Recently I attended a conference about how the brain forms new habits. A fascinating topic that seems to be right on time for those of us who need to make some lifestyle changes but may have trouble staying on track and motivated.
The psychologist who was presenting new information about brain plasticity (meaning that the central nervous system is capable of changing in response to internal and external environmental messages), included some takeaway tips at the end,
One of them was a suggestion that when working on making a lifestyle change, it is important to surround yourself with people who are living in a similar way, or have achieved the goal to which you are aspiring.
A proverb dating back to the mid-sixteenth century said, “Birds of a feather flock together.” It’s an adage that holds true today, and while they didn’t know the scientific reasons for it, it was a keen observation of human behavior. Our brains are equipped with mirror cells, which act as an instantaneous aid in helping us mimic behavior. Like most things, this can be used for good or ill.
My three year old grand-daughter was demonstrating to me how she could run fast. She made a point to hold her hands in a certain way, elbows bent, fingers all aligned. I asked her mother where she had seen that, and was told that she had observed it on a work-out program that her mother uses. Anna Grace is highly interested in running very fast, and she instantaneously mirrored the behavior of some athletes who were running fast.
We can apply these mirror cells in ways that are helpful to us. And we can be aware of how we are also being influenced, probably unconsciously, by negative behaviors that we want to leave behind.
Did you know that your relationships are affecting the level of success that you are experiencing? Do you know that the people whom you hang out with are greatly determining how you achieve in your given field and how much money you make?
It’s true. Studies show that we tend to earn about the same amount of money that our friends and family members do. We also tend to have similar expectations regarding lifestyle and achievement.
There are certainly exceptions to this, and perhaps you know someone in a family that has been the family hero in exceeding everyone’s expectations. However I’ll bet that the hero found someone or a group who modeled successful behaviors and helped make the necessary connections which enabled her/his success.
Are you also aware that your companions are influencing the way you think and therefore your mood? Yesterday I was working with two different women who are dealing with this issue. And they are in completely different ages and stages of life. Lillian is a recently retired woman in her early 60′s who came to see me because she was depressed and dissatisfied with her life. Terri is in her 20′s, working in her first “real” job.
Lillian recognized that someone who has been a long time friend is both demanding and draining of her time and energy. In fact, lots of people in her life depend on Lillian for help and advice. In making some decisions about what she intends for her new phase of life, she said that she needs some new friends who are positive and involved in activities that she would enjoy.
Terri, as a young adult, is grappling with a similar situation. Most of her friends work 9-5, and their time off is spent partying and shopping. Terri has some goals for buying her own house and someday going into business as a caterer. She is recovering from a stint of careless shopping and credit card abuse and is working hard to pay off her debt.
So what might the company she keeps be influencing each of them? Thinking, behavior and moods are contagious. As humans we rather quickly adjust to what is going on around us and even behavior that would have been abhorrent to us becomes “normalized.” I believe this occurs on an energetic level as well as a physical one.
That expression about someone “giving off a vibe” is more than new age or hippie speak. The vibrational level that we experience as a living being, is transmitted and received by those around us. Some people are more sensitive to this than others, but we are all affected whether we are aware of it or not.
I’m suggesting that you DO become aware of it and make conscious and intentional choices about who you hang out with. If you have goals that you are seriously intending to meet, or a lifestyle change that you are intending to incorporate, then you must have some like-minded folks at your side. We never make this journey alone.