who is influencing you, and how? — three degrees of influence, your writing, and you
In his book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, authors Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler examine the network effects that shape all of us. So many of our norms and behaviors hinge on what the people around us are doing, thinking and feeling — including whom we marry, how much money we make, and how thin we are (or aren’t).
The “Three Degrees of Influence Rule” states that you are not just influenced by your friends, but also your friends’ friends, and your friends’ friends’ friends.
As human beings, we are primed to connect with each other. We are wired into each other’s beliefs and behaviors. It is in our nature to imitate one other (even as we declare our own individualism). The term “hyperdyadic spread” refers “to the tendency of effects to spread from person to person, beyond an individual’s direct social network.”
If I believe that fiction is a waste of time, for example, I could share this belief with a friend of mine, who will absorb it into his own belief system and then through his attitude and conversation pass it on to a friend of his, who might end up telling you that your dreams are a waste of time and you should go into banking instead.
And if you live within a social network where many people happen to believe this – so the message that “fiction is a waste of time” gets reinforced to you over and over – you might come to believe it yourself, to accept it as reality. Which makes it difficult for you to justify to yourself the time and energy required to pursue your own fiction writing.
How different would things be if the messages flowing through your social network were the following?
Fiction is important, because it delivers truths about the human condition that can only be absorbed on a visceral, emotional level.
Creativity is a form of spirituality, and developing your creative life deepens your connection to the world around you. Your creative life is about finding meaning in things – and making meaning out of things — and sharing that meaning with others.
Doing your chosen creative work makes you happy, and your happiness influences the people around you, who go on to influence the people around them, who go on to influence the people around them, so the development of your creative self is a moral obligation!
So who is influencing you? What messages and beliefs are flowing along the ties that connect you to other people?
Are you surrounded by people who act and think in ways that support your creative work?
Are there writers in your life who set precedents and examples that inspire you? Who model the work habits that you wish to imitate, who inspire you to raise the bar on yourself, to kick your own ass when needed, to seek out constructive criticism, to revise revise revise and never give up?
Are there people in your life who love to read, who think books are important, who think the cultivation of a creative life essential to a person’s wellbeing?
If there aren’t….Then go and find some. Right now.
Go online and participate in writing forums and communities. Strike up conversations with other writers. Seek out mentors. Take classes. Find a workshop that gives you the ‘tough love’ required to become the writer you want to be.
Take inspiration from books, from all the writers who came before you. Choose the writers who inspire you, whose words or lives or careers ignite a little fire in the core of your being. Create an “inspiration shelf” in your writing space, even if it’s just a stack of books on the corner of your desk. Those books are your totems. Those writers navigated the reality of their own times and forged their own paths. They are proof that you can do the same.