Choosing Better Ingroups is a SuperPower

By Joel T. Sanders • Last updated on August 26th, 2018

It’s almost cliché to say, “Look carefully at the ten closest people in your life, because when you do, you are observing your own future.” Those ten people are a part of your various  “ingroups,” defined by social psychologists  as “the social groups to which a person psychologically identifies as being a member.”

If your closest people and groups are not representative of the future you want for yourself, all you have to do is think about the future you do want, then change those ten people—and their associated ingroups— to match it.

If you want to earn more money, to be more physically fit, and have a more joyful disposition, becoming a part of one or more circles of people who exhibit those traits will literally “rub off” on you.

Few people understand what a powerful strategy this is for personal and professional growth. We’re quick to purchase books, online courses, and even attend conferences to learn strategies for life improvement. But without a corresponding shift in our permanent social networks, most or all of that learning is worthless. Why? Because to grow, behavior change is required. And the fastest and easiest way to change our behavior is to consistently be around others who already have the behaviors we want.

Wired to Mimic

The reason people around us powerfully impact who we are, and who we ultimately become, is because we are social cognitive creatures. Our psychological makeup literally requires that we mimic the people around us, and we often do it subconsciously. It’s how babies learn. It’s how teenagers learn what’s “cool,” and what’s not.

As adults we continue to mimic throughout our lives. We talk like those around us. We dress like they dress. We move like they move. And we feel what they feel—literally by taking on their emotional states.

Most importantly, we think like the people in our ingroups think. We set similar goals and hold similar beliefs about what is possible for ourselves—and what isn’t. The norms and values of the group—how its members approach life—to a certain extent become ours.

But have you ever really taken action after realizing that your closest cohort isn’t representative of your ideal future?

Who has the physical fitness level you want for yourself? Who has the financial vitality you want? Who has spiritual depth and peace of mind? Who has the creative problem-solving  and leadership skills you aspire to?

For most or perhaps all of these areas, you might realize that none of your closest friends or family measure up to the standard you have for yourself.

Ingroups Help Ordinary People Become Extraordinary

In a landmark paper titled, “The Mundanity of Excellence,” sociologist Dan Chambliss studied the U.S. Olympic swimming team, considered to this day to be the most elite group of swimmers in the world.

Chambliss noted how the most-important shifts in individual swimmer performance took place when swimmers moved up from less-competitive teams to more-competitive teams. At every level, it was the culture of the swim team itself that determined the competitive success of individual swimmers. Why? Because new team members adopted the habits, work ethic, energy levels, and emotional traits of the team.  Individual performance improved as a result.

“People don’t know how ordinary success is,” stated Mary T. Meagher, winner of 3 Olympic gold medals. What she meant is: the specific things extraordinary people do are actually very ordinary when observed in isolation. In the world of swimming, excellence means things like choosing the right foods, getting enough rest, and having the discipline to jump into cold water at 5:00 AM, day after day.

What we call “excellence” emerges when we do normal, boring, everyday activities consistently over time, with an eye towards getting a little better each day. Anyone could do them, but most people quit doing them too soon, before those activities can coalesce into something truly extraordinary.

The culture of the right group keeps people going long after an individual working in isolation would have given up. When a newbie enters a group, the other individuals within the group are already at varying levels of development. They serve as mental milestones for what lies ahead. In the right group, big goals become believable.

Find Ingroups that Support Your Best Self

The fact that you can improve any aspect of your future simply by joining new ingroups is a true “superpower.”

That business idea you have? You can vet it and improve it with the help of other entrepreneurs. That body you want? Your local Crossfit, yoga, fitness, or Overeaters Anonymous group will enforce the discipline you’ll never develop on your own.

While the concept of changing our ingroups is easy to understand, in practice it’s rare. We are at a truly unique time in history: twenty years ago, forming and growing groups with common interests took place largely offline. Finding new groups was more difficult. And while it’s now relatively easy to find and join real-world and “virtual” goal-directed groups, in practice it’s still rare.

Cultural norms admonish against the disloyalty of abandoning your “peeps.” Never mind whether they lift you up or tear you down. It’s that historical momentum that leads most people to simply accept the groups and people that organically show up in their lives.

Thus, we have friends who don’t try very hard. We nod and smile when our coworkers complain about the boss, because we happen to sit next to them in the office. We become friendly with the slovenly neighbors who happen to live next door…because they live next door. These random, organic ingroups become the basis of a largely reactive and unfulfilling life.

An Ingroup for Every Goal

If you’ve read this far, you’re tracking with the idea of finding new ingroups for yourself, creating and leading groups for others, or both. Here’s a quick plan for implementation:

  1. Make a list of your goals.
  2. Make a list of your ingroups.
  3. If your current ingroups don’t specifically support your goals, it’s time for a change

Is it time to find that fitness group, that prayer group, or that CEO roundtable?  Google is at your fingertips! Simply type, “[Topic] support groups” and hit enter.

Once you’ve found your new groups, commit. Fill your calendar with that group’s activities. Find plenty of reasons to say, “Sorry, I can’t next Tuesday” to your old friends when they invite you out for a few beers.

One word of caution: as you search for new groups to join, learn how to separate the “pretenders” from the “real deal.” I’ve joined groups that were supposedly committed to goal-specific growth, only to find that everyone in the group was more committed to making one another feel OK about their own mediocrity than any kind of standard for achievement.

Also know that getting into and accepted by elite groups often requires an investment of time, money or both.

One of my goals is to be a great CEO for a company that makes a positive difference in everyday people’s lives. I’ve been a part of CEO roundtables that are free, and I’ve been a part of CEO roundtables that require a $5,000 investment and a business generating $1 million or more in revenue, just to be considered. The group had rules that kicked you out if you were late more than two times to a meeting.  Guess which roundtable delivered more value?

And by the way: if you want to grow a business and are unwilling to invest $5,000 (or more) to be a part of an elite CEO group, you don’t want to grow that business badly enough. You almost certainly have a car costing more than $10,000.A similar case can be made for investments in fitness, career, relationships, and other life-transforming goals. But that’s a discussion for another day.

Posted in Achievement, Mastermind Groups, Psychology

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