Should You Join a Group?
Thanks to the internet, it's easy to find a group of similar-minded individuals and connect with them, virtually or in-person. Sites such as meetup.com find events in your area with people who share your interests. The types of groups are endless: you can find communities for volunteering, fitness, professional development, socializing, spirituality, mental health, pets, writing, you name it. Groups are more prevalent than ever, but are they right for everyone?
Good Things About Groups
An African proverb says, "If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together." Groups can be a great way to meet people in the community, learn new skills and information, and even hold yourself accountable to your long-term goals. We're highly influenced by the people in our lives, and by seeking out people who do activities we want to learn or who have personality traits we aspire to have, we are more likely to adopt those behaviors.
Social connection has been shown time and again to positively influence wellbeing: Dr. Emma Seppälä of Stanford has found that strong social connections increase longevity, boost immunity, and decrease risk of anxiety and depression. There's a reason people seek support groups for various health conditions. For anyone diagnosed with a disease or who struggles with addiction, there are many groups that bring together people who are also facing the same challenges.
Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of joining a group is that it fights isolation. Isolation harms physical and mental wellbeing. A community helps you find others facing similar struggles as you, and that reassurance is validating. In essence, groups bring people together, and that's pretty awesome.
When Groups Fall Short
Because groups offer so much, maybe we should all start finding communities and filling up our calendars with group events. Not so fast. Groups aren't for everyone. To illustrate this, read these statements and see if any of them sound like you:
- After a large networking or social event, you feel drained.
- You'd rather have a deep, meaningful conversation with one person versus work the room with small talk.
- You don't need or want to be in the limelight.
- You recharge your batteries by spending time alone.
Guess what? If any of these resonate with you, you may be an introvert (or an ambivert, like me). I'm currently reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. It's a fascinating look at the strengths of introverts. Despite popular misconception, being introverted does not necessarily mean you are anti-social or shy. Instead, being introverted means you prefer smaller groups, you think before you speak, and you get your energy from being alone rather than from other people.
For those of us with introverted characteristics, it's something to consider when joining a group. If you're introverted and join a group, especially a large one, you may feel slightly uncomfortable and your presence may even go unnoticed. People who tend to be loud and attention-seeking will thrive in big groups, but it can be overwhelming for others. Instead, meeting one-on-one or in a very small group may be a better solution for those who are introverted but still want the benefits of social connection and support.
The Diffusion of Responsibility
If you're the center of attention and all eyes are on you, odds are you're going to do the thing you said you'd do because of peer accountability. For those who are in the background, however, there's a good possibility that if you don't show up, there's a likely chance no one will notice. This knowledge, even if subconscious, gives you an out. It lets you skip that fitness class or networking event. On the other hand, if you were meeting just one friend for a workout or for coffee, you wouldn't just skip (I hope!). Your friend would obviously notice, and that's much harder to justify. So, social accountability in big groups works well for extroverts, but it doesn't always ring true for introverts.
Why do we feel less pressure to act when in a group? Well, diffusion of responsibility is a social phenomenon in which a person is less likely to take action when others are present. It is related to the bystander effect, in which a person is less likely to help out in an emergency situation when other people are around, because they assume that the other people are responsible for acting or have already acted.
How does this relate to motivational support groups? Well, if you don't show up for the networking event, you rationalize that it's likely someone else will go, so the group organizer won't be alone. Therefore, you're much less likely to go because the responsibility to attend is dispersed among all the other people invited to the event. By contrast, if you make plans to meet someone for coffee, you are completely responsible for not letting that person down. There's no out, unless you want to stand that person up. If you want to preserve the relationship, you're highly motivated to act. So when it comes to social accountability, less is actually more.
Perspective on Groupthink
Finally, we can't talk about groups without mentioning groupthink. Groupthink is what happens when people in a community all conform to the same ideas. This can be so extreme that it causes people to forego what they truly believe and know to be true, just so they do not diverge from the views of the crowd. Make sure that even when you are with a group, take everything with a grain of salt. You don't have to agree or accept every the same ideas as the rest of the group. You may disagree with some ideas or values, and that's okay. It's important that you preserve your individuality and perspective when you are surrounded by others. Continue to question all ideas, even when they are popular among people you admire and respect.
Find What Works for You
If you're thinking of joining a group, give it a try and see what feels right or wrong. Just because one group may not be a good fit, it doesn't mean another community won't be. Or maybe a group is right at some point in your journey, but not forever. You could join a group in the beginning to learn the ropes and make some connections, but then decide to go off and take the skills and relationships outside of the group. Maybe you could even join a community that's totally outside of your comfort zone. Who knows, you may discover a new passion, or find group of people that open your eyes to a new world.