Have you ever noticed that when some people walk into a room, your mood and energy levels instantly shoot up?
Or when someone laughs, I mean really laughs, you’ll laugh too, even if you don’t know why?
And when you meet up with an artist who is really stressed out about their gallery or money situation, you end up feeling anxious and stressed too? Second-hand stress is a real thing!
I know I am super focused when other people are working around me, but if someone is just lounging around or goofing off, I fade quickly.
Why is that?
In the same way that a yawn can spread through a room, so can uncertainty, impatience, and negative emotions.
Last summer I got to hear Shawn Achor give a talk at a conference. Shawn is one of the leading researchers on happiness, he’s been studying and testing people for decades now.
He conducted a study where he stood in line at the airport and manipulated the mood of his fellow passengers. On different days in different airports, he would start tapping his foot, shifting his weight from side to side, and continually look at his watch or phone for the time. He did it all just with body language. He just folded his arms across his chest, looked serious, and checked the time every so often and continued to shift his weight and tap his foot now and again. Nothing dramatic or over the top.
Sure enough, the people around him started getting anxious about how long they’d been waiting and started muttering about a late flight (the flight was on time). And it spread outward like a virus.
Shawn did feel bad about ruining so many flights in the name of science, so now he makes it a point to do the opposite. Both emotions spread equally well. Now when waiting in line he makes it a point to give off the vibe of being totally happy and excited about the trip (or his groceries).
For better or worse, our behavior is influenced by the people around us. That’s why we’re so enamored with puppies, kittens, and giggling babies.
It’s called mirroring.
That’s when one person subconsciously imitates the gesture, speech pattern, or attitude of another. We do it all the time.
That’s part of the advantage of going to workshops or being a part of an artist community. When I’m surrounded by a group of hardworking artists, I’m hyper-focused on my painting. I don’t get distracted by messages on my phone.
That’s how that influence can work to our advantage.
But if a short encounter with a stranger is enough to shift our perceptions- like Achor’s airport study – how are we influenced over the long term?
Have you ever had a studio mate or an artist close to you talk nonstop about how hard it is to make a living, how galleries are all out to take advantage of artists, and oh my god, why do paints cost so much?!
Contrast that with someone who sure, they may vent once in a while, but overall- they’re looking for opportunities to grow.
They’re so intent on painting their best that they barely notice anything else.
If the people we are around most often are slackers, it’s easier for us to justify slacking off.
When we’re constantly interacting with high performers (whether it’s in person or not), we tend to put in a little extra work and become more ambitious.
Jim Rohn says
“We are the average of the five people we associate with most often.”
Sure, there are always examples to the contrary, but generally speaking, I think it’s true.
And when you’re conscious of this and weigh positive influences more heavily than the negative you can tweak the dials of what you’re influenced by.
Now you tell me – How do the people you hang out with most often affect your outlook – in good ways or…not?