Don't Let Bad Friends Drag You Down

Who you are is a function of whom you know. Your friends help shape your outlook, values, emotions and behaviors. Psychologists call this "social contagion," and it can work for or against you.
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It turns out Garth Brooks was right: when you have friends in low places, you'll have plenty of company to help you drown your blues away. But did you ever consider that your friends might be contributing to your problems? Who you are is a function of whom you know. Your friends help shape your outlook, values, emotions and behaviors. Their influence acts like an invisible hand that can either pull you down and thwart your efforts to reach your goals or give you a physical and psychological boost to help you create the life you want. Psychologists call this invisible hand "emotional contagion" or "social contagion," and it can work for or against you. Learn how to avoid its death grip and start letting social contagion help you create a richer life.

Social contagion says that your friends' emotions and behavioral attitudes rub off on you. If you think about this, it makes sense. Parents have long known to be careful about who Johnny befriends, knowing that the wrong crowd could sway little Johnny to do things he might not be inclined to do on his own. Of course, once we grow up, we're sophisticated and mature enough to not let outside forces shape us, right? Whoops.

Emotions and attitudes are infectious. Have you ever brainstormed with somebody really creative and found yourself becoming more creative? That's why having a workout partner is so successful. You pull each other up and shape each other's attitudes and behaviors. You instinctively want to order the chili-cheese fries but at the last minute decide to order what your more fit and healthy friend orders instead. However, social contagion also has a dark side. Ever been around a bunch of Debbie Downers? What happens to your creativity, outlook and ideas? They turn to rubbish.

So what's the takeaway? How can you exploit social contagion to help you create a richer life? You need to be more conscious about who is in your life. You wouldn't let a stranger in your house to rob you, so why would you let a colleague or "friend" rob you of your best life, something much more valuable than your big-screen TV and Bee Gee's record collection? It's time you give the pink slip to those people in your life who are dragging you down, kindly but firmly pointing them toward the door.

Sound too harsh? Social contagion says emotions, attitudes and behaviors are contagious and can spread from one person to another like a virus that causes the flu. Do you go out of your way to be around people who can make you sick? No, of course not. Then why risk being infected by those in your life who spew their negative attitudes and behaviors onto you?

But how do you know who's a friend and who's a foe? There are essentially two types of people, and the sooner you discover this, the happier, more fulfilled and successful you'll become -- even if it means dumping your best friend, neighbor or, yes, even your mother.

The "friend" types are what I call "energizers." These are people who lift you up, give you energy, make you want to be a better person, inspire you, make you feel good about yourself and your life, encourage you to take risks and motivate you to achieve your goals and dreams.

The "foe" types are what I call "leeches." These are people who suck the energy from you, who make you feel bad about yourself and your life, complain, are negative, gossip, talk you into doing nothing and bring you down.

The next step isn't rocket science. You need to rid your life of leeches and replace them with energizers. Yes, it's really that simple. It might not be easy, but it's simple. If you're struggling with eliminating the leeches in your life, then give them a second chance. Tell them that you're on a mission to reach your goals and that you need positivity, constructive feedback and support. If they're not willing or able to do this for you, cut them loose. They'll be OK. They'll have plenty of friends to help them drown their blues away.

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