There’s some interesting research in social psychology explaining how most people form their peer groups. Especially as children and adolescence, but often as adults, people select their friends based on proximity more than anything else.
Even in a college classroom, who are you going to make friends with? It’s not those who have similar personalities and interests. It’s the people you literally sit next to.
Socioeconomically, there is loads of research showing a person’s economic mobility is highly determined by the county they live in. In certain counties, your chances of improving your financial situation are very good. In others, like the county our three foster children came from, your chances of improving your financial situation are slim-to-none.
Put most simply, what stands in nearest proximity to you has enormous implications. As Jim Rohn has wisely said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Similarly, Tim Sanders, former Yahoo! director, said, “Your network is your net worth.”
If you’re feeling stuck and struggling to make the progress you want, take a look around you. Most people adapt to whatever environment they find themselves in. They have what psychologists call an “external locus of control,” where they believe factors outside of them dictate the direction of their lives. Thus, they live reactively to whatever life throws at them.
Who are the people in nearest proximity to you? How did they become your peer group? Was it on purpose or based on convenience? Do these people hold you to a high standard? Or, do they hold you to an even lower standard than you hold yourself?
If you want to improve and succeed in your life, you need to surround yourself with people who have higher standards than you do. As Tony Robbins has said, your life is a reflection of your standards, or what you’re willing to tolerate. Most people are willing to tolerate unhealthy relationships, poor finances, and jobs they hate. If not so, those things wouldn’t be in their lives.
Recently, I’ve been getting help from Ryan Holiday, author of several books, on a book I’m writing. Personally, I was extremely satisfied with the manuscript several iterations ago. Yet, every time I send him a draft, he shows me why and how it could be 10x better, and he holds me to that standard.
Looking back now at the product I was formerly satisfied with, I actually cringe. Wow, my standards for my work are so much lower than Ryan’s standards for my work.
The same is true of my Ph.D. research adviser. I’ll send her a research paper I’m satisfied with and she’ll not be satisfied at all. She’ll then challenge me to rethink things and go much deeper. Although this is challenging and even frustrating, it’s how you get better.
This isn’t true just in working relationships. What about your romantic partner? Do they hold you to a high standard? Do they help you become more than you currently are? Do you help them?
The 80/20 rule applies to people and peer groups. 20 percent of the population is moving forward, 60 percent of population reactively mimics whoever they are around at the time, and 20 percent of the population is moving backwards.
Most people are a direct reflection of those around them. If the people around them have lower standards, they drop theirs’ as well. If the people around them have higher standards, they raise their game.
You’ve been around people who, simply by being around them, elevated your thinking and energy. Those are the kinds of people you need to surround yourself with. Those are the kinds of people you need to be like yourself, so that others are better simply by being around you.
The quality of your life and the quality of your work is determined by the standards you have for yourself, and the standards of those around you. If you’re fine doing mediocre work, then those around you are as well.
If you genuinely want to become better, you must surround yourself with people who will hold you to a higher standard than you currently hold yourself. You want to be around people with a higher and better vantage-point than you have, so that you can quickly learn from them.
Your level of talent and “potential” are irrelevant if you’re surrounded by people who don’t help you realize it. We all know many people who have unfulfilled potential. Don’t let that be you.
Who you surround yourself with has huge consequences. You can’t ignore this. What are you going to do about it?
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Originally published at medium.com