This article is a sub-topic of the ultimate guide, How to Stop Procrastinating (Even If You’re a Lazy Bastard). Check it out if you’re interested.
Think of the last time you were unsure which specific product to buy online.
What exactly did you do before buying?
Most likely, you’ve looked for social signals—number of positive reviews, praise given by influencers, number of downloads, and many more.
Psychologists have found that whenever we’re uncertain, we look at other people for clues.1
When you’re walking through a forest, it’s likely you won’t use the path covered with bushes and trees—you’ll use the path that seems already used by someone else. That way, it’s more likely you’ll get to your destination, too.
Now, here’s the news you wanted to hear: we can take advantage of this social phenomenon to master our behavior and beat procrastination easier.
Authors Chip and Dan Heath call this strategy “Rallying the Herd.”2
But before I tell you about the strategies, it is important for you to know why we need them.
Why Social Groups Matter
Many people think that achieving their goals is solely individual.
This isn’t true.
Your environment—the physical surroundings, the people you spend time with, the content you consume, the food you eat—matter. A lot.
And the “people” department matters especially after we’re done with puberty.3
In fact, that same study even showed that if your friend has a friend who became obese, your likelihood of being obese still increases by around 20% — even if you don’t know that person.
Now think about that for a sec.
Making the decision to join a social group could mean the difference between:
- Becoming a straight-A student and having just average grades
- Getting a set of washboard abs and a flabby stomach
- Earning $100,000 a year and a $20,000 a year salary
- Living a life true to yourself and having the biggest regrets of your life
The arguments, combined, show a powerful conclusion: social networks have a large influence on our behavior.
As Jim Rohn famously said,
“You’re the average of the five people spend the most time with.”
While it’s not 100% accurate all the time, Rohn’s intent makes total sense—there is a powerful connection between your results and the people you’re spending time with.
Now let’s talk about how that happens.
Social Groups Shape Your Identity
Identity and behavior work hand-in-hand to make you the person you are today.
In the book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, authors Chip and Dan Heath cited two models of decision making.
When making decisions, our brains follow these two models: the consequences model and the identity model.
The consequences model is simply choosing what gives the best reward with minimal cost. However, it’s not powerful enough to deliver lasting change.
That’s where the identity model comes in. The identity model makes you ask,
“What would someone like me do in this situation?”
So, if we want change, the question should be:
“How can you make change a matter of identity?”
The easy answer is by joining social groups.
In Atomic Habits, author James Clear says that when you do something consistently over a period of time, you “vote” for a new identity.
If you’ve played 50 games over a year, then you’ll likely see yourself as a gamer.
If you lift heavy 5 times per week (like in the Bulgarian Light program), you’ll likely see yourself as a weightlifter.
Now, if performing a behavior consistently casts a “vote” for a desired identity, then having a social group is like having mass elections for your desired identity.
It’s like having a lot of people voting for you to become something you wanted to be—in a subtle manner.
By having a social group, you’ll never feel like you’re fooling yourself with your newfound identity.
Because you actually do it with your tribe. It’s an easy win.
CrossFit, NerdFitness, and Motivation
Despite the criticism6, CrossFit is still one of the most popular group fitness classes in the world; from 13 gyms in 2005 to around 15,000 today. Perhaps the main reason is their community—their herd.
Imagine you’re doing 12 reps of deadlifts in a CrossFit gym.
If you’re an average guy, your heartbeat is probably racing at that point. So, you thought you wanted to put the bar down and stop the set. But suddenly, everyone gathers around, starts screaming your name, and pushes you to do 3 more reps.
With all the verbal support, you feel a shot of adrenaline and allows you to do four more reps easily. After a long, grueling set of deadlifts, your cheerers give you a high-five and compliments for pushing through your limits.
You might think it’s just a little bit of progress, but the compliments for your hard work made you feel good, didn’t they? It made you feel like a legit CrossFitter. At the same time, you felt a strong urge to do even better next time.7
Another remarkable example is Steve Kamb’s NerdFitness. In his words,
“We help nerds, misfits, and mutants lose weight, get strong, and get healthy permanently!”
And they do this by “Joining the Rebellion.” Perfect.
As I’m doing my research, I’ve found that NerdFitness has an active community forum. It’s filled with great people, and they’re highly contagious.
They have a thread room called “The Woot Room” where they share their successes from running for 25 minutes to getting a new job and all victories in between. When they have problems or get stuck, they go to “The Respawn Point” to get support from the community.
And it doesn’t even have to be a fitness-related problem—it could be anything.
Having a lot of support from like-minded individuals not only skyrocket your motivation but also makes changes stick.
The people of CrossFit and NerdFitness have one just one secret that allows them to thrive until today: social support.
And along the way, the members develop their identity as a CrossFitter or a member of the Rebellion. In addition, their new identity will be able to guide their future decisions.
Looking closely, receiving praise on your progress, getting encouragement, and getting inspiration is what gives this feeling of “social support” or “belonging.” Procrastination researcher Dr. Piers Steel calls this Vicarious Victory.8
It might be an obvious concept, but think about what happens if I hadn’t expressed how important this is.
Just like me a couple of years ago, maybe you wouldn’t have thought of taking it seriously.
After all, there are a ton of possible solutions out there. It’s “solution overload” these days—it’s hard to determine which ones actually work.
And that’s what I’ve set out to find for you in my blog.
Anyway, as we’ve discussed in my first post on procrastination, increasing your confidence to finish a task directly increases your level of motivation; social groups help make this easy.
When you’re surrounded by pessimistic, toxic people, you’re like a tree being grown in the wrong season in bad soil.
On the contrary, when you’re surrounded by like-minded people who have common goals and great habits, you’re more likely to grow—fast.
So, here are your action points for this lesson.
Action #1. Consume realistic, repeatable success stories and educational content
Steve Jobs and Michael Jordan success stories have their place for giving you inspiration—but it’s unlikely that you’ll see yourself in their place in the near future.
What you want is something near your current “checkpoint.”
I don’t recommend ‘motivational videos’ for two reasons:
- They romanticize “hard” work. Struggles don’t always mean success—especially if they’re unnecessary struggles.
- They’re band-aid solutions. After a couple of videos, you don’t seem to get motivated anymore. Educational videos, on the other hand, allow you to actually solve a real obstacle.
For example, if I’m struggling and procrastinating with my studies, I’m going to watch something that contains a “learning success story” rather than a random “study motivation” video. This way, I accomplish three things at once:
- I get motivated
- I learn from their success
- I learn from their mistakes
And most of the time, you’ll find incredibly specific lessons here. (FYI, it’s hard to find specific advice out there when content creators like us are targeting a large audience with a general problem.)
When I notice I’m putting off going to the gym, it’s usually because of the impatience for results. Thus, I’m going to watch someone who made results by doing an exercise differently. Because of that, I often find out what’s wrong with my current regime and fix it immediately.
The key here is to not rely on “motivational videos” that provide cheesy quotes, but rather on educational videos (or other types of content) that give motivation through real value.
Action #2. Join a group of positive, supportive people
Or make one. If you’re socially inclined. (I’m still a work in progress in that department, though.)
Obviously, hanging out with people who are trying to improve themselves, or better yet, trying to mentor others will make you more motivated than anything else.
If you already have friends or relatives like these, then take a moment and be grateful for them.
Otherwise, if you aren’t that gifted in the social department, I highly recommend you get a copy of one of these books to get started in building/joining your new social group:
- Captivate by Vanessa Van Edwards
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
At first, I thought it was a bit dorky to read books on “making friends.” But trust me, once you read one of these, you’ll notice every mistake you’ve done when talking to people in the past.
Back then, I talked too much about myself, asked too generic questions, and wondered why people weren’t interested in me. But after reading the latter, I realized, I wasn’t showing enough interest in them.
It was a game-changing experience. I now get along better with other people, thanks to a couple of time-tested advice from the greats.
Anyway, if I had one tip to give you on this action step: always think about giving value. Whether that’d be an appreciative remark, actually listening without interrupting, or giving solutions to a problem (ONLY when they ask).
That’s how you build real relationships.
As you can tell, that is what I’m implementing lately on this blog. I do a lot of reading, writing, and editing and yet I give them out for free—I’m happier, my readers are happy, everybody wins.
- Prentice, D. A., & Miller, D. T. (1996). Pluralistic ignorance and the perpetuation of social norms by unwitting actors. In Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 28, pp. 161-209). Academic Press.
- From Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath
- Schunk, D., & Meece, J. (2006). Self-efficacy development in adolescences. In F. Pajares & T. Urdan (Eds.), Self-efficacy beliefs of adolescents (pp. 71–96). Greenwich CT: Information Age.
- Kremer, Michael, and Dan Levy. 2008. “Peer Effects and Alcohol Use among College Students.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 22 (3): 189-206.
- Christakis, N. A., & Fowler, J. H. (2007). The spread of obesity in a large social network over 32 years. New England journal of medicine, 357(4), 370-379.
- CrossFit: An Independent Unbiased Review – by Dr Dan Jolley
- Psychologists call this positive feedback loop Pygmalion Effect. You do a good behavior, the group reinforces it by appreciating it, you get motivated to do it again, and so on.
- In his book The Procrastination Equation.