Do opposites attract? What insane cosmic forces cause us to become friends? Do you ever feel that a friend is holding you back from growing?
It seems obvious that most friends have a similar worldview, similar objectives, and similar beliefs. When I got married and started my own company, my circle of friends was made up mostly of people I worked with.
We had similar objectives and shared some common beliefs. Some I became better friends with than others- it was probably those I shared a similar worldview with.
After I had a child, that shifted somewhat. I became friends with the other fathers and mothers on the street. I was responding to the world as a father, as were the other parents. We were bonded over a very important (not to mention emotional) goal- doing what’s best for our children.
When my marriage ran aground, I became friends with Bob from across the street, who I discussed in my previous post.
I Won’t be Impressed with Science Until I Can Download a Waffle
A recent study out of Dartmouth examined the brain activity of people within a social network as they watched videos. The researchers found that brain activity among friends within the social network was the same.
This implies that friends respond in similar ways to the real world. They found that these similarities can be measured, and used to predict friendships.
Not only could they predict who in the room were friends this way, but they could also predict how close of friends they were. The conclusion may be that we naturally gravitate towards those with similar worldviews, like Cormac and I, the Irish dude I met walking across Spain on the Camino de Santiago.
We became friends on the Camino (and walked more or less together for 10 days or so) due partly to a few commonalities- English was our first language, and we both have a similar way of looking at the world. From the blog I wrote while walking the Camino:
After a while, we walked uphill into a forest, pines and various coniferous trees surrounding us. It got a little cooler. Cormac told me a story about when he lived in Korea for 6 months.
He had dinner with 2 guys he was working with. One of them he called Pakeman who became a good friend of his. Another was a big guy, older, about the age of Cormac’s dad whose name was Pac-jeum-bae. I’m talking sumo wrestler big.
The three were out to dinner, and Cormac related that he had his camera stolen while he was riding a bike in Seoul. A guy just drove by on a moped and lifted his camera out of his basket. As the dude drove off, he turned around and smiled.
As they ate, the sumo wrestler excused himself. After about a half hour he returned with a camera, the one Cormac is using on his pilgrimage. Later Cormac learned that Pac-jeum-bae had lost a son, pretty early on.
Maybe the big guy was just doing something nice. Or perhaps he was doing something for the son he never got to know, the son he never got to help guide through life, the son he never got a chance to love.
We walked through Villatuerta. It was siesta, so only a few kids were walking around the town square. We stopped and had some lunch by the church- bread I had bought locally, some salami and cheese. An old dude walked out of the arch next to us, a smile on his face. It was quiet, peaceful. I was grateful for sharing this moment with Cormac, my new friend.
I Get By With a Little Help from my Friends.
Here are a few other elements that conspire to make us friends.
Going through stressful experiences together (negative or positive).
During these times, people bond emotionally. It’s why fraternity brothers who go through hazing become friends for life. It’s why childhood friends (who share their emotions during the most turbulent times-childhood and adolescence) become friends. It’s why our Cheeto-haired Groper in Chief got elected (Republicans appeal to (typically base) emotions, Democrats to intellect).
Spending time with someone.
A recent study shows that the most effective way of becoming friends is by spending time with them. In fact, it requires 200 hours to become their BFF. The same study shows that the human brain is capable of juggling 150 friends at once.
A study showed that similarity in DNA between two people may influence whether they’ll become friends. Could the dissimilarity of two peoples’ DNA be a contributing factor to racist tendencies
What does all this mean? We analyze things to have a better understanding of our world. Once we have a deeper understanding, we can perhaps find better ways to fix things.
If they can measure this stuff, what’s to say we can’t measure love, hate, and other emotions and where they come from? If we can, maybe we can put a end to some of the manifestations of those emotions, like war, murder, and racism to name a few.
Friends are part of the Context of your Life
Now that you have a better idea who your real friends are, and how you became friends, you may want to think about how your friends affect you, and your place in the world.
Life is a natural and organic process. We adapt and evolve due to the environments we select. You are who you are because of your environment. Unfortunately, in the industrialized world, we’ve been conditioned to ignore context (our environment) and obsess about ourselves.
Which is where “environmental design” comes in. It’s about changing your environment and creating conditions that will help you grow. When you change your environment, such as surrounding yourself with different people, your thoughts and emotions change.
These inner changes then alter your values and aspirations, which requires you to further change your external environment. Thus, by changing your environment, you can shape who you become.
Benjamin Hardy (“Willpower Doesn’t Work”) is familiar with Environmental Design. His parents divorced when he was 11, and he barely stumbled through high school.
He was more interested in sleeping and World of Warcraft while surviving on Little Caesar’s pizza and Mountain Dew. But he intuitively understood that his environment was negatively affecting him.
So he began to make a few small changes in his life (including leaving the friends he had been hanging with), which eventually led him to attend and graduate college, get married, and become a professional writer.
Finally, while attending a Ph.D. program at Cornell for Motivational Psychology, he began to study willpower and discovered what would become the underpinnings of his book “Willpower Doesn’t Work.
Hardy uses science “new” disciplines (Brain Neuroplasticity, Epigenetics, Cognitive Neuroscience, Environmental Psychology/Design to name a few) to show us how science is beginning to understand our behavior at a deeper level, which in turn can provide us with better tools to live fuller, more productive, happier lives.
Just like camels have evolved many adaptations to allow them to live in the desert, we adapt to our environments by falling into habitual patterns and lifestyles that may suit us for the time being, and we become lazy, overworked, disenfranchised, and don’t care or can’t see a way out.
If you keep having the feeling that you’re missing something, that you’re not living up to your fullest potential and you want more out of life, consider changing your environment. This may mean making a few hard decisions about jettisoning some friends.
But guess what. Those changes might just be good for them too. And maybe being able to walk away is what being a true friend is really all about.