Social Contagion: How To Hang Out With High Rollers

Let’s play a game.

I’ll paint a few scenarios, and you guess the right answers. Sound good? Wonderful.

Here’s the first one:

A group of friends meet up for Happy Hour every Friday night at the local TGI Fridays, pounding strawberry daiquiris or whatever happens to be on the sale menu from 4-7pm. Every so often, four of the five friends step out for a smoke break.

What’s more likely to happen?

  • The four individuals well on their way to lung cancer stop stepping out,
  • Or the lone wolf begins puffing a pack a day?

It’s not exactly a critical thinker, I know.

What about this: There are twelve cadets in a U.S. Air Force Academy squadron. Eleven of the cadets come into camp in good physical shape #CurlsForTheGirls

The last cadet has a BMI that classifies him as obese.


  • The sole cadet more likely to pack on a six pack, or
  • Is the fitness level of the rest of the squad going to come down?

Believe it or not, the whole group is more likely to suffer on their fitness assessments than #12 is to have a six-pack.

This is how powerful of an effect others have on us, particularly with “negative” behaviors like smoking or chicken nugget consumption.

There’s a famous Jim Rohn quote that says, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

That isn’t just rah-rah, cheesy self-help stuff. It’s science, man.

In 2011, I moved to North Carolina with my future mentors. In a matter of three months, I tripled my income, changed my sleeping habits, cut my TV consumption, and started attending business and self-development conferences before I even knew what the hell a conference was.

I started a business, I wrote over 100 blog posts, and I added twenty pounds. No, not of fat, your boy put on some serious muscle.

Yep, #CurlsForTheGirls

In psychology, there is this idea called “clustering” – don’t fall asleep on me – it’s the idea that “behaviors, attitudes, and health outcomes tend to form in social clusters.”

It’s also known as social contagion.

Who we hang around with can affect our sleep habits, the food we eat, our spending habits, our six-packs (double meaning: both in the visibility on our stomach and Bud Lights consumed), and even how lonely and depressed we feel.

You thought you liked veggies on your pizza, but now you hang with a pepperoni crowd. It starts off innocently enough. “No no, don’t order an extra pizza just for me.” you politely say. 

You’re hungry, so you have a slice. The next week you grab two slices, and the next, you grab three.

Next thing you know, you find yourself home alone on the couch, after pounding 14 daiquiris at TGI Fridays, craving pepperonis, and you’re forever changed.

And all of this happens silently, without us noticing. Social contagion happens whether we like it or not.

Let me give you some strategies on how to get in with a social group that is going to help you level up your health, mindset, wealth, and pizza-game, rather than deteriorate it.

Strategy One: The Imaginary Friend

Remember those WWJD bracelets that kids wore in elementary school? Yes, the “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets. Well those little church-goers were onto something.

Having a mental image of a role model or hero can cause us to act in ways in line with our values and who we want to be in the world. My go-to author and professor, Kelly McGonigal writes in her book The Willpower Instict, “Research shows that thinking about someone with good self-control can increase your own willpower.”

Crazy, right? Just thinking about good behavior can cause us to actually act right in the moment, allowing us to overcome the habits of our real-life-daiquiri-drinking-smoker-friends.

So yes, a powerful way to up our friend circle is to make one up. Napoleon Hill, arguably the founder of the self-help genre, used to have an imaginary counsel of his own which included the likes of Galileo, Aristotle, Plato, & Newton.

Sometimes, when I am feeling nervous, I ask myself, “What would The Rock do?” All of a sudden I find myself standing taller, laughing charismatically, and yelling “FOCUS!!” around the gym.

It’s the easiest way to start right now. You don’t have to dump your scrub friends (yet), you don’t have to sign up for music lessons or Tony Robbins events. You simply have to visualize someone you look up to. 

And when you begin acting as a more powerful force in the world, you’ll begin to attract the right (real-life) people into your world (See Strategy 3).

Strategy 2: The Tony Robbins Effect

Okay, now is the part where you have to sign up for music lessons and Tony Robbins events. At some point, we have to get around people who are out there getting busy. If we stay at TGI Fridays and on our mom’s couch, our circle will never change.

There’s no getting around it. 

The main reason I made all those changes in 2011 in such a short time wasn’t because my habits changed, and it wasn’t because I became a better person.

It was because of peer pressure. Not peer pressure in ways that 15-year olds experience it, but peer pressure in the subtlest of ways. 

In one study of environmentally conscious Californians, people were asked why they were so planet friendly? The top three answers were: motivation to protect the environment, helping future generations & saving money.

When the researchers began studying these people, what they found was exactly the opposite.

“[What] predicted a person’s actual energy conservation was how much they thought their neighbors tried to conserve.”

So yes, you would jump off a bridge if others were doing it. You would just reason that you were doing it for the children.

Bottom line in this: Where do people you want to be like hang out? Go there. Try it just once over the next month. Go to a Tony Robbins event. Go volunteer at the local firehouse. Try shopping at Whole Foods. At the very least, quit going to TGI Fridays.

Strategy 3: The As If Principle

I’ve been fortunate to watch two people very close to me grow from your local personal trainer to mega-successful online entrepreneur. I’ve watched this progression occur over the past 8 years.

I’ve seen them both make $24,000 per year and now they make $1000/hour.

As they have each become more successful, their friend group has changed. Now they hang with multi-millionaires, successful entrepreneurs, world-class speakers, and whatever else you may think is cool and successful.

They didn’t reach out to people asking, “Will you mentor me?”

They didn’t text successful people incessantly until they caved to hang out with them.

They didn’t send fruit bouquets to their favorite entrepreneurs house (although that would’ve been just lovely).

No, they stepped up their own lives. They wrote books before they had publishing companies. They created content before anybody was reading it. They invested thousands of dollars they didn’t have into education. They spent all their free team strategizing and visualizing their own business.

As they gained more wins in their own lives, they began to attract others who were getting wins in their lives. Underperforms tend to think “If I can just get a mentor, or get in with that group, I’ll take off.” In reality, it works just the opposite.

Begin acting like a baller, and your circle will start to fill with ballers alike. The best thing we can do to improve our friend circle is improve ourselves. When we begin acting as if we are a certain way, we begin to become that exact way.

And rather than searching for smarter, cooler, sexier people to hang out with, we become the person that high rollers seek out to grab daiquiris with. 

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