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The benefits of friends with flaws


If we think about how our friends influence our willpower development, the common sense assumption would be that the more virtuous our friends were, the more we’d be inspired to follow their example, and the better off we’d be. And it’s certainly true that it can be very helpful to have a real-life example right in front of you, especially one who can talk to you about how they achieved what they did, and very especially one who developed the thing you admire during the time you’ve known them. But there are also some compelling benefits to having friends with flaws.

More specifically, a friend who has and would like to change some of the same flaws you have and would like to change can be an enormous help.

It's easier being a statue with no legs when you have a friend in the same boat

It's easier being a statue with no legs when you have a friend in the same boat

The reason for this is that someone who has the same flaw as you do really can’t judge you on that flaw. For instance, I often try to pack productive activity into every moment of my day, which sometimes mean that I try to do much and end up being late for something. I have a friend who also has issues with lateness. Whenever I’m meeting my friend, there’s a strange lack of anxiety about either of us being late. If this happens, neither of us feels judged by the other one, because after all, the role is often reversed.

What this means for us is that we can easily and comfortably discuss our issue with being late, including the situations that led up to it. We can throw around practical ideas for what’s going on and how to fix it. Sharing a problem with someone can, under the right circumstances, take a lot of the anxiety out of having the problem in the first place.

Another benefit of a friendship with someone who shares a problem with you is that you can see that problem from the outside, without it being connected to you. This can yield new insight and new resolve (commonly known as the “Dear god, I don’t do that–do I?” effect).

While it might be tempting because of this to try to encourage new shortcomings in your more perfect friends, people who consistently do well at something can be annoyingly set in their ways. So if you have an issue you’re working on and want to be able to talk about it with someone who is in no position to judge you but might have some really useful insights, it can often be constructive to go out and find new people who share that same issue, whether it’s through a group that meets in real life, cultivating a friendship, or joining a discussion group on the Web. The point isn’t so much to cultivate a new, lifelong friendship as to connect with someone who understands where you’re coming from.

And if you’re having trouble finding people who share your specific concerns, you can get some benefit from just looking at how other people work with their willpower and self-motivation issues. Virtually everyone has some bad habit or some goal they haven’t managed to motivate themselves toward as much as they’d like, and as we see from this site, the basic tools of self-motivation are very similar regardless of what that self-motivation is used for (while understanding that attaining a goal takes a bit of a different approach from changing a habit).

This is just one way in which you can draw support from other people to improve your life; we’ll look at other ways in future posts.

Photo by caffeinehit.

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