I was reading a post about “Feeling Like A Fraud?” by Lis Tanz and was struck by two of her remedies because they fit in with some things I had been thinking. Her point #5 was Surround yourself with people you admire in your profession and #6 was Surround yourself with peers in your profession.
Those are good points in themselves (and I encourage you to read the whole post, including her explanation of #5 & #6). But, they really resonated with me because I have been working on some trainings about accelerating success. One aspect of it that I have been working on is based on the truism, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend your time with”.
I haven’t tried to trace this back to specific research, but it rings true from empirical observation. And I know that there are at least parts of it that corresponds to findings from brain research.
If you have read much of what I have written (or have been in my trainings), you know that I am interested in the practical application of information like this. So let me give you a sneak peak into this.
For the moment, let’s assume that it is true–that you are the average of the 5 people you spend time with. What does that mean for us?
If I am 180 pounds of solid muscle but I hang out with people who are 250 pounds of flab, it won’t be long before I start gaining weight. I don’t care if I have a personal trainer and a gym membership. My brain will see those heavy people with their “relaxed fit” clothing and eating comfort foods… and it will start to accept that as normal. And once that happens, my willpower is shot. (It was never in very good shape to begin with.) That is the reason you see overweight families and slender families, but seldom overweight and on-or-underweight people in the same family unit (living together, spending time together.)
If I don’t read very well, but start hanging around with people who like to read… and talk about the latest book they are reading, it won’t be long before I start reading more… and better. It is a natural outgrowth of how our brains work.
If I want to get better at business but I only hang around with people who are employees of companies, how good of a businessman do you think I will be? I’ll bet you have an idea of what I should do to change it.
What does this mean for you and for your success in life–whatever area of life you are trying to be more successful in? It means that you need to be looking at those around you and making sure that they are who you want to be (because you are.)
1. Take a look at the 5 people you hang out with the most. Do you like what you see? I hope so. If not, then it is time to get intentional about changing it.
2. Are those 5 people good for you? Are you a better person for being around them? Do they bring out the best in you? Or, if not the best, at least the better side of you? If not, then it is time to get intentional about changing it.
3. Are some of them better than you? Are they giving you something to strive for… to live up to them? If not, then it is time to get intentional about changing it.
What does “get intentional about changing it” mean?
It means making the decision that you are going to look for one or more people that are closer to where you want to be and cultivate a friendship with them when you find them. The reticular activation system in the brain will start to be on the alert for these opportunities once you become clear that is what you want to do.
This is not about abandoning old friends in favor of people who can “help you succeed”. I didn’t say break off contact with your current circle of friends. Just adjust the amount of time you are spending with them.
It also isn’t about attaching yourself to someone further along than you and being a “groupie” or adoring fan (all with the idea of gain for yourself). It is, however, about finding someone you connect with who is also closer to where you want to be… and developing a relationship (friendship) with them.
The balanced position is to surround yourself both with people you admire and with your peers. If you only surround yourself with people you admire, you will have esteem problems because you will always come up short in your internal comparisons. If you only surround yourself with peers, you will never move ahead (unless they do it as a group, but that is very slow progress because you have to move the whole group forward.) If you have a mixture of both, you will have something to stretch to (those you admire) and a comfort that you are not alone… and not so bad (your peer group).
Over time you will grow, and will probably find that you gradually spend more time with those you admired (but they have now become your peers). At some point, it will be time to check your average and renew the cycle.
So, what’s your average?