The role of family and friends in shaping our habits

Habitomic Journalist
Habitomic Journalist

For most of our evolutionary history, our ancestors lived in tribes. Becoming separated from the tribe—or worse, being cast out—was a death sentence.

We want to fit in the groups, bond with others, and earn the respect and approval of our peers. Such inclinations are essential to our survival.

Meanwhile, those who collaborated and bonded with others enjoyed increased safety, mating opportunities, and access to resources. As a result, one of the deepest human desires is to belong. And this ancient preference exerts a powerful influence on our modern behavior.

We don’t choose our earliest habits, we imitate them. We follow the script handed down by our friends and family, our church or school, our local community, and society at large. Each of these cultures and groups comes with its own set of expectations and standards like when and whether to get married or how many children to have.

In many ways, these social norms are the invisible rules that guide your behavior each day. Often, you follow the habits of your culture without thinking, without questioning, and sometimes without remembering.

Most of the time, going along with the group does not feel like a burden. Everyone wants to belong. For instance, if you grow up in a family that rewards you for your chess skills, playing chess will seem like a very attractive thing to do. So, behaviors are attractive when they help us fit in.

We imitate the habits of three groups in particular: 1. The close.  2. The many.  3. The powerful.

1. Imitating the close

Proximity has a powerful effect on our behavior. This is true of the physical and social environment. We pick up habits from the people around us.

When your friends smoke pot, you give it a try, too. When your wife has a habit of double-checking that the door is locked before going to bed, you pick it up as well. As a general rule, the closer we are to someone, the more likely we are to imitate some of their habits.

Our friends and family provide a sort of invisible peer pressure that pulls us in their direction. Of course, peer pressure is bad only if you’re surrounded by bad influences. We soak up the qualities and practices of those around us.

One of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where your desired behavior is normal. New habits seem achievable when you see others doing them every day. If you are surrounded by fit people, you’re more likely to consider working out to be a common habit.

In fact, your culture sets your expectation for what is “normal.” So, surround yourself with people who have the habits you want to have yourself. You’ll rise together.

To make your habits even more attractive, you can take this strategy one step further. Join a culture where (1) your desired behavior is the normal behavior and (2) you already have something in common with the group.

Nothing sustains motivation better than belonging to the tribe. It transforms a personal quest into a shared one. Previously, you were on your own. Your identity was singular. When you join a book club or a band or a cycling group, your identity becomes linked to those around you and also growth and change are no longer individual pursuits.

The shared identity begins to reinforce your identity. This is why remaining part of a group after achieving a goal is crucial to maintaining your habits. It’s friendship and community that embeds a new identity and help behaviors last over the long run.

2. Imitating the many

Whenever we are unsure how to act, we look to the group to guide our behavior. We are constantly scanning our environment and wondering, “what is everyone else doing?”

It’s usually a smart strategy. There is evidence in numbers. But there can be a downside. The normal behavior of the tribe often overpowers the desired behavior of the individual.

There is tremendous internal pressure to comply with the norms of the group. The reward of being accepted is often greater than the reward of winning an argument, looking smart, or finding the truth. Most days, we’d rather be wrong with the crowd than be right by ourselves.

The human mind knows how to get along with others. It wants to get along with others. This is our natural mode. You can override it— you can choose to ignore the group or to stop caring what other people think—but it takes work. Running against the grain of your culture requires extra effort.

In summary, when changing your habits means challenging the tribe, change is unattractive, and when changing your habits means fitting in with the tribe, change is very attractive.

3. Imitating the powerful

Humans everywhere pursue power, prestige, and status. This tendency can seem vain, but overall, it’s a smart move. Historically, a person with greater power and status has access to more resources, worries less about survival, and proves to be a more attractive mate.

We are drawn to behaviors that earn us respect, approval, admiration, and status. Once we fit in, we start looking for ways to stand out.

This is one reason we care so much about the habits of highly effective people. We try to copy the behavior of successful people because we desire success ourselves. Many of our daily habits are imitations of people we admire.

High-status people enjoy the approval, respect, and praise of others. And that means if a behavior can get us approval, respect, and praise, we find it attractive. We are also motivated to avoid behaviors that would lower our status.

In other words, we are continually wondering “what will others think of me?” And altering our behavior based on the answer.

To sum up, the culture we live in determines which behaviors are attractive to us. We tend to adopt habits that are praised and approved of by our culture because we have a strong desire to fit in and belong to the tribe.

So, try to choose proper friends for yourself because one of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where 1. your desired behavior is the normal behavior and 2. you already have something in common with the group.

Also,You can share any achievements you get with your friends and family with the Habitomic app.