When we want to succeed at something, we look at everything — methods, tools, training plans.
But we rarely stop to consider how much the people around us contribute to (or deduct from) our success.
But the truth is — you are who you surround yourself with.
So in order to get where we want, we must consciously pick our environment. It is the soil from which all personal growth springs.
Read on to learn how “You are who you surround yourself with” affects your progress, and what you can do to optimize your social circle.
You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.Jim Rohn
There are nine reasons why you are who you surround yourself with.
1. Your Peers Shape Your Baseline
There are vast differences in what people consider “normal.”
When I was 20, I attended a week-long workshop with legendary guitar player Tony MacAlpine.
I thought I was prepared. I had taken lessons for a few years as a child and rediscovered the guitar three years ago. Since then, I had been diligently practicing for two to three hours a day.
When I got there, every single attendee was better than I.
Some of these kids had been practicing nonstop for 10+ years. And when I asked them how much they were currently practicing, I found out many of them were putting in as much as six hours every day.
I felt like a fool. I had completely misjudged the amount of work necessary to become a professional.
But it also made me rethink my entire approach to practice. Post-workshop, I became even more focused. I went into monk mode for up to 4 hours each day, and regularly met up with better players.
Over the next 12 months, I improved considerably, simply because I had adapted a new baseline. The guitar prodigies at the workshop had reshaped what I considered “normal.”
Surrounding yourself with people who have higher standards than you is the fastest way to change.Benjamin P. Hardy
2. Your Peers Shape Your Goals
Where your baseline refers to what you consider a standard level, a goal is what you aspire to. It makes you stretch beyond your current level.
High achievers tend to have big goals.
Low achievers tend to have small goals.
The wildest dream of Peter from accounting might be retiring in Cancun.
His boss, on the other hand, might plan on expanding into 10 more countries within the next five years.
If you hang out with the Peters of this world, you are likely to adapt to their narrow mindset.
If you hang out with his boss and his friends, though, you will start to question your own narrowness. Why have these people already accomplished so much? Why do they keep progressing?
And why haven’t I?
Eventually, this will lead you to redefine your goals. What you once thought impossible, now seems possible — because the successful people around you are not limiting themselves.
3. Your Peers Shape Your Habits
You do what the people around you do.
If they constantly party, drink and smoke, so do you.
If they always study, so do you.
For about seven years, I ran an MMA gym. There was a core group of people, mostly other coaches, that would always be there to practice.
And so did I.
I didn’t think much about it. It was just what everybody did. Everybody was constantly drilling new techniques, or lifting, or doing mobility work.
Complete immersion in a group will make acquiring new habits almost effortless. You become who you surround yourself with.
But be careful to choose the right group of people. Because it works just as well the other way around. If you are surrounded by people who always eat junk food or use drugs, chances are you will adopt these habits as well.
4. Your Peers Provide Encouragement (Or Not)
Most groups are dominance-centric.
This means — another person will put you down in order to make themself feel more important.
But a few groups follow a different dynamic — they encourage development.
For example, if you have a group of boxers who train together, it is in everybody’s interest to have the best sparring partners. Because the better your sparring partners, the more likely you are to win your next fight.
So instead of insisting on a pecking order, smart athletes will develop each other’s skill sets. They will help each other to help themselves.
When you find one of these rare groups, you will profit enormously. You will also be expected to help with the teaching.
5. Your Peers Shape Your Thinking
More than anything else, our peers shape how we think.
If you have grown up in the US, your ideas about individuality and entrepreneurship will most likely be different from someone who grows up in Communist China or Cuba.
If you grew up in an ultra religious environment, you are likely to have very rigorous beliefs about sex and drugs. If you grew up in a hippie community, you are more likely to have liberal views.
You are the sum of who you surround yourself with.
My biggest aha moment in that respect came during high school.
I had a highly charismatic philosophy teacher who I became close with. He was heavily into Platonism and Idealism.
These positions were far from what appealed to me naturally. Yet, the more time I spent with my teacher, the more I caught myself thinking along his lines.
You cannot help it. Just like you will breathe the air around you, you will also consider the thoughts surrounding you. And it will affect the ways your brain organizes itself.
6. Your Peers Influence Your Outlook
Surround yourself with positive people, and you are much more likely to have a positive outlook on life.
Surround yourself with negative people, and their misery will eventually rub off on you as well.
This has a huge impact on how we deal with challenges in our lives.
Let’s say your company got acquired and because of downsizing measures, you are let go.
If the glass is always half empty for you, you will start raging against this injustice. How could they? After all the years you gave to them! You might even become depressed instead, and take refuge in drinking.
But if the glass is always half full, you will look at this as a chance. Don’t you have lots of ideas how to improve certain processes in your industry? Hadn’t you always dreamed about starting your own company?
Getting fired might turn into the best thing that ever happened to you. You might leave the 9-to-5 grind behind and go on to earn multiple times what you previously made.
But all of that depends on your general outlook on life. And that outlook is shaped by the people around you.
The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.Epictetus
7. Your Peers Contribute to Your Quality of Life
Imagine you had grown up in a family with intelligent, caring parents. They provided a safe environment, and they showed you that they loved you.
Because of them, you went to a good school, where you met other smart, caring kids that you became friends with.
Same at college. Same at work. Wherever you went, the people around you had a mostly positive outlook on life.
That is why you consider yourself happy today — because of the quality of your relationships, past and present.
Now compare this to somebody who grew up in a family of substance abusers. Little love, lots of neglect. Unhealthy habits all around them.
Now, with very little education, they work a dead-end service job. All the people they know hate their jobs too. To numb the pain, everybody is using some type of drug.
No wonder they think there is no point to life.
“You are who you surround yourself with” directly influences your level of happiness and misery, respectively.
8. Your Peers Reflect on You
People will judge your worth based on whom you surround yourself with.
For example, I regularly catch myself disregarding people simply because they like a certain author that I find silly.
Vice versa, when I am hiring for my marketing agency, and we have a smart friend in common, I will automatically favor him or her because of their connection with you. It’s a seal of quality.
It sounds shortsighted, but more often than not, it is a reliable way of assessing someone. As the saying goes, “Birds of a feather flock together.”
In this sense, whom you surround yourself with will not just influence your own development, but also your social standing.
9. Your Peers Give You Access
The people you surround yourself with open doors for you — or not.
In the business world, it is often not the most innovative idea that wins. Rather, it is about who you know.
When your network consists of uber successful business people, chances are, they will know lots of other successful business people.
That gives you access to a multitude of decision makers:
- industry influences
Who you know might decide if your business becomes a success or a flop.
The same is true for people trying to make it in the entertainment industry (actors, musicians, etc.). Here, too, it is not necessarily your skills, but who you know.
It also holds true for dating. If you surround yourself with the rich and the beautiful, this is who you will end up with. Hence, celebrities marrying other celebrities.
Your network is your net worth.Porter Gale
How To Build a Better Social Circle
If you are who you surround yourself with, how can you make sure you surround yourself with the right people? Here are 15 best practices.
1. Realize the Opportunity Cost
It is frowned upon to be calculating when it comes to friendship or love. Things are supposed to “happen” naturally, without expecting any return on investment.
But that’s a mistake.
Understand – if you don’t get with the right people, there will be a tremendous price to pay.
If you are employed, you are less likely to get promoted.
If you are self-employed, your business is more likely to fail.
You are more likely to end up with somebody less attractive, less intelligent, and less successful.
You’ll experience less happiness in life.
You are more likely to develop unhealthy habits, which might cut your life short.
You can go on buying into Disney fantasies about love or friendship, and make no progress. Or, you can look at reality as it is — a social game with winners and losers — and start stacking the odds in your favor.
2. Realize Your Own Value
You cannot go around demanding that high-value people should be hanging out with you if you yourself are of low social value to others.
All relationships are a type of business deal. You provide certain goods — e.g., your wit, your beauty, your know-how — and in return, the other person provides certain goods — e.g., resources, understanding, sense of humor.
If both parties are somewhat close in value, it will be a fair, pleasurable exchange.
But if one person’s value is a 4 and the other person’s value is an 8, there is no deal. Rightfully, the 8 will stay away from the 4, as they are not getting anything out of the deal.
So, to surround yourself with high-value people, you need to improve your own value first. Look at your strengths, then improve them to a point where it becomes impossible to ignore you.
3. Understand the Social Spiral
You cannot exchange your current group of friends for a much better group of friends overnight. As we saw, you need to gradually improve your own value to attract high-value people along the way.
What you get is a spiral movement.
In year one, you are able to add one new friend of relatively higher value to your social circle.
In year two, as you have done some more work on yourself, another high-value friend joins your group.
In year three, you are really starting to make progress with various personal issues. As a result, you add two more quality people to your circle.
The more high-value people you add, the more you will improve. They will provide honest feedback, give encouragement, and share know-how.
And the more you improve, the more high-value people will feel attracted to you.
Hence, the social spiral.
It is in fact, a combination of these two things: Who we know and what we do that influences more than any other factor, who we will become. Because what you do puts you around people, and the people you’re around effects what you do.Ryan Holiday
Meanwhile, certain low-value people who don’t keep up will fall by the wayside. It is sad, but it is how it is.
4. Define Your Goal
When you try to choose the best people to be surrounded by, it is important to define your goals first.
Let’s say your goal is to become an Olympian.
Likewise, as an aspiring writer, you want to surround yourself with other writers. People who see what you are doing wrong, and who can show you the way. Inevitably, this will make a better author.
To choose the right people, you must define your one thing. If you are vague about your direction in life, your social group will reflect that vagueness.
5. Define Your Criteria
When you start on that upwards social spiral, you must choose what qualities you want your ideal companions to have.
Here are some of the most important qualities that I look for:
- Choose people who tell the truth. Truth tellers are the rarest of people, as it is much easier (and oftentimes necessary) to tell people what they want to hear. But this way, you won’t grow. When you find someone who is trying to give you honest feedback without malice or a hidden agenda, never let them go. And reciprocate by also telling the truth.
- Choose optimistic realists. Too often, people in self-development circles paint a much brighter picture of reality than it is. One where there is no shortage of resources, and where everybody loves each other. Those are delusions, of course. Reality is a struggle. Therefore, seek out people who acknowledge that reality, but without despairing. These optimistic realists will then go on to make things better, despite all obstacles.
- Choose proactive people. There are two kinds of people — those who take complete responsibility for themselves and those who blame their circumstances. Always associate with the first group. Instead of making excuses, these people will take action. They will focus their energy on the things they control and ignore those things that they can’t control. This attitude will rub off on you and improve your own effectiveness.
- Choose self-critical people. We can all be wrong about some things some of the time. For example, I am oftentimes ashamed of some of the things I wrote about in the past. The problem is not being wrong, though — it’s not being able to admit it. But when you surround yourself with people who constantly learn from their mistakes, a kind of magic takes place. Growth skyrockets; and ironically, in the future, fewer mistakes are made. Therefore, filter for self-critical people.
6. Analyze the Status Quo
You most likely already have a social circle.
Now is the time to take a long, honest look at it.
Put everybody in one of three categories.
The first group are the value providers.
These are the people who provide significantly more benefits than disadvantages to you.
Maybe they make better, more intelligent observations about life. Maybe they always make you laugh. Maybe they are sensitive and kind.
Whatever they offer, their positive contributions outweigh their negative aspects significantly.
Group number two are the mixed-bag candidates. They provide some value, but at the same time, come with major issues. For example, they might occasionally cheer you on, but then undermine you again.
Third are those come with more negatives than upsides. Examples are people who constantly blame others, cling to delusional beliefs, or must dominate every interaction.
7. Prioritize Exposure
Obviously, you should get rid of the third group right away, as they provide no value. You must protect your peace.
Group number one, you keep. The majority of your social time goes to them. And you should make a constant effort to further cultivate these relationships by giving value to these exceptional friends.
With group number two, you limit your exposure. The rule of thumb is — as much exposure as is still useful, but not a second more.
For example, you might have one person that you connect very well with over business discussions, but who otherwise gets very invasive. In this case, keep it strictly business. Exit as soon as they go off-topic.
Long term, you should strive to replace people in group number two with group number one candidates.
8. Never Try to Change People
You can’t change people, so don’t try.
You will only waste a tremendous amount of energy.
Instead, use that energy to find better people. People who already share your ideas and values.
Believe it or not — they are out there. You just haven’t found them yet because you haven’t really been looking. You were too busy changing your environment.
9. Talk to Strangers
We are surrounded by billions of people on this planet.
Yet most of us live life as if we were inmates in a prison made of glass. Outside, the people are walking by, but our paths never cross. You are over there, I am over here — forever strangers.
It’s insanity. How many people have you let walk by that would have enriched your life beyond your wildest dreams? As friends. As lovers. As customers. As business partners.
If you want to be surrounded by the best, it’s your job to change that.
Wherever you go, talk to strangers. Be nice. Be normal. Always lead with value. Never take rejection personally, but learn from it.
Also, be patient. You need to go through hundreds, if not thousands of people, to find a handful of outliers. It’s just like cold calling in business — quality clients are rare, but they are worth it.
This is how you take the social spiral to new heights.
10. Look for Companions
Occasionally, you will meet someone going in a similar direction as you are.
They share similar values and goals with you. They realize they need other people to get there. And they understand that to receive value, you have to provide value.
But their key feature is that they cannot stop growing.
Hold on to these wonderful companions for dear life.
They might walk with you for a long time. In some rare cases, you might walk all the way together.
This is how friendship and love are possible, beyond the Disney fantasy. Two (or more) people can keep developing together, and mutually support each other in that development.
11. Choose Your Sexual Partner(s) Carefully
The people you regularly have sex with will influence you more than any other person. Therefore, you must be picky.
This is oftentimes harder to do for men, as they tend to jump at every opportunity for sex they get.
But where things get really tricky is when you have a shot at someone outside your league. Maybe they are especially good-looking. Maybe they are powerful.
If such a person expresses interest in you, most of us would give in right away. As a result, they are very likely to embark on a relationship escalator with that person — moving in, getting married, having kids — in rapid succession.
If that person has nothing going for themselves other than their looks or status, you have dug yourself a hole. You are now surrounded by negative influence nonstop.
Sex is the great relationship intensifier. Therefore, pay attention to whom you regularly invite into your bed.
12. Practice Encouragement
One of the easiest ways to raise the quality of your social circle is to encourage others.
When your friend is thinking about quitting her 9-to-5 job, encourage her.
When your brother wants to quit smoking, support him.
When your mum is finally considering joining a gym, praise her.
When your boyfriend is considering starting a YouTube channel, cheer him on.
By constantly encouraging others to develop, you are more likely to be encouraged yourself. It’s the law of reciprocity.
But most importantly, it will attract other people into your social circle. Everybody needs encouragement. This is one of the easiest ways to appear attractive.
13. Swim With the Sharks
It is tempting to surround yourself with underachievers. This way, no matter what you do, you will always look relatively good in comparison.
Also, if you feel like slacking off for a while, you have the perfect excuse — everybody else is doing it too.
That’s all very dandy in the moment. But of course, this will come back to bite you. You will not grow. You will just stay where you are, nice and comfy in the short-term, but miserable in the long-term.
Therefore, you must learn to swim with the sharks.
Seek out the best, then allow yourself to be humiliated by them, while simultaneously studying their methods.
I earlier told you the story of how I went to a guitar workshop and got outclassed.
Obviously, this was not a pleasant experience. But it made me fundamentally rethink my approach to practicing. As a result, I got much better in the following months.
When you regularly put yourself in situations where you have to be among high achievers, it will supercharge your progress. Learn to endure the initial pain, then reap the long-term benefits.
No competition, no progress.Béla Károlyi
14. Use the Power of Reading
Getting started on the social spiral is a tedious process. Like all good things, it takes a long time to get there. It will be years before you fully reap the benefits of “You are who you surround yourself with.”
But there is an easy shortcut — reading.
Reading gives you access to some of the best minds that ever existed. The smart, the sensitive, the observant, the brilliant — you can meet them all.
Therefore, complement your social spiral with systematic reading. Start a reading schedule.
This will also improve your own value over time.
Just like being surrounded with high-quality people rubs off on you, so does being surrounded by the right books. Essentially, a book is a person. It contains someone’s state of mind at a certain point of time.
So become friends with the right books.
15. Never Blame
Most people blame others.
“Why does this attractive person not pay attention to me?”
“Why is this insightful guy not friends with me?”
“Why are all these successful people so distant-acting?”
Realize — you will never get anywhere as long as you play the blame game.
Only when you fully accept that where you are in life right now is a result of your past decisions do you have a chance to turn your life around.
Make this your default — anything bad that happens to me is (at least partly) my fault.
When you truly adopt that mindset, growth is inevitable. And that in turn will attract the right people.
Followers vs. Leaders
“You are who you surround yourself with” is a bit of an over-simplification.
It is true that the majority of people are highly susceptible to outside influences. They are natural followers.
Put such a follower in a religious environment, and they will turn out to be religious. Put them in a group of atheists, and they will be reading Christopher Hitchens.
But there is also a smaller segment of the population that is able to think independently. They often end up as leaders, as their intellectual strength inspires other followers.
These people are able to withstand peer pressure. So in a sense, “You are who you surround yourself with” doesn’t apply to them.
Yet, paradoxically, they profit even more from it.
Because, if you put someone so driven in an inspiring, supportive environment, they will grow even faster.
It’s like planting a potent seed in especially fertile soil. With such ideal conditions, the little seed will become a giant.
You Still Need to Hustle
“You are who you surround yourself with” can be misconstrued as an excuse to not take action.
You should never wait for the stars to align. You must take action from the get-go, long before you find the right group of people to support you.
By taking action, you will increase your chances of finding high-value people. Hustling, i.e., working towards what you want in life, is an extremely attractive trait.
Think of it as a self-enforcing circle.
You grow and therefore draw the attention of other growth-minded people. And the more you are surrounded by such positive people, the more growth you will experience.
It’s the social spiral at work.