When we’re working to change our lives and reach our goals, one of the most critical areas to examine is to check what types of people we hang around most often. One of the hardest alterations many people face on the way to reaching their goals is the realization that the people they’ve surrounded themselves with are negative influences.
We teach our children to be selective about who they hang out with, so why do we think that doesn’t apply to us as adults? A good parent encourages their children to be careful about the influences around them, knowing that they will be heavily influenced by those closest to them.
At the latest Smart Conference, Dave Ramsey referenced research that shows most people will earn a salary comparable to their closest friends—within +/-10%. He often talks about getting to know and become influenced by successful people. If we want to become successful in a certain area of life, such as money, then why would we allow ourselves to be continually influenced by people who haven’t been successful?
No, this isn’t advocating dropping friends because they aren’t rich, or trying to find a new set of people to pal around with so we look better than we are. This is about evaluating our relationships and determining whether or not they have a positive or negative influence on us.
Deleting Toxic Voices
A member of my small group at church recently recalled having a conversation with a woman who kept running down her husband. The woman’s diatribe included private details from her marriage, prompting my friend to stop her and say, “I’m not comfortable with this conversation. I don’t think we should be gossiping and running down your husband.”
The woman’s reaction just leaves me speechless. “Oh, it’s ok,” she replied. “I’m the one saying it, you’re just here to listen.”
You know what my friend’s reaction to that woman has been since? To never allow herself to be alone with her again. She remains friendly and doesn’t shun the woman, but she’s intentional about making sure she’s never in that uncomfortable position again. Why? Not only because she believes it’s wrong for someone to tear down their spouse that way, but also so she’s not eventually dragged down to the same level.
There are times when the best decision you can make is to cut ties with people who are holding you down. Are they negative? Do they gossip or put other people down? Do they consistently discourage you from following your hopes and plans? Are they a poor influence or someone that empowers a bad habit?
Those people need to be gone from your life.
Perhaps, like my friend, you can still be friendly, but within certain boundaries. This is especially true when it comes to family members. Can you allow that person to remain in your life in a limited way? Can you continue to interact with them without being alone with them or give them a place of significant influence in your life?
If not, then you’ll have to make the hard decision to delete them from your life. You owe it to them to be straight and tell them the blunt, honest truth. Give them the opportunity to change, but let them know that you’ll have to hold them at arm’s length until they’ve proven themselves. If they need help, point them in the right direction but make them responsible for getting the help they need.
Change Your Environment
I imagine that many of your friends are people you first became acquainted with due to your regular proximity to one another. Maybe you met them in your old neighborhood or school growing up, or back in college. Sometimes we meet people at work who are colleagues at first but grow to become part of our inner circle. It doesn’t really matter where you met, just recognize that the people you hang out with are likely there because of a shared environment.
So if you wake up one day and realize you need to find a new set of friends who won’t be bad influences, don’t go looking for new friends in the same old places. This doesn’t mean you need to drop everything, quit your job, and move to a new neighborhood. What it does mean is that you need to change the places you frequent.
If you’re not happy with the types of people you’re meeting down at the local pub, then why do you keep going to the local pub? If you haven’t been able to make any genuine friends at church, why don’t you look for a new church filled with different people? There’s no rule that says you’re stuck going to the same old places all the time. There’s no law that says your closest ten friends have to be coworkers or people you’ve known all your life.
Where do the people you want to be like hang out? What are the things the people you admire like to do? Go to those places and get to know a different breed of person.
Are You the Problem?
Last of all, realize that you may be the person in need of the most change. Like calls to like, so you tend to attract certain types of people more than others. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, but it does mean that there may be some work necessary on your part before others will want to hand out with you. Remember, you’re beginning to be selective about who you hang around, so you can expect others to be just as selective.
Remember, this entire exercise is all about change for the better, so don’t be surprised when you need to make some initial changes in order to make other changes possible in the future.
Also published on Medium.
I’m Jeff M. Miller, and I help ordinary people who are stuck in a rut change their behaviors so they can be extraordinary. I’m an entrepreneur who retired from my full-time job in my early 40s to work from home. I’m a financial counselor, life coach, graphic designer, and passionate believer in helping others improve their lives a little more each day.
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