Video: How Other People Affect Your Habits, and You Affect Their Habits

Screenshot Strategy Other People

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the various strategies that we can use for habit-formation.

Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative.

My forthcoming book, Better Than Before, describes the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits. 

Here, I talk about the Strategy of Other People.


In Letters from a Stoic, Seneca wrote, “Associate with people who are likely to improve you,” and if you want to form good habits, this is a very important thing to keep in mind.

Other people’s actions and habits exert tremendous influence on me, as mine do on them.

What others do, say, and think rubs off on me.  For instance, in a phenomenon known as “health concordance,” couples’ health habits and statuses tend to merge over time. One partner’s health behaviors—habits related to sleep, eating, exercise, doctor visits, use of alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana—influence those behaviors in a partner. If one partner has type 2 diabetes, the other partner faces a significant increase in the risk of developing it, as well. If one partner gives up cigarettes or alcohol, the other is more likely to quit.

Also, because we’re quite susceptible to “goal contagion,” we may rapidly pick up someone else’s habits, so it’s helpful to be around people who are good role models. In fact, I’ve found that I’m more likely to be persuaded by seeing one person’s successful action than by the most impressive research. It’s a data point of one—but for me that’s a very persuasive data point.

Once I thought about it, I was startled to realize how often I’d picked up a strong habit based on someone’s passing remark.

People fall into three gears when it comes to supporting (or opposing) other people’s healthy habits.

Drive: People in “drive” mode add energy and propulsive force to our habits. They can be very helpful as they encourage, remind, and join in. However, if they’re too pushy, they may be a nuisance, and their enthusiasm can rouse a spirit of opposition. They may very well push a Rebel away from a good habit.

Reverse: Some people press others to reverse out of a healthy habit. They may do this from a sense of love, such as the food pushers who argue, “You should enjoy yourself!” or “I baked this just for you!” Or their behavior may be more mean-spirited, as they try to tempt, ridicule, or discourage us from sticking to a healthy habit.

Neutral: These folks go along with our habits. They support us whatever we do. Sometimes this is useful, but sometimes this support makes it easier to indulge in habits when we know we shouldn’t.

Have you noticed a time when you picked up a habit from someone else? Or when someone else’s habit rubbed off on you? Once I started paying attention, I was surprised by just how often this happens.



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