Germans have the concept of the stammtisch. Greeks frequent their stegi. Brits are loyal to their local. Around the world, it seems, people have a tendency to form strong attachments to a neighborhood hang-out. Just how much are we creatures of habit when it comes to where we spend our time? A new study offers a surprising answer.

You're not as adventurous as you think.

We all like to think of ourselves as adventurers out to sample all the amazing sights, sounds, and places the world has to offer. We travel. We try new restaurants. We keep on top of the hottest new bars in town. All this activity creates the impression that we go to lots of different places, but when a team of European researchers used cell phone data to trace the life paths of 40,000 people of all ages, they discovered a very different picture.

At first, the team followed 1,000 students and found that, actually, they each went to only 25 separate locations. The students might add a new place to their repertoire, but when they did an old place would fall out of favor. Surely, this must just be just campus-bound kids, the researchers thought, so they expanded their study to tens of thousands from all walks of life around the globe. The results were the same, surprising the researchers.

The data clearly showed that while we might join a new gym, discover a new favorite bar, or start frequenting a different park for lunch, we also then stop going somewhere else. In short, there appears to a be a hard limit to how many places we keep in the rotation at any given time.

"People are constantly balancing their curiosity and laziness. We want to explore new places but also want to exploit old ones that we like," commented Andrea Baronchelli, a researcher in the Department of Mathematics at City, University of London and study co-author. "We found that this dynamic yields an unexpected result: We visit a constant, fixed number of places--and it's not due to lack of time."

You become who you know... and where you go.

This isn't the first time that scientists have uncovered a built-in limit to the number of connections in our lives. Research has established "Dunbar's number," which is the maximum number of social relationships any person can maintain at a given time. In short, your brain can only handle having 150 friends at once.

Something similar seems to be going on with our ties to places as well as people (though the researchers caution more study is needed). The world may be your oyster, but your brain simply can't keep a handle on more than 25 places at once.

So what's the take away from this study beyond the fascination factor of knowing you likely have a hard stop on the number of places you go built into your psychology? The findings definitely help explain why my husband and I always find ourselves back at the same handful of restaurants despite constantly claiming to want to try new places, but it also puts greater pressure on all of us to choose our hangouts well.

Whether you ask interior designers, real estate agents, retail entrepreneurs, or basketball stars, the evidence is clear: location matters. A lot. Where we spend our time affects our mindset, our opportunities, our serendipitous encounters, and even our physical health. Just like your friends heavily impact who you become, so do your surroundings. Knowing you only get to split your life between a couple of dozen places means you really have to choose those places well.

So get out there and make sure your portfolio of places is as exciting, inspiring, and joyful as it could be.

Published on: Jul 4, 2018