Are you bringing your wingman down?

GOOEDFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Never underestimate the power of your example. A recent article in Wired Magazine titled "The Buddy System: How Medical Data Revealed Secret to Health and Happiness" detailed a famous research study that took place in Farmington, Mass. The initial purpose of the 1948 study was to determine what factors were most likely to lead to heart disease. As one would expect, they found the usual suspects smoking, eating a diet high in saturated fat and lack of exercise--all of the things your primary care provider tells you not to do. But the most interesting finding from this study had little to do with heart disease.

Expecting to study each subject over an extended period, the researchers in 1948 asked each participant for a list of friends and family to help locate them should they move. In 2003, two researchers used the same list of friends and family to build a model of a social network. Two-thirds of the town had participated in the original 1948 study over a period of 30 years, so researchers were able to construct a near-perfect model of a social network and show how it influenced people over time. Since each participant's weight had been tracked over an extended period, researchers were able to determine a significant correlation between obesity and relationships.

They found that those who became obese did so at the same rate as those around them. Even more interesting, they found that proximity to obese individuals determined weight gain in others--more so than genetics. The researchers found similar influencing trends with smoking--those that quit smoking soon, had others around them quitting. Related studies done on other social networks have confirmed these findings.

So how does this relate to your wingman? Look in the mirror. Now look at your wingman. Could you both stand to lose a few pounds? Do you smoke? If you do, chances are your wingman does too. How about your last PT test? How did your wingman score? They're close, aren't they? The bottom line is that you set a powerful example--more so than your parents, your supervisors, or even your commander. Knowing that you have that kind of influence puts the responsibility on you to do something. So what can you do?

If you see things in others that you want to change, start with yourself. Gandhi said it best, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." He set a powerful example that united millions of people and freed an entire continent, one man. What kind of example are you setting?