I remember hearing a factoid a while back that said that your income is destined to become the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
At the time, that bothered me. Outside of my family, I was hanging out with some folks who weren’t exactly rolling in dough. So to me, this factoid said:
- Dude, you’re going to be poor;
- Dude, if you want out, you’re going to have to ditch your friends and phony up to some rich people, which is lame; and
- Dude, if you do that, your new social circle probably won’t say “dude” at all.
But it got worse.
Your weight is destined to become the average of the five people you’re around most. Your habits (smoking, drinking, etc.) will correlate with those folks. Your level of marital satisfaction, of outside friendship, of ability to play the 1990s video game Street Fighter? All are tied to some degree to those of your peers.
I knew I was in trouble
The thing is, I’m a chameleon. I have a strong internal compass, but I also pick up external, cosmetic things from people very quickly, which is probably why I’m pretty good at building rapport.
I’ll eat dinner with Canadians and pick up their vocal inflections. I’ll have an Irish roommate for a weekend retreat and develop a Guinness habit.
So given that I had a lot of broke friends, what did that say about the forecast for my income?
The bad news about the factoid is that, from what I can tell, it seems to be totally true. If you only associate with, talk with, and think about interactions with losers, guess what you’re likely to become?
The familiar way of saying it is that If you lie down with dogs, you’re gonna get fleas.
The good news
But the good news is that you don’t have to ditch your old buddies and suck up to Mr. and Mrs. Howell from Gilligan’s Island.
And the ultra good news is that you can aspire to associate with “successful” people instead of narrowing the focus to “rich” people. And a lot of successful people say “Dude,” like, ALL THE TIME.
Who’s in your pack?
The truth is that we humans are pack animals, and the need for acceptance and love is hard-wired deep in our brains. People like people that they resemble, so getting that acceptance and love almost always means practicing some degree — at least on a subconscious level — of conformity.
If you skip a night at the bar to work on a new book, you’ll lose some love. If you’re eating an apple while your buddies are eating Buffalo wings, they’re going to goof on you.
It’s not a question of whether you can shrug it off or convince yourself that it doesn’t mean anything. This is primal stuff, and it will work its way down to your core in time.
So yeah, if you want to become more successful and your current group is a bunch of do-nothings, your best chance of making something of your life comes from changing your peers.
I know how this looks
I know it looks like I’m saying you have to throw away people who have been in your life forever — to ignore Cousin Cletus, who you love even though has no current job, car, or front teeth.
I know it feels phony. I know many of you reading this are resisting the notion, thinking that you’ll be a stand-up person by staying in your current peer group and simply rising above their expectations.
So to address some of that, let me borrow from Tony Robbins.
Love your family and friends. But choose your peer group.
Tony’s modification of the factoid is, in my opinion, right on the money. Instead of just talking about who you hang out with, Tony’s version of the rule is:
Most people’s lives are a direct reflection of the expectations of their peer group.
Tony’s definition of a peer is someone you respect, and whose approval is very important to you. And, if you’re paying close attention, you’ll note that this definition has nothing to do with who you are actually around for most of the day.
You can choose peers from anywhere — regardless of whether you spend much time with them — as long as it’s their expectations that you’re always trying to meet.
You can also have dysfunctional relatives and sloppy friends, and choose not to hold them as peers. (But be careful, because it’s hard to spend a lot of time with someone and not accidentally seek their approval.)
You can even choose peers from among people you don’t actually know
See, peers aren’t like Facebook friends. Peers don’t necessarily have to accept your peer request.
Going back to Tony Robbins, Tony has said that he used to hold mental mastermind meetings with the people he admired most. One of the people he mentions “meeting with” regularly was activist and natural healing guru Norman Cousins.
So, because Cousins was (in Tony’s active imagination) a peer, Tony was always asking himself, “What would Norman think of this?” And when Tony “met” with his group, “mental Norman” would tell him what he thought.
I’m not saying you have to get all New-Age self-helpy. I’m just saying that you don’t need to limit yourself to peers within your immediate social circle.
Who are the people you respect most? And what if you did things with the intention of gaining their approval instead of Cousin Cletus’s?
Supercharging peer relationships
In an ideal world, those of us who dig Albert Einstein would have a cup of coffee with him regularly and chat about our goals and desires. But Albert’s dead, so a real-life interaction would actually be somewhat uninspiring.
But this is the age of the internet, and there are plenty of accessible live peer candidates out there, just a few clicks away.
So as a compromise between hanging with Cousin Cletus and creating wacky mental mastermind groups, you could try some of the following:
- Find blogs, forums, and online social communities filled with people whose expectations you’d like to meet, and hang out there.
- Find a coach or mentor. Paying for coaching is a great way to care if you meet the coach’s expectations.
- Work with someone who pushes you. Several people I interact with are constantly asking me to do things I don’t yet know how to do, and it forces me to stretch.
- Read any and all material you can find that exemplifies the life you’d like to live.
- Join a membership site that surrounds you with mentors and solid peers.
- Compete. I have a friendly competition with a buddy to see who can earn the most money. He’s been handing my ass to me for years, but I’m finally surpassing him.
If you do this for awhile, a funny thing will happen. You’ll find that the five people you actually do interact with most often will be your five best peers, give or take.
And while you’ll still think Cousin Cletus is awesome, you’ll likely find you’re less interested in hanging out with him 24/7, regardless of whether you can resist his sloth and plentiful nachos.
Looking for a vibrant group of smart, like-minded peers and mentors who can help you reach your goals? Sign up for the free Internet Marketing for Smart People newsletter. In the next few weeks, we’ll be announcing a brand-new tribe for online entrepreneurs. And our newsletter subscribers will be the very first to learn about it.
About the Author: Johnny B. Truant honestly didn’t write this to post in order to get new consulting work, but nonetheless recognizes a good pitching opportunity when he sees one. So, you can check out Johnny’s coaching services. Or maybe just follow him on Twitter if the idea of having him as a full-on peer scares you a little.