So you’ve won a load of friends and you enjoy the influence you have over whomsoever you meet? Fantastic. However, you’ve now got to the point where there’s something you want to change. In my line of work, it is usually something in the domain of health and wellbeing that people want to change. But to bring about these changes requires an understanding of one’s environment and how that may be contributing to their current state of health and well-being.

Our social environments are a powerful determinant of our behaviours and habits. In this post I will explore Jim Rohn’s well-known phrase- “you are the average of the 5 people you spend most of your time with”. This is something that I always took as given, but I was interested to find out more.


It turns out that those we spend the most time with has a powerful effect on our behavior. So powerful, that it affects our subconscious behavior. This has been named as the “Chameleon Affect”. A study showed that even when strangers work together on a task, they begin to postures and movements. This began to happen after just 15 minutes of being in each other’s company.

Another interesting study showed that “a person’s chances of becoming obese increased by 57% (95% confidence interval [CI], 6 to 123) if he or she had a friend who became obese in a given interval” and the same study found that “Persons of the same sex had relatively greater influence on each other than those of the opposite sex.”

These points show that our immediate ‘real-world’ interactions with those in our environment, does have an impact on our own behaviour.

Let’s not forget that it’s now 2014. When I jump on the train in the morning, people on phones and tablets checking their instagram and facebook surround me. In thinking about altering one’s social environment I began to suspect that altering one’s social network may be appropriate.

To evidence this, one study showed that when one individual installed an application on facebook, others were more likely to install the same application. Whilst this is restricted to the domain of online behavior, we know that we are influenced in ‘real-world’ behavior too. Just think about those events you found out about on Facebook that you attend. Also, are you more likely to attend if your friend attends? Social contagion theory states that there is a threshold- a certain number of people “who must make one decision, before another person does so.” If we know a certain number of our friends are going to an event, we are more likely to attend that event.


Given that we clearly are influenced by our social environment, both real world and online, here are a few tips for you to make some adaptations to your environment.

1) Make those that you spend time with aware of your goal

Our friends are usually supportive of our goals. Let them know what your goals are, why their important and what behavior you will be changing. If giving up smoking, for example, they may stop inviting you out for cigarettes.

2) Interact with those who have the same goals

This is important. If you go attend a fitness class, talk to the others in the class about what they’re goals are and what strategies they have in place for achieving these goals. You may learn a new healthy recipe or receive a recommendation for a healthy restaurant.

3) Join groups of the same people on Facebook

Join groups of people who will be supportive of your goal. More importantly, like their posts and make comments so that they’re activity shows up in your feed more often, having more of an influential factor

4) Follow on Instagram

You’re thinking about not working out today, but you see on Instagram that your new friend from the fitness class you attend has posted a photo of her last workout and is looking in great shape. There’s your motivation to get up off your derriere and do the same.

5) Be active on social networks yourself

So you’ve decided you’re going to get that beach body? Commit to cooking healthy meals and posting photos of them and post photos of your workouts. Not only will you be documenting your success, you will begin to attract like-minded people who will motivate you further to keep doing what you are doing.


Nicholas A. Christakis, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., and James H. Fowler, Ph.D. 2007 “The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years” The New England Journal of Medicine 357:370-379

Granovetter M. 1978 Threshold Models of Collective Behaviour

Chartrand, Tanya L.; Bargh, John A. “The Chameleon Effect: The Perception-behaviour link and Social Interaction”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 76(6), Jun 1999, 893-910.

Bond, Robert M. Farris, Christopher J, Jones, Jason J. Kramer, Adam D.I, Marlow, Cameron, Settle, Jamie E. Fowler, James H. 2012 “A 61-million-person experiment in social influence and political mobilization. Nature 489, 295–298


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