As children, we are told by our parents to be careful about the friends we make. And when we become parents, we offer the same advice to our kids, explaining how the people they surround themselves with will have an immeasurable impact on them. Somehow, though, as adults we don’t end up thinking about how this factors into our own lives.
Even as grown-ups, the people around us affect us more than we like to admit, as Amy Morin points out in her article, 5 Surprising Ways Your Friends Influence You, Backed by Science. From our dreams and ambitions, to what we eat and how we invest our money – our family, friends and colleagues exercise a crucial influence on our choices and our decisions.
Think about the people you spend your time with. Do they inspire you to be a better version of yourself? Do they challenge you? Do they encourage and support you? Are you free to be yourself around them without fear of judgment? Do you feel safe around them?
The people you choose to surround yourself with have a big impact on your values, what you stand for and your life. And remember that to large degree, this is a choice that you make.
So, my message this week is on the impact of the company you keep and how you should think about these relationship decisions that you make.
According to business entrepreneur, Jim Rohn, ‘You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.’ While the idea is a bit simplistic and not backed by any research, it is worth reflecting on. Essentially, this means that this circle of five people (let’s call them your Frequent Five) influences who you are and, by extension, your career and life.
If a member of your Frequent Five is passionate, enthusiastic and solution-oriented, then it’s likely that they have a positive effect on your life. Their presence inspires you to aim higher, overcome hurdles and be happier. On the other hand, if they are usually disgruntled, dissatisfied and bitter, chances are that their negativity will rub off on you. This is not to say that friends can’t talk about their problems or lean on each other—of course they can. But if complaints, blame and drama constitute the typical behaviour of someone with whom you spend a great deal of time, then ask yourself: How is this affecting me? Is the negativity making me bitter and pessimistic as well? Am I starting to feel stuck in my own problems, instead of being inspired to tackle them?
In the interest of your own happiness and success, it’s important to examine the people with whom you spend the most time and find a way to deal with energy vampires. You cannot become your best self if you are around those who bring out the worst in you.
Here are some suggestions on how to go about this (often difficult) journey:
1. Assess your Frequent Five
Identify the five people with whom you spend the most time on a regular basis. Don’t include your immediate family members in this count. Feel free to include more if you’re very social and meet people frequently.
Now, think about them. I mean really think about them—and how they influence you. Do you leave them feeling better about yourself, or worse? Do they support your dreams, or constantly pull you down in one way or another? Do they inspire you on towards bigger, better things or make you feel lethargic, demotivated and small?
In addition, if you have certain habits that you’re trying to get rid of, think of those who enable those behaviours. Enablers can sometimes have the best of intentions towards you, but their behaviour is actually very harmful in the long run. For instance, imagine that you’re trying to manage your time better at work and your colleague keeps constantly dropping by to chat or take you along for a cup of coffee—even though you’ve told them what you’re trying to achieve. Without meaning to, they might be standing between you and greater success at the workplace, a better work-life balance, and a richer personal life. For those who may be trying to overcome or stay away from derailers, it is imperative to identify your enablers.
2. Make your time count
When it comes to optimising your Frequent Five, it’s mostly about managing your time better. Let me share an example. If I were trying to eat healthier (and having a tough time doing so), should I continue to have lunch with a colleague who eats copious amounts of junk food? Ideally, no. If someone is eating a pizza in front of me, I’m more likely to break down and get one myself. So, I would stop having my daily lunch with this colleague. Instead, I’d get together with them once in a while, perhaps on a cheat day when I could indulge myself.
Just like your physical health, this adjustment should also apply to your mental, emotional and professional health. Instead of getting together for that coffee with the same person each week—the friend who loves gossiping nastily about acquaintances, or the colleague who is continually belittling team members—choose to spend your free time with someone who invigorates and uplifts you. Like the friend who is so enthusiastic about meeting new people. Or the colleague who loves discussing ideas and news that you both find exciting and relevant. Or the cousin who is keen for you both to pursue a favoured hobby together. In the presence of pettiness and unhappiness, you become negative; in the presence of energy and passion, you become positive. It’s really as simple as that.
3. Strive for diversity
Some suggest that for maximum professional success, you should surround yourself with experts in your own field. By this logic, if you want to be a brilliant investor, hang out with brilliant investors. If you want to be a great scientist, cultivate the company of great scientists. While there is a certain wisdom to this (it’s one of the core ideas behind networking and mentorship), I wonder if these people—important as they are to your workplace achievements—must automatically be included in your Frequent Five. Surely one’s professional qualifications alone cannot determine their inclusion in your closest circle?
I would, instead, recommend striving for a diversity of members. For instance, interacting with people outside your industry helps you avoid a blinkered outlook by keeping you connected to broader realities and trends. Plus, each person plays a different role in your life.
Once again, think about the people with whom you spend the most time. Do you have these profiles in your circle?
- The Cheerleader: Rohn points out that you need those who will keep you going in the ‘sowing’ stage of your career—when things are tough and the payoff for your hard work is yet to come. (To know more about the ‘law’ of sowing and reaping, watch this engaging talk). This applies to your personal life as well. When everything seems to be going wrong—whether professionally or personally—we are able to hang in there and make it through thanks to the unconditional support and unwavering belief of our closest family and friends. Make sure you have a Cheerleader in your corner. (And don’t forget to be someone else’s Cheerleader in turn!)
- The Reality Check:Support comes in different forms—and it’s not always about our friends saying ‘yes’ and agreeing with everything we say. It’s imperative for us to be questioned and criticised along the way. That’s what gives our decisions certainty, helps us anticipate obstacles, and makes us work towards achieving our goals. The only caveat is: make sure the criticism is constructive and the questions pertinent. Your Reality Check should make you stronger, smarter and better.
- The Spark: This is a person who inspires and motivates you. They could be a source of fresh, engaging ideas that spark something in your mind, or they may have an enthusiastic, active personality that makes you want to keep moving towards your goal and take on new challenges. The Spark’s creative energy will push you forward, encouraging you to step out of your comfort zone, and engage your imagination—crucial for a fulfilling life, be it work or play.
Optimising your Frequent Five is about being selective towards who you spend your time with and surrounding yourself with the right people.
It is about allotting your time more wisely so you can make better choices and become more fulfilled.
Quite simply, it’s about striving to be the best version of yourself.
I look forward to your thoughts.