You become part of your environment. Surround yourself with certain values, behaviors and skills and you start to pick them up yourself. Like a sponge, your mind soaks up what ever it is repeatedly exposed to. This process can allow you to passively adopt more empowering behaviors and beliefs. But, just as a sponge repeatedly soaked in dirt is never entirely clean, this process can degrade your ability to grow.
This is the last article in a four part series dedicated to modeling. In the introduction I outlined what modeling is and how you can use it to specifically imitate a result. The second article focused on deliberate instruction for rapid learning. The third article discussed how conscious observation of role-models can allow you to pick up behaviors. This article will explore passive modeling through osmosis.
Imitate Your Way to Success
Cells maintain concentrations of certain chemicals through osmosis. Water and other fluids pass through the membrane taking chemicals from the environment with them. On a larger scale, human beings work the same way. Culture, values and patterns of behavior are all transmitted subconsciously throughout society.
Ever notice how behavior tends to travel in groups? Smokers tend to know a lot of other smokers. Athletic people know a lot of other exercise lovers. Tight social circles often have similar mannerisms and expressions. People of one country have a particular accent and expressions that aren’t found in another region.
These people didn’t sit down one day and decide to behave like each other. There was no conscious decision. They modeled through osmosis. Passively observing their environment, these people slowly adopted the culture, beliefs, values, behaviors and expressions as the people surrounding them.
Osmosis is something that operates whether you want it to or not. You can influence your conscious power to resist certain behaviors and values that are common throughout your group. I’m a lone vegetarian in a sea of omnivores, but I can still maintain this distinction.
But you can only do this with the minority. Creating an identity that is completely resistant to osmosis is like trying to maintain a sand castle that is being washed away by the surf. You may be able to preserve a few columns of sand and rebuild a few others that degrade, but much of your castle will still be sculpted by the water.
Osmosis is a natural law of society, just like gravity is a natural law of physics. You can complain that gravity is forcing your legs to work harder and it hurts when you fall. But you can also use gravity to your advantage to generate electricity through dams and keep things rooted firmly in place. Gravity is even necessary for planes to fly on the air. Laws are neither good nor bad, just a feature of the universe, osmosis exists whether you utilize it or not.
The key to start using, instead of fighting, osmosis is to take a look at your environment. As much as you conscious will can try, your environment is going to make a huge impact on your growth. Does your environment support you or tear you down? Does your environment stimulate or deaden the senses?
Take a look at who you consistently spend time with. Are they worth modeling? Do they have distinctions you want to learn from? This social group is putting a lot of osmotic pressure on your results, so choose carefully who you decide to associate with.
Shifting Your Associations
Most people don’t live in such a dangerous environment that their results are being completely stifled. They just live in a mediocre environment. Their friends aren’t dragging them down, but they don’t really offer a new level of behavior to model. This trap of mediocrity is what inevitably keeps people from achieving what they want. Mediocre input, mediocre results.
I’m not harsh enough to say you should immediately abandon all your friends to go associate with perfect super-heroes. Even if those people did exist, they might even consider you to be dragging them down via osmosis. What I’m suggesting is a far more modest step to creating positive osmotic influence.
Start by finding people you want to model and start associating with them more. If you want to become an entrepreneur, start befriending local entrepreneurs. If you want to become physically healthy, spend more time associating with healthy people. Slowly seek these people out and develop new associations that you can model from.
People shift all the time. Many of the people I am close friends with now I didn’t even know a year ago. You don’t need to abandon your old friends and burn bridges. Just make small shifts in your social circle to create different results.
If you don’t know where to find these people, the law of osmosis tends to handle this problem nicely. Since people become part of what they are around, the people you are looking for are often clumped together. Visit organizations and you can often find many people with similar patterns you can learn from.
Positive Osmotic Influence
Everyone bases their success on their personal values. Values tell you what is good or bad, a priority or a bonus, a must or a should. Even your sense of morality comes from your values. From these values you can then determine a direction of what would be better or worse. Your core values were probably installed early in your life so that they are relatively stable.
From this center of values you need to examine the group you are in. Does this group have a positive or negative osmotic influence? If left over time is it likely that your environment will inspire you to become more or force you to settle to be less.
I mention values because I don’t want to imply that certain groups of people are inherently better to associate with than others. That depends on your personal value structure. I’m not a religious person so associating with highly faith based people isn’t high on my list of things to acquire through osmosis. But if faith is important to you, then you might consider a very religious group to have a positive osmotic influence.
Whatever your values are, you should always strive to keep a positive osmotic influence in your life. If you lack this balance then you need to be proactive about shifting your environment to create a positive influence. Start associating with people who are successful in what you value most. You can’t have a sterile environment where you only have good influences, but try to ensure there are enough positive influences to outweigh any negative ones.
Humans learn through imitation. You can take over this process by examining how people think, feel and act to produce a result. Personalized instruction and mentoring is the most effective way to rapidly pick up skills. Observing successful people and copying their patterns can allow you to get their results. Modeling will occur through osmosis whether you want it to or not, so choose the environment that will empower you in moving towards your highest values.