Training, diet, attitude and genetics are the primary factors that determine just how far you’ll get in your quest for muscular size and strength. What’s nice is that all but the last are under your control. What’s even nicer is that with a little help from your friends you can improve your performance in each of those areas, producing maximum progress. ‘Muscles from Mike?’ you’re thinking, wondering how your best friend can possibly influence how big your biceps get or how much you bench-press. Here’s how it works.
Friends have enormous influence: They give us a frame of reference. They make us feel like successes or failures; they can just plain make us feel good or bad. Further, they give us our ideas about what’s good, bad and in between. Some psychologists suspect that our overall personalities are largely the result of our friends’ influences, which can have a dramatic impact on where we go in our lifting careers and just how fast we get there.
Peer pressure, a fundamental way your friends affect your thoughts and behavior, is powerful, but because it surrounds you, it’s easy to overlook. When you flip through old family photos and see how oddly everyone dressed 30 years ago, just remember that all those people with the bell bottoms and the Nehru jackets were making fashion choices based on what their friends accepted and rejected at the time. Those same social influences are still at work today, though it’s harder to see them while you’re in their midst.
We constantly get cues of approval and disapproval from the people around us, and nearly all of us shape our behavior accordingly. Early research in social psychology attempted to demonstrate that the way we describe how we feel is largely dictated by what we can infer from the people around us. Other research in social psychology demonstrated the amazing degree to which most people conform to the group opinion, even when that opinion is sheer folly in the face of simple physical evidence. (So much for the idea that we’re free spirits who independently blaze trails to our individual goals of glory.)
When you add to those influences the idea that your friends, much more than your family, might shape your overall personality, it’s easy to see that the friends factor is something that can work either for you or against you, in an extremely powerful way.
If you remember that your friends shape your physique, you’ve got a potent tool and can put it to good use. Forewarned is forearmed, so you’re already ahead of the game just by having the knowledge that the crowd you hang out with influences your lifting. Suppose your best friends live on greasy burgers, fries and soft drinks and wouldn’t consider getting their calories from any other sources. You may be able to build some mighty muscle on that diet, but it’s going to be tough. Similarly, suppose your friends like to stay out all night, couldn’t find the local gym if their lives depended on it and think bodybuilding, weightlifting and all associated activities are strictly for the birds.
Sure, you can succeed in that social environment, but you’ve loaded the dice against yourself. Consider how much easier things would be for you if your friends shared your passion for training, walked around with thermoses filled with protein drinks and considered their workouts a veritable institution in their lives, like going to church on Sunday morning. In that sort of social setting you could concentrate on the difficult business of lifting.
It’s even better if your friends share the key attitudes or personality characteristics you need for success in lifting or any other activity. Ideally, your pals set goals, are willing to work long and hard to reach them and aren’t unduly discouraged in the face of setbacks. They neither indulge in endless whining and hand-wringing nor pat each other on the back for the most mundane of achievements.
Imagine a guy who could be a world champion in at least a couple of strength sports’he’s got all the physical equipment for the task and the basic mental hardware as well. The only thing missing is the emotional glue that makes everything stick together. If you ask people who’ve known him a long time why he hasn’t risen to greatness, they’ll explain that he learned to set his sights low from those around him and has always had an excuse for why things went awry’as they inevitably did. It’s sad. You can find real-life examples of that repeated time and again.
If your friends just aren’t into this lifting thing, are you doomed? No. Success in any venture requires individual effort, so it’s always going to be up to you to make it to the gym or not, put in a good effort or not, eat right or not and so forth. You may not be able to count on your friends to directly support your efforts, but if they don’t disapprove of what you’re doing, you’re way ahead of the game. And if they pursue a passion of their own with the same zeal that you have for your lifting, you can support each other by modeling the personality factors that lead to success. People have risen to all kinds of glory, personal and public, from the most unlikely settings. What they’ve usually done, however, is stuck to their course. They’ve also put themselves into a more favorable environment. For you that environment starts with your friends. Even if things aren’t perfect right now, keep your eyes on your goals, ever alert to fellow travelers who help or hinder your quest.
Editor’s note: Randall Strossen, Ph.D., edits the quarterly magazine MILO. He’s also the author of IronMind: Stronger Minds, Stronger Bodies; Super Squats: How to Gain 30 Pounds of Muscle in 6 Weeks and Paul Anderson: The Mightiest Minister. For more information call IronMind Enterprises Inc. at (530) 265-6725 or Home Gym Warehouse at (800) 447-0008. Visit the IronMind Web site at www.ironmind.com.