Are Bad Habits Contagious?

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“Your income will be the average income of your five closest friends.” -Jim Rohn

One of the greatest needs is that of association. We have a deep need to be accepted and to belong. Once we belong, we tend to assume the habits of those around us. This can be good or bad, depending on whose company we keep. This is why parents want to keep their children away from “the bad crowd” while they are young and impressionable.

Like it or not, we can still be impressionable at any age. Disagree? A study a few years ago found that even obesity is contagious among friends. Scientists found that when a person becomes obese, the chances of their friends also becoming obese increases by a stunning 57 percent! [1]

Two things are happening here: One is that the non-obese friends relaxed their own eating habits over time and slowly adopted their obese friends’ eating habits. Secondly, a bad sense of logic emerged in the non-obese friends. When the non-obese friends began gaining weight, they reasoned that although they had gained weight, they were still not as heavy as their obese friend. Therefore they continued their unhealthy eating habits.

When you read the quote at the beginning of the article, chances are you did a quick calculation to see if that math was true for you and your circle of friends. If it was and your net worth is not where you want it to be, ask yourself these questions:

Do the people you associate with inspire you to be the best you can be?

Do they have qualities that you admire and would like to have?

After spending time with them, do you feel positive or negative, affected or infected?

Assuming the answers to the above questions are not positive, what can you do to change course? Here are some recommendations:

Cut the ties. Think of it this way, these people are taking from you.  Taking away time and energy that would be better spent on improving yourself and increasing your wealth. Take a sword to these relationships now. If you’re thinking that you will cut these ties as soon as you meet someone better, think again. Life doesn’t work that way. Before you know it, you’ll have spent yet another year in the pit with these toxic people. A law of nature is that vacuums must be filled. Create the openings for far better people to enter your life and get to work on filling those vacancies. More on that in a minute.

Make a shopping list. Who you befriend should not be a matter of happenstance. You get what you demand. Successful people create their future and decide in advance the type of people they will, and will not, befriend. You should do the same by proactively identifying the qualities you demand in those who will be closest to you. Study the lives of successful entrepreneurs, business executives, investors, and community leaders. Write down the character traits you most admire in these people and set your bar at that level. Keep this in mind when you are building your list; a good friend is one who will not only encourage you, but also, one who will make you aware of your shortcomings.

Build your portfolio. If you want to increase your wealth, you need to make a deliberate effort to associate with people wealthier than you. Success leaves tracks and who better to learn wealth creation from, than someone who has already walked the path you are walking? By doing so, you will accelerate your wealth creation as you adopt the qualities that made these people successful and absorb them into your own life.

Where do you make these connections?   Use your shopping list and engage yourself in conventions, seminars, and workshops that focus on investing and success. Charity events are also a great way to both network and help a worthwhile cause. Meetup.com is a great site that allows you to join like-minded people in your area that have interests in topics such as investing and wealth creation. The site also allows you to create your own group, which is an great way to attract just the type of people you want as friends. The point here is to get out of your comfort zone and be creative. Any group of people with the values and results you want, are candidates for association.

We are not immune to the habits of those around us. As Alexander Lockhart said, “the attitudes of your friends are like the buttons on an elevator. They will either take you up or they will take you down.” To be the best, you must associate with those that represent the best and bring it out in you. Make a conscious effort to surround yourself only with positive, successful people and watch the effect it will have on you.

[1] Christakis, N.A., and J.H. Fowler. 2007. The spread of obesity in a large social network over 32 years. New England Journal of Medicine 357(July 26):370-379.