I was fascinated by an article in the New York Times last week that described how runners who train in groups tend to do better than those who train alone, even with a coach.

The article highlights the fact that the great American marathoners of the 70s and 80s trained in groups. Then when the 90s saw a shift to solo training in the U.S., American performance declined and runners from Ethiopia, Kenya and Japan, who continued training in groups, began to dominate.

Benefits of the buddy system

319337504_52fadf5b98While the effect of group training on individual performance has never been scientifically studied, the anecdotal evidence makes sense intuitively. It would seem that no matter what your profession, pursuing an individual goal in the presence of others who are actively pursuing their own goals can help increase your motivation, drive and energy in part because:

1) Your competitive spirit kicks in

2) You push yourself because it’s harder to slack off when people are watching

3) You see the possibilities for yourself when you see others succeed

4) You feel more accountable because others are counting on you to show up and keep up

As an entrepreneur for the last nine years, I’ve experimented with different group structures for support. For example, being part of a mastermind group of peers who meet regularly, discuss their challenges and strive for ambitious goals offers a platform for brainstorming, problem solving, and encouragement.

Yet if being with a great group of people over time can give you strength and confidence, being with the wrong group can zap you of both.

Case in point…A few days after the group training article came out, The New York Times ran a story about another group phenomenon called job clubs, or more precisely “jobless clubs” where the unemployed can network, get job search help and commiserate.

When you’re looking for a job, it’s definitely a good idea to leave your house once in a while and talk to people. Being part of a support group can be tremendously beneficial, and someone may hear of an opportunity that doesn’t fit for them but might work for you.

Birds of a feather…

275481863_441add0230However, as some of the people interviewed in the article complained, sometimes the negativity from a few participants can bring the whole group down, and it may not take much for you to:

1) Lose your competitive spirit

2) Stop pushing yourself because no one else is pushing either

3) See nothing but impossibilities because others aren’t succeeding

4) Not feel accountable because everyone else is playing the blame game

The motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said that you are the average of the five people you hang out with. When you are trying to make significant improvements in your life, your career or your business, it’s critical to choose your comrades carefully.

Bringing the average up or down?

Are they:

  • Taking responsibility for their actions or waiting for circumstances or people around them to change?
  • Talking about the future or whining on and on about the “injustices” of the past?
  • Looking for the opportunities ahead or wanting things to go back the way they were?
  • Taking steps to reinvent themselves knowing the world is more competitive now or hoping for a rising tide to lift their boat?
  • Learning new skills that will make them more marketable or convinced that years on the job are all that should matter?

Ask yourself these questions about the people you interact with most both in person and online. While it might be difficult to lose all the folks who bring you down (especially if you’re related to some of them, for instance) make changes where you can to minimize the roadblocks to reaching your goals.


Liz Lynch is founder of the Center for Networking Excellence and author of Smart Networking: Attract a Following In Person and Online (McGraw-Hill, 2008). Connect with Liz on Twitter at @liz_lynch and get your free Smart Networking Toolkit at http://www.SmartNetworking.com.