Proximity Effect: One Reason You’re Fit and Active or Fat and Lazy

This article was written by Tyler Tervooren, a writer and creator residing in Portland, Or. He is also the founder of Advanced Riskology


 And there’s something you can do about it…

The other day, I was watching an episode of Shark Tank—an American reality TV show (co-opted from the Canadian version called Dragon’s Den) where struggling entrepreneurs offer up a piece of equity in their businesses for a chance to work with extremely successful business people.

The show is one of my guilty pleasures; I get a kick out of seeing how different people promote and grow their businesses.

In this episode, one of the entrepreneurs ended up giving away a bigger portion of his business than he originally intended to secure a deal with a shark (investor).

It was the right decision to make because his business was going to fail without some outside investment and guidance, but it was what he said during his exit interview that really struck me:

“Hang around four broke people and you’ll be the fifth. I’m glad I got a deal with one of the sharks.”

What he’s talking about is the proximity effect. Here’s how it affects you.

You Will Become What You Are Closest To

Whether you realize it or not, you’re highly influenced by the people you’re around each and every day.

This is true in all aspects of life, and there’s little you can do to control it. Who you decide to spend your time with will have a very big impact on the way you behave.

The entrepreneur on Shark Tank was talking specifically about money, but this applies to every facet of your life.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a study that links smoking and drinking in childrento smoking and drinking among their friends. Here’s another that shows the influence a group has over the way you think about the things you shop for.

These are just two examples of the many studies that have been done on psychological influence. And you needn’t look further than your own behavior to see influence in action.

Look at your everyday habits. What do you do in the morning after you’ve showered and had breakfast? How do you behave at work? What are the things you like to do?

And, more importantly, where did all those things come from? More than likely, they came from someone you met along the way who influenced you one way or another.

It could be a joke you picked up from a friend or a habit you inherited from your boss. It could be your relationship to money you got from your parents or a hobby you have that came from your partner.

What’s even more interesting is it doesn’t take long for the proximity effect to start influencing your behavior.

I’m in Buenos Aires right now. I’ve been here only five days, and I’ve already noticed that I’ve modified my behavior significantly to fit in with the customs of the city. They don’t queue into lines here, so I fight for a spot to checkout at the grocery store or restaurant—something I wouldn’t do at home in The U.S.

Time and deadlines are less important here, so I’ve found myself being equally lax. I was supposed to check out of my hostel at 11:00 AM, but here I am at 1:00PM still sitting and writing.

And here’s an interesting one: When someone tries to speak to me in broken English, I mirror that poor English back to them in my own communication. Of course, I know proper English. I even speak Spanish so English is rarely necessary. But when this happens, I find my reaction is automatic.

There’s nothing wrong with this, per say. It’s simply a characteristic of humans and even many other species. This is how we learn and how we relate to one another.

But it underlines the importance of being thoughtful about exactly whatyou expose yourself to for learning and who you expose yourself to for relating.

Developing poor money skills or picking up bad habits could become a type of sympathizing you do to maintain relationships.

How to Harness The Proximity Effect to Improve Any Part of Life

If the proximity effect dictates we’re going to become like the people around us without much say in the matter, then you, as a Smart Riskologist know you must carefully monitor the one input you do control:

You must be careful who and what you allow close to you.

The proximity effect is not just something to be wary of. Instead, it can be harnessed to improve your life. If hanging around people with bad habits will cause you to develop bad habits yourself, then the opposite is also true: spending time around people with good habits will cause you to develop good habits as well.

If you’re a timid person, it’s probably because you spend the bulk of your time with others who mirror that same personality trait. If you want to be more adventurous, you need to find adventurous people to hang out with. Maybe go to the rock climbing gym one day a week or join an outdoor Meetup Group.

Want to start a business and become self-employed? It’ll be hard to do from inside a cubicle surrounded by other people in other cubicles. To improve your odds of actually starting, find a friend who’s self-employed or has started businesses before. Search your city for a local entrepreneurs get-together (most major cities have many).

If you have horrible eating habits and you don’t exercise, you’ve probably but a circle of close friends that do the same. If you want to change that, you have to change the amount of time you spend with that group and find another set of friends that eat well and do exercise. Opportunities to find people like this are easier than you think.

In many cases, you hardly need to worry about doing the actual thing you want to do. Instead, focus your effort on finding people who already do that thing and become their friend.

Thanks to the proximity effect, that thing will most likely become a regular part of your life. This strategy can be used in great combination with identity based habits.

Your Homework Today

If there’s something you want to do or change about your life, then think of people you could spend more time with or places you could go that would allow you to take advantage of the proximity effect.

Title Photo Credit: flickr