You are the result of the 5 people you spend the most time with.
This is a bit of a sweeping statement but generally it’s true. Consciously and unconsciously, who we are is highly impacted by those we spend our time with.
“Our friends shape us. We tend to adopt the habits, behaviours and beliefs of those we hang out with. If your friends are heavy alcohol drinkers then the odds are that you will increase your alcohol consumption. Hang out with people who eat a lot, and you will probably start to eat more, too. What goes on around us becomes the norm, the unspoken rules by which we live our lives. You can choose to hang out with positive, happy people. You can make choice about who you are friendly with. How happy and positive are the people that you hang out with?” – Anthony Grant & Alison Leigh (Eight Steps to Happiness)
Logically then, you want to make sure that the types of people you spend most of your time with are those who reflect the type of person you want to be. If your friends reflect values that are not even close to those you would like to embody in yourself, does that mean it’s time to change friends? Maybe.
But it’s not always easy to switch friends.
For the record, writing the words ‘switch friends’ didn’t settle easily with me. In general, all people, including the people you spend time with and call ‘friends’, are doing the best they know how in life. This includes you and me too. We are all doing the best we know how to do. If we knew better, then we’d be doing that.
This may be true, but it is not a free pass to get complacent about your life.
Side note: If you reflect on your relationships after reading this and decide that there are some people in your life that you simply need to kick to the curb, I’ll leave that with you. Today, I’m more about making some subtle changes (because that’s where the big changes start anyway).
It’s not likely however, that you will be kicking any friends to the curb today. The truth is that while there may be some friends that our heart tells us are not the right influence in our lives, there is a much stronger desire within us to keep things the way they are. The risk of being alone is a big one for people. This is because social pain is just as real as physical pain. We might intellectually rationalise that rejection or negative responses from others don’t really impact us, but the neurological truth is that we register social pain in the same regions of our brain as we register physical pain.
So even if there is some part of you that thinks something like “I don’t like the way that when I’m with that friend all we do is whinge about men and bitch about celebrities” or “I don’t like the way that I always drink too much when I spend time with that friend” there will be a strong reluctance to go against the innate need to avoid the dissolution of these relationships.
Again, everyone is doing the best they know how. So while you may feel you need to make some changes to create the life you want, you don’t necessarily need to be kicking some of your long time buddies to the curb today. There are changes you can make and, if you’re lucky, your friends will follow your lead.
Additionally, while it’s all good and well to say that you should hang out with the people you want to be more like, there is one potential problem with this goal – those people may not want (or be able) to hang out with you. Ouch! Stings a bit, doesn’t it?
While I have the urge right now to say to you ‘you’re awesome, and who needs them anyway’, I actually think we should instead just sit with the sting of that truth for a bit. It’s the avoidance of the sting that will have you hanging around in places (real or metaphorical) longer than you should be.
There may be many reasons why someone you admire may not be interested in co-creating a stronger bond between you. The reason is not really important. All you really need to know is that it’s not because there is anything “wrong” with you.
They’re at their stage in life. You’re at a different stage in life. It is what it is; let’s move on…
Let’s say it’s true that you are the result of the five people that you spend the most time with. The good news is that the five people don’t actually have to be people you physically spend time with. (If you find those people, awesome! It’s just important to note here that they don’t have to be.) For example, a good friend of mine and I are both fans of audiobooks. Something we’ve both discovered is that if you spend enough time listening to a particular author/speaker, then that author becomes one of your five people. Their inspiring ideas can become a new way of thinking for you.
With new ways of thinking, come new ideas, new beliefs, new perspectives, and ultimately new behaviours. New empowering behaviours will leave you feeling like you really like yourself. This is an attractive quality in anyone.
Key lesson here: To attract good people into your life, you first need to be attractive.
It really is cyclical, and you can’t force it.
If you force it, no matter how lovely you know yourself to be, this will be a turn off for other people. You know it’s true because you find it a turn off when someone else attempts to force a connection with you.
I relate this to what Daniel Goleman writes in his book, Social Intelligence. According to Goleman, an invisible link forms between two people when they interact. It is a feedback loop that crosses the skin-and-skull barrier between two brains. As one brain changes, so does the other. This looping effect lets feelings, thoughts and actions synchronise. It’s one of the reasons that laughing is so contagious. Goleman goes on to say “Brains loop outside our awareness, with no special attention or intention demanded. While we can intentionally try to mimic someone in order to foster closeness, such attempts tend to come off as awkward. Synchrony works best when it is spontaneous, not constructed from ulterior motives such as ingratiation or any other conscious intention.”
So connections with others can’t be forced. On the other hand, this looping effect will definitely work in your favour if you’re genuinely feeling good about yourself, because then positive thoughts and feelings will spontaneously radiate from you.
Tips for feeling good about yourself:
- Find what you love to do. Don’t wait for it to appear. Go searching for it and accept that the process of finding it may be trial and error. It’s all good. Life is a journey; go with it.
- If you can make a career out of what you love to do, even better. If you’re not loving your job right now, then having at least one hobby that you love and has a positive impact on you is essential.
- Study people who inspire you.
- Give gratitude for everything that you already have now.
- Look after yourself with the basics (e.g. eat and drink well, exercise)
- Be a good listener
- Learn to (really) accept the ‘sting’ that not everyone will appreciate you.
- While it’s true that some people will not be interested in hanging out with you, do be willing to take chances anyway because plenty of people will appreciate your efforts. A rejection from someone says nothing about who you are as a person, except that you’re willing to take chances. Keep taking chances because, 1. The more chances you take, the more that will pay off, and 2. Taking chances gets easier with practice.
- Persist and be patient. Persist because you’re worth it. Be patient because it’s taken decades to shape you into the person you are today, therefore it will likely take more than a couple of days to shape you into the person that you aspire to be – but it will be worth the persistence.