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You and your friends affect the recovery capital of others

Posted byWritten by David

Issue — #3

How often do you consider the affect on others when you change your normal behavior or behavior that comports to a social norm?

I am almost always thinking about and observing human behavior. Although, there are times I get distracted and do things that disrupt positive behavioral flow. It’s quite annoying when I realize it later – but imagine what it’s like for those disrupted?

How we take care of ourselves and the routines we follow, have considerable affect on those around us.


Nicholas Christakis & James Fowler
Connected: How Our Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do

Have you ever been walking up a flight of stairs behind a group of people and one person pulls out their phone and stops to look at it? Anyone behind that person is forced to stop before running into that person’s behind. This can be dangerous on a flight of stairs. Walking up a flight of stairs actually takes a lot of concentration and coordination. If there are multiple people climbing up together in a line, a connection of concentration forms and the group finds a frequency and moves at the same speed, effort, and pace.

Hisashi Murakami, a professor at Kyoto Institute of Technology, published a paper recently that looked at this effect when one person looks at their phone when a group crosses a busy crosswalk.

READ: If You Look at Your Phone While Walking, You’re an Agent of Chaos – NY Times

As you can imagine, if there are two groups walking toward each at a busy crosswalk, any individual that deviates from the organized stream can jam up both groups.

As the research indicates, distracted people do not move smoothly and disrupt the group flow. Even people not looking at a phone but walking irregularly can negatively affect the group as far back as 50 people.

What’s interesting about this research is not that it documents this affect, especially when mobile phones are involved. Instead, architects and city planners are interested in how designs of cities and streets may need to take into account the altered behavior – the constant presence of phones and walkers.

Did you catch that? Phones are the unnatural variable in the human network, but designers are looking to design for the unnatural behavior or variant.

We can see the network effect in the stairs and crosswalk example almost immediately. When it comes to health or wellbeing, the effect takes a little longer – but it happens there too!

Have you been part of a book club or a workout group? Has anyone in that group ever flaked out and stopped showing up? Did that reduce the excitement or morale of the group? Did the group eventually stop meeting or going to the gym together?

This is actually happening all the time in our real life social networks. And it is having tremendous affect on dozens of unsuspecting people.

The book “Connected” describes many examples of behavior modification up and down a chain or network of friends. This is known as a contagion.

Apropos for these times, I suppose.

If you stop going to the book club, you likely stop because of personal reasons, which is perfectly reasonable. You never think, “Well, if I stop going to the book club, will it influence whether my friends keep going?” You might not even think about whether you going to the book club has a positive affect on others not going to the club but reading more because of your example.

I hope by now – because this is a newsletter about recovery capital – you are starting to imagine how networks of people can influence one person’s recovery capital. If you are there, congratulations, but are you only thinking about a network of people in recovery influencing each other?

How can I put this nicely … stop thinking that way.

People in recovery from addiction do not live in a recovery bubble. More people not in recovery may be influencing the behavior of people in recovery far more than you think.

There is research described in “Connected” that shows how friend groups had a better influence on a problem drinker by simply modifying their drinking behavior. Instead of the usual tactic of confronting the person we want to change by asking, begging, or forcing that person into treatment, when friends and family with strong social ties went to the bar fewer times during the week or collectively stopped drinking as much, the person we care about began to drink less.

This actually worked better with women more than men.

If you’re reading this and you’re a family member or friend of someone struggling, think about your behaviors. Think about the way you take care of yourself. What activities do you do that include or used to include the person with an alcohol or drug problem? What if you decided to start eating better? What if you gathered a group of friends to meal plan together and track your steps and weight? Might that start to influence the person you’re concerned about?

The research says it might and it does.

Social networks and network effects can be directed for good. But it is up to us to activate that good and make it contagious.

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Intersection of Recovery Capital and COVID (Webinar Replay) from David Whitesock on Vimeo.

Last week, I had the honor of presenting a webinar with our new content partners at Sigmund Software. We joined forces to elevate and expand the conversation around recovery capital. And last week was our first in a series of webinars.

This particular webinar reflected on 2020 and the COVID pandemic. We explored the impact COVID is having on many components of wellbeing and how those same components are what make up recovery capital. Recovery capital isn’t just about our wellbeing after a problem with substances. The same underlying factors, when reduced or hindered, make way for dependence on alcohol or drugs.

We cover this concept and we look at some data. Please give it a watch and stay tuned for our next webinar which will be coming in May.

Always more to come. In the meantime, be sure to subscribe to the newsletter – HERE – and share so others can read and subscribe.

With gratitude and until next week … Be Well.

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