At least once every weekend at 10 a.m., I head over to Linda's Tavern on Capitol Hill, where I enjoy steak, eggs, and far too much coffee.
What I love—more than the food and the decor—is the people. Linda's attracts all types, and their characteristics vary wildly. But what's especially interesting is observing groups of people. Within any given group, folks all appear vaguely similar in dress, grooming, posture, and conversation style.
This makes sense. Jim Rohn famously said we're the average of the five people we spend the most time with. I suspect this is a lingering product of evolution. Social cohesion was one of the biggest factors that allowed our ancestors to survive incredibly harsh environments.
But this deep-seated trait can be a hindrance if left unchecked.
When I was eight years old, my family moved from Minnesota to Montana. As an introvert and (then) only-child, I didn't have a lot of experience making new friends. But after repeated prompts by my parents to go out and explore the neighborhood, I finally met one kid who I'll call E.R.
E.R. was not a nice kid. He was disrespectful toward his parents and mean toward his brother. He was loud, annoying, and generally unaware of his impact on his surroundings.
After meeting E.R. a few times, my dad told me I couldn't hang out with him anymore. At the time, I was angry. I was a kid. I couldn't understand why.
But over the years, the reason became clear. E.R.'s grades were terrible. He eventually had truancy problems. He would get into fights. Later in life, he developed an alcohol problem. DUIs. Eventually, he was arrested and sentenced to jail time for his criminal behavior.
My dad saw the seeds of that behavior, and didn't want to risk his negative influence ruining my life. Sure, it's possible I could have been a positive influence for him, but the risk wasn't worth it. A likely best case is we would have simply averaged out.
But sometimes, the negative influence isn't so well pronounced. Sometimes, it's subtle. It's a friend who chronically complains about his job, but does nothing to improve it. It's a family member who comments on your weight every time you go home. It's a coworker who doesn't push himself to learn more, instead adopting a "not my job" mentality.
These influencers can seep their negative outlook into your life without you even noticing. You start to complain more. You start to feel guilty, or start to put others down to make yourself feel better. You become complacent.
Remove toxic people from your life.
Seek out friends who have the qualities you wish to instill in yourself. And that doesn't mean "find only happy people." But it does mean "find predominantly constructive people."
Find people who inspire you, both in how they treat their victories, and their setbacks.
Find people who live with a sense of urgency, who understand that we only live one life and we need to make the most of it.
Understand that you truly are the average of the people you spend the most time with, and that truth cuts both ways. It can hurt you, or it can help you.
Let it help you.
Craft your influencers.