Social Contagion and a Values-Aligned Life

Social contagion is the well-researched idea that we "catch" emotions and behaviors from other people. Susan David, the author of Emotional Agility, gives a couple of examples:

You step into an elevator and the person in the elevator is on their phone. You are likely to get out your phone as well.

If you are on an airplane and your seatmate buys candy, even if you do not know that person, the research shows that you are 70% more likely to buy candy.

Even more shocking, if people we know by acquaintance, or even by 2-3 degrees of separation, get divorced or put on weight, it significantly increases our chances of getting divorced or putting on weight.

We unconsciously start wanting things other people want or normalizing behaviors we previously would not have engaged in.

That's some powerful suggestive influence.

So what can we do to stay aligned with our own deeply held values and not be unconsciously swayed by the actions of other people?

David's advice is something she calls Values Affirmation - spending even 10 minutes every day thinking about your values, what type of person you want to be in relationship, as a parent, at work and so on.

Just 10 minutes a day of focusing on your core values will help protect you from social contagion. 

Obviously this requires clarity around what your values are. David urges us first to come from a place of compassion and care for ourselves and our emotional bodies. She also has a free test on her website that can help you determine how well you are living a values-aligned life and ways to be more emotionally agile. 

If you're interested in more on this topic, I recommend the author's interview with Rich Roll. She covers a lot of ground:

  • practical examples of what it means to live a values-aligned life
  • the difference between values and goals
  • why will power doesn't work
  • the danger of bottling or brooding on your emotions
  • the myth of "negative" or "bad" emotions

I enjoyed this podcast so much, I've listened to it twice! Let me know what you take from it.