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Aug 18

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Oxford Life Coach: “Show me your friends…

…and I’ll tell you what you are” – according to a Spanish proverb

Who are people with whom we choose to spend the most time? Who do we call when we have a spare hour? Who do we think of when we want to grab a quick coffee? And with whom do we always end up engrossed in conversation?

It’s often suggested that we tend to become the average of the five people with whom we hang out with the most. Their world view affects our world view. Sharing their experiences colours our own beliefs. Their values reflect our values. And their behaviours mirror what we find acceptable. More than that, their moods change or reinforce our own. Pretty powerful stuff!

Here’s a suggestion. Who are five people you spent the most time with last month? Write down their names (spaced out) on a piece of paper. For each name, spider diagram four or five adjectives that describe them best. It’s likely some of the adjectives will be shared between friends. Take a fresh sheet of paper, write your name in the middle, and transfer all the adjectives to your own spider diagram. How do your friends reflect how you want to be?

Why does this matter? Because we are gloriously sociable creatures, humans tend to harmonise their emotional states with those around them in a ‘symphony of mutual exchange and internal adaption’†. This has been described by scientists as ‘limbic resonance’. The theory is that our individual nervous systems are interdependent. They’re influenced by the forces of empathy and non-verbal communication, as we adapt to and reflect the moods of those around us.

According to Daniel Goleman(et al)’s book Primal Leadership, great leaders spread emotions at the positive end of the scale (aspiration, compassion, connection, or purpose) which set fire to the part of the brain which looks after motivation. So if we’re looking to make changes in our lives, if we’re needing a boost of confidence, bravery or inspiration, it’s useful to be aware of the effect that others have on us. And what better way to perk ourselves up than by kicking back with our favourite people.

Whose lead would you like to follow?

†The term limbic resonance was coined, and the above description given, in a book called ‘A General Theory of Love’ 2000

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