter. Making you overly concerned with areas of your life that don’t lead to long-term happiness or fulfillment.
We are all people pleasers, (albeit to varying degrees) usually this is seen as a strictly negative quality. Of course caring too much about what others think about you can very be unhealthy, however we can use this desire (to make people like us) to our advantage by aligning ourselves with people who reinforce the importance of what really matters in life.
I think this is one of the keys behind the resilience of the early church. Meeting together daily to “break bread” they reinforced to each other the importance of their mission. Allowing them overcome difficulties and the persecution they faced daily. This may have been why Paul was so adamant they “not forsake the assembly of themselves together.”
So which direction is your social network pulling you? Are they reinforcing your true intrinsic desires or acting as a form of resistance to living out a fulfilling life?
After all, you are becoming “the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”