Your friends are a reflection on you as an individual.
On more of a positive note than usual, this week I’m talking about keeping a healthy social circle.
But what makes a great friend?
Great friends will challenge and support you simultaneously.
Your best friends often know where your strengths and weaknesses lie even better than you do. They will push you towards what you should be doing rather than what is easy, and they’ll also guide you away from making poor choices (like the time I wanted to go into the Music industry).
Don’t surround yourself with ‘yes’ people, who are more concerned with keeping you happy than making sure you’re striving towards your goals. If you find that there’s occasional friction, that’s not always a bad thing. This probably means your values are being stress-tested by those who have your best interests at heart.
Keep a good mix of friends. Hanging out with all like-minded individuals can leave you in a positive feedback loop. Yes it’s nice to hear how well you’re doing, but you’re not going to learn much new. My idea of a great friendship group has a plethora of different characters. Some are overly positive, or have a wicked sense of humour, or go out too much, or never go out (guilty), some are artistic, and some are all about business.
So, how important are friends to us?
In 2013 the University of Virginia used MRI scans to monitor brain activity when giving test subjects an electric shock vs. when giving their friends an electric shock. Brain activity when the test subjects themselves were under threat was almost identical to when their friends were under threat. Interestingly, there was no significant brain activity registered when strangers were shocked in front of the test subjects. Our brains react the same way to danger posed to our friends than danger posed to ourselves.
It makes sense that our friends should therefore be considered an extension of ourselves – and hopefully if you have a varied mix, they should be capable of bringing out different aspects of your own personality. In turn, this will help you become a more rounded person.
“When we develop friendships, people we can trust and rely on who in essence become we, then our resources are expanded, we gain. Your goal becomes my goal. It’s a part of our survivability.” – James Coan, U.Va psychology professor
I count myself lucky with the friends that I have, though I know I don’t say it nearly enough. While they can be overtly teasing, I strongly suspect they desire what’s best for me. I used to think my goal for friends should be that they were ‘cool’, perhaps so that others would see me with them and that this reputation might rub off on me. But there isn’t much cool about trying to be something that you’re not. I like comics, History books and Playstation. I’m definitely not cool.
And neither have my friends always been cool. After all, it’s not a criteria for friendship. For instance:
- One of my best friends spent much of his teenage years chubby and catastrophically shy around girls.
- One would have a single Kopparberg at pre-drinks, before spending his evening asking girls to kiss him on the cheek in an attempt to pull.
- One defecated himself in the refectory rather than risk the cut-off time for food, because his mother didn’t raise no quitter.
- One was quietly sick in his drink on a night out and, when a girl unknowingly asked to try some, he proceeded to gulp down the whole thing so as to avoid the embarrassment of telling her what had transpired.
Sure we weren’t always cool, but we’ve always managed to be confident and relaxed in each other’s company. This has been a critical factor in allowing us to grow into our own individuals. After all, your friends really need only be people who make you happy while challenging you to grow. There shouldn’t be any other criteria.
Don’t just fall into a friendship group that doesn’t necessarily fit you. Circumstance can be both wonderful and limiting. Provided you’re not a total sociopath, it doesn’t take much to make new friends, and it can make a huge difference to your life. If you don’t feel supported in your goals, or don’t feel any drive from those around you, you could be in the wrong circle.
Once you have this sorted, so long as you’re looking after those in your social circle, you’re sure to always have people around to look after you. A little bit of give and a little bit of take.
After all, that’s what friends are for.