How to use peer pressure to become more productive

Takeaway: Peer pressure heavily influences your behaviour. To use it to your advantage: be mindful of what habits your friends have (and where your own habits came from), and spend time with people who have better habits than you, while you think deeply about how others can get you to ignore your goals.

Estimated Reading Time: 1 minute, 47s.

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The behaviour of your friends, family, and coworkers is contagious.

Take obesity, for example.

One (massive) study wanted to determine just how contagious obesity was, so researchers analyzed the weight and social relationships between 12,000 people over 65 years (everyone in the study lived in the same small town). What they found was incredible:1

When a friend became obese, a person’s own future risk of becoming obese increased by 171% percent. A woman whose sister became obese has a 67 percent increased risk, and a man whose brother became obese had a 45% percent increased risk.

In other words, obesity is pretty similar to an infectious airborne illness like the flu.2

Other studies have also found similar effects for habits like drug use, sleep deprivation, and depression.3

Well, shit.

What can you do about it?

Kelly McGonigal, author of The Willpower Instinct, offers up a few suggestions of things to be aware of:

  • Are there certain friends you’re more likely to indulge with?
  • Pay special attention to the habits of the people you like more. Their behaviour will be much more contagious to you.
  • Look for friends, family members, and coworkers that have similar social ‘infections’ as you do.
  • Think hard: did you pick up a bad habit from a friend or family member?

McGonigal also offers up a few awesome, practical tips to use peer pressure to become productive:

  1. Look for people in your network who have tried to rewire the habits you’re struggling with, or have mastered better ones already. And if you’re serious about using peer pressure to become better , spend more time with them.
  2. “Spend a few minutes at the beginning of your day thinking about your own goals, and how you could be tempted to ignore them.”
  3. Look for a tribe of people that shares your goals, like a running club, book club, or a Stop Snacking Club. Okay, maybe that last one doesn’t exist.
  4. Look for a magazine (or blog!) that shares your goals.

We adapt our behaviours to the environments we put ourselves in, which is why social ‘infections’ spread so fast. Being mindful of that effect, and changing your environment to better fit your goals will turn the tables on peer pressure, and let you use it to become more productive.

Featured post image by Kevin Dooley.


  1. Source: The Willpower Instinct

  2. No wonder so many people call it an obesity ‘epidemic’. 

  3. Source: The Willpower Instinct 

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