The Power of Connection

I just read an article on Wired.com and NYTimes.com that mentioned “new” research showing that obesity and happiness can be tied to your social network. Researchers used the Framingham Heart Study (a famous study about diet, health and weight control) and built a model of the social connections within the group of study subjects.

What did they find?
From the NYTimes article…

By analyzing the Framingham data, Christakis and Fowler say, they have for the first time found some solid basis for a potentially powerful theory in epidemiology: that good behaviors — like quitting smoking or staying slender or being happy — pass from friend to friend almost as if they were contagious viruses. The Framingham participants, the data suggested, influenced one another’s health just by socializing. And the same was true of bad behaviors — clusters of friends appeared to “infect” each other with obesity, unhappiness and smoking. Staying healthy isn’t just a matter of your genes and your diet, it seems. Good health is also a product, in part, of your sheer proximity to other healthy people.

Christakis and Fowler have also written a book that I am looking forward to reading (or listening to on audio CD if available)….Connected… the book
Bottom Line…
You are influenced by the people you are connected to and if you want to change your outlook, you may want to consider changing your environment.
How can you use this information in your life?
What if you consciously thought about who you hang out with and chose to put yourself in new settings based on the people involved? That is one reason why I enjoy being a part of Toastmasters (a public speaking and leadership development organization). The people that join Toastmasters are the type of people who want to improve, are willing to try new things and regularly stretch their comfort zone. If hanging around these people helps a little of those qualities rub off on me… that’s a good thing !
Where else can you apply this?
  • Athletic events… these are usually attended by people who have a focus on physical health.
  • Real Estate Investment Associations… I’m a member of one in Connecticut and have found it worthwhile to be around people who want to make money in real estate.
  • Churches… if your spiritual growth is important to you, church events could be for you. I would suggest ones where there is interaction between attendees so that you can make stronger connections within the group.
  • Civic organizations… Toastmasters is just one example of like-minded people gathering together. Others include Lions Club (my grandfather was part of Lions for many years), Kiwanis club or others.
  • Schools… I lost an incredible amount of weight when I was in graduate school and I’m sure a good amount of that was due to the fact that I was around thin, athletic people all the time. Schools or continuing education are also good places to connect with people with an interest in personal development or a particular lifestyle that interests you.
  • Online groupsFacebook, LinkedIn and other social networking sites might not offer as much interaction as face-to-face groups but they can definitely help you identify possible groups to join. Meetup.com is another great place where you can find groups online and then attend the meetings in person.

How has the “Connection concept” impacted my life?
First, it got me thinking about who is in my life now and who has been in the past. In terms of weight, some of my closest friends from as far back as high school are as overweight as I am while a surprisingly large number of my friends from Toastmasters and business interactions are much thinner than I am. I guess that means that I am going in the right direction. My ex-wife was thinner than I am and when we were together (and often eating the same diet), I was much thinner than I am today. The people I communicate with the most now are also in pretty good shape which means that either they are influencing me to be thinner (thanks!) or I’m influencing them to be heavier (sorry!).
I have begun to apply the concept to my business dealings as well. I am a member of the Connecticut Real Estate Investors Association (CT REIA) and have met a bunch of like-minded individuals (along with heard some excellent speakers). It is hard to say when or how this will pay off… I’m just convinced that it will.

What ideas do you have?
Please leave a comment below with ideas that might help our readers apply the “network effect” to their lives !
d.Mark “Dave” Wheeler
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