Yesterday, during the Binghamton University Convocation, I had the privilege of watching Arel Moodie, author and motivational speaker, give a speech to a few thousand incoming freshman on what it takes to be a successful student.
One of the concepts he discussed was “the average of 5”, a rule that states that you become the average of the five people you spend the most time with. For example, if you constantly hang out with negative people, you will ultimately find yourself becoming a negative person too. If you spend a lot of time with friends who all work hard to get high GPAs, you will find that you also work hard to keep your GPA within that range too (I’ve personally experienced this phenomenon).
However, as often as this rule holds true, there are many cases where it simply doesn’t. There are plenty of cases in which a student, who has always known herself to be an overachiever, will consistently put in 110% regardless of how lazy or unambitious her friends are. Furthermore, do you personally feel that all of your unique characteristics are due to an averaging of the characteristics of your five closest friends? Likely not. We all have something about us that we feel makes us unique from many of our friends, colleagues, and co-workers. Although the “average of 5” rule is often right, there must be some underlying cause behind it that isn’t made obvious by the rule itself. We must dig deeper to find out the real cause of this phenomenon. Only then can we understand why the “average of 5” rule works.
The Underlying Cause Behind the “Average of 5” Rule
The underlying cause behind this isn’t a hidden secret or a revolutionary idea. Rather, it is a simple concept that can be found at the foundation of human behavior, which happens to be what makes it so powerful. This underlying cause is as follows: the combination of your self-image and beliefs is what determines your behavior. Although this is not a new idea (this concept was scientifically validated many decades ago), the “average of 5” rule makes a lot more sense when viewed through the lens of it.
Sometimes the people around us alter our self-image and sometimes they don’t. However, as social creatures, we tend to adopt the characteristics of the groups we are a part of. We begin to associate ourselves with that group and the behavior that goes along with being in that group.
For example, when I was younger, I was always a B- student. I never questioned this either. I told myself I wasn’t a genius and therefore never strived to achieve a grade higher than a B. But around the time of my sophomore year of high school, a lot of my friends were admitted to an Advanced Placement class. I was hesitant to join this class because it clashed with my self-image of being a B student, rather than an A+ student. But the teacher called my house personally and convinced me to join the class. By spending time with the kids in this class, I slowly adopted their study habits, work ethic, and mindset that an A+ is always possible with the right study strategy. My self-image changed during that year and has remained so ever since. And as you saw in my case, the people I was surrounded by influenced my self-image, which filtered down into my behaviors. The takeaway here is that the “average of 5” phenomenon occurs only when our self-image changes through associating with a particular group.
When “The Average of 5” Rule Doesn’t Work
Two years ago a powerful shift in my self-image occurred; I started weightlifting to try a new activity that was beneficial for my health and self-esteem. I quickly fell in love with it and still go to the gym multiple times a week. Even though the people I spend the most time with rarely exercise as much as I do, it hasn’t affected how often I go to the gym. I will always see myself as a health conscious individual who puts a high priority of physical fitness. Obviously, it would be easier to stay motivated if my close circle of friends also exercised frequently, but the fact that they don’t hasn’t affected my self-image. Therefore, I haven’t become the average of the people I spend the most time with.
The Power of Shaping Your Self-Image
It was very timely that I saw Mr. Moodie present the “average of 5” rule a few days ago, since I’m currently in the process of writing my upcoming e-book:“Unlimited Drive: Using Decades of Motivational Research to Achieve Your Toughest Goals.” This free, yet information-packed e-book is scheduled to release on September 20th. One powerful aspect of motivation that I discuss in this e-book is shaping your identity through group associations. The powerful “average of 5” rule is a derivative of this type of social-based motivation. In the e-book I discuss the theory behind social motivation and how to go about associating yourself with groups that will motivate you to achieve some of your toughest, but most rewarding goals. In other words, this particular blog post was the theory, and the e-book goes into the how-to, so that you can effectively utilize it to shape your lifestyle and achieve tough goals.
If you want to receive the e-book when it launches, simply join my newsletter by filling out the form on the top-right of this page. Or you can just click here. It takes less than 15 seconds to sign up and you will receive top-notch techniques and action plans for designing your ideal lifestyle through goal-setting, productivity, and self motivation.
I hope that you benefit from the ideas found in this post. And as always, let me know what you think in the comments section below!