I have a dear friend who is the living definition of a free spirit. Her heart is filled with wanderlust, fierce creativity, and openness to all modes of connection – platonic, romantic, and everything in between. She dreams of traveling to Myanmar, dates men she meets rollerblading down the street, and hosts concerts in her living room.
When my friend began a career in a hospital, she was surrounded by other folks who – at the ripe, old ages of 24 and 25 – were getting married, having children, buying houses, and settling down. Though my friend knew that she had ample time to find these staples of a traditional life, her workplace community spawned in her a sense of anxiety. She felt incomplete – like she should have found a husband, bought a house, and had kids yesterday. The more she was exposed to her colleagues’ standards, the more those standards became her own.
The same phenomenon takes place throughout our lives. When you spend enough time with a close friend, you begin to adopt her idiosyncrasies. You begin to “speak the same language” – and that sameness applies not only to your words, but your values and perceptions of reality. Parents encourage their children to befriend “good influences.” Teachers caution students not to succumb to the power of peer pressure.
Our communities influence our values and behavior dramatically. If your New Year’s Resolution is to change an old habit, adopt a new mindset, or embrace a new lifestyle, make it stick by surrounding yourself with people who already live that way.
As you plan to enact your New Year’s Resolution, take a moment to consider the people in your orbit: the colleagues you go out with after work; the friends you party with on Friday night; the acquaintances you meet for coffee. Do they actively embody the values you aspire to? If not, it might be time to entrench yourself in a new community.
In 2012, MIT Economist Esther Duflo released a study that captured the impact of elected female officials on young women’s aspirations for political office. She coined it The Role Model Effect: “Seeing women in charge persuaded parents and teens that women can run things, and increased their ambitions. Changing perceptions and giving hope can have an impact on reality” (emphasis added).
If people in positions of power expand your sense of what is possible, imagine what might happen when you steep yourself in an entire community of people who live the way you want to live. Imagine what might happen when your desired habits are not exceptions to the rule, but the rule, among your peers.
Like-minded communities are especially impactful for folks who buck the social standard. As a non-drinker in an alcohol-happy society, I know that having a non-drinking community is critical to my sobriety. When I’m out to dinner with my drinking peers, I lick my lips at the thought of a glass of red wine – but when I’m out to dinner with my sober friends, the thought doesn’t cross my mind. It’s not that I have to resist the impulse to drink – the impulse is, quite literally, not there at all. Being around these friends – with whom I share a similar story and vision – perceptibly shifts not only my values, but my lived experience in the moment.
Knowing that the standards of our communities become our own is an incredible tool for life design. It gives us the power to extricate ourselves from social groups that imbue us with unwanted standards, and embed ourselves in social groups that model our ideals.
What if you intentionally participated in new communities as a method of constructing the life you want? With the New Year and its requisite resolutions right around the corner, now is a fantastic time to consider how an aligned community might support your desire to change:
- Want to get become more assertive? Surround yourself with powerful leaders who speak their mind.
- Want to become more comfortable in your identity as poly, kinky, or a member of the LGBTQ* community? Relax into the company of folks who have been walking the path for years.
- Want to make progress on your book, mural, or dance routine? Develop friendships with fellow creatives.
- Want to improve your relationship with your partner or spouse? Create opportunities to spend quality time with other loving and compassionate couples.
- Want to enhance your spiritual practice? Gather with like-minded folks who drink tea and discuss philosophy late into the night.
- Want to develop a healthier work/life balance? Surround yourself with folks who value and make time for play, like creatives, recreational athletes, or children.
Being part of a community does more than banish loneliness and warm your heart. It tangibly shapes your mindset, your values, and sense of what is possible – and helps you feel supported when it really counts.
How might you make community part of your New Year’s resolution? Leave your plan in the comments below!