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The surprising key to changing your life

A neuroscientist explains that making better daily decisions doesn't work so well. Here's what does.

A lot of people think they can be happier and reach their goals by making the right daily decisions. If you want to lose weight, you decide what to eat and how much to exercise, for instance. If you want to be a musician, you've got to pick the right instrument and practice a lot. The more right decisions you make, the happier and more successful you will be.

Moran Cerf, an Israeli neuroscientist at Northwestern University who studies human decision-making, thinks there's a problem with that idea. He points out that humans make really bad decisions. We're emotional, biased and irrational. Even worse, we spend a lot of mental energy dealing with the hundreds of (often terrible) decisions we make each day. Choices are just plain overwhelming.

So he suggests a new approach to changing your life: change your friends.

A lot of research suggests that people become like their friends. People near one another, experiencing the same things, often have similar looking brainwaves.

“The more we study engagement, we see time and again that just being next to certain people actually aligns your brain with them,” explained Cerf, an alumnus of Tel Aviv University in Israel. “This means the people you hang out with actually have an impact on your engagement with reality beyond what you can explain. And one of the effects is you become alike.”

So instead of trying to master a million daily decisions, you're better off just choosing friends you want to become similar to. If you want to lose weight, hang out with health-conscious people. If you want to become a musician, hang out with musicians. Just being part of these social groups will cause you to start thinking and acting like the people in them. You will end up copying their habits and learning what they know.

Of course, if you like your friends, then maybe you should stop worrying about how to become more perfect and just enjoy them. After all, a massive amount of research suggests that community is the biggest predictor of happiness.


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