Who You Hang Out With May Be Holding You Back

Does your circle of friends expand or limit your sense of what is possible for your life?

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Does your circle of trust expand or limit your sense of what is possible for you?
Does your circle of trust expand or limit your sense of what is possible for you?

Of all the people you know, who do you find most inspiring? Who do you admire most? Who has most successfully navigated a similar path to the one you’re on? Who Is living a life they love, with values closely aligned to yours? Who do you find most challenging, in a good way?

Now, how about listing the 10 people with whom you currently communicate most frequently.  

Are the people who regularly share their thoughts and opinions the same people as those you most admire, respect? Are the majority of the people in your social bubble braver, brighter, and more successful than you are? If not, it could be time to curate your circle of friends.

You’re probably familiar with the entrepreneur Jim Roh’s idea that “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” And, according to research by social psychologist Dr. David McClelland of Harvard University, the people you habitually associate with determine as much as 95 percent of your success or failure in life.

David Burkus, author of ‘A Friend Of A Friend’ extends this circle of influencers from 5 or 10 to the people who make up your social bubble. “Your friends make you fat, but so do their friends, and so do their friends of friends.” “Your friends really are your future. And the implication is that you don’t just need to be more deliberate about who you’re spending the most time with. You need to be examining your entire network and its influence on your life.”

It boils down to this: Does your social circle expand or limit your sense of what is possible for you?

1. Audit Your Influencers

Very often we surround ourselves with people who make us feel comfortable and at ease, but this can often mean people who confirm our self-limiting beliefs.

In case you’re not familiar with your saboteur, they’re the voice in your head that keeps you stuck where you are, with well-intentioned advice such as, “Don’t take a risk on that new project/relationship, it will probably end in failure/disaster.” “Don’t try that, you’ll look foolish.” “Do you remember how badly that worked out for you the last time?” 

Go through the list of the 10 or so people with whom you have the most communication, and ask yourself of each person, ‘Do they challenge or confirm my negative, self-limiting patterns and beliefs?

Only those who challenge and frequently offer alternative views to those of your saboteur should be included in your new  circle of trust.

This can be hard, particularly if one of your most ardent ’nay sayers’ is a parent or a childhood friend.  I’m not saying you should banish them, simply that it would serve you to limit their access and influence.

2. Curate A Circle Of Trust

It’s not enough to have people who don’t keep you stuck where you’re at. You need people who will help you enlarge your sense of what is possible for you and your life.

A Champion Cheerleader

We all need someone who believes more in our success than we believe in it ourselves.  Someone who thinks you’re talented, smart, and gorgeous, and is most happy when you triumph over every obstacle and adversity.  You trust each other completely and they’re always in your corner. You only need one champion or cheerleader in your life. Who is there who fits the bill for you? If they’re not already in your bubble, they most certainly should be.

A Challenger

Unlike detractors or nay-sayers who speak mostly to your saboteur, a challenger will always speak to your intentional self, to your possibility. Challengers question you from a place of ‘What more could you be doing?’ “Is this actually the case?” ‘What else is true?’  They may be someone who sees the world in very different ways to you, so their views are often uncomfortable. Perhaps you’re an extrovert creative and they’re an introverted pragmatist.

Who is there who challenges you in a provocative, exciting, ultimately rewarding way?  Again, if they’re not someone you are in frequent communication with, it would serve you to reach out.

An Inspiring Motivator

You may find this person intimidating. You may be awed by, or even possibly envious of them in some way.  They may be older than you, and you should see them as more successful than you in at least one aspect of their life.

Who do you know whose life inspires you with how they lead? Who is a role model for the kind of person you would like to become?   If they’re not already in your circle of influence, start by explaining clearly and honestly why they inspire you, and why you would like to spend more time with them. And don’t limit yourself to only one person whose daily example motivates and inspires you.  Three or four would be ideal.

A Sponsor

If you’ve ever been on a 12 step program, you’ll know the role of a sponsor is to keep you accountable. They encourage you to stay on track, and when you have a breakdown, they support you in getting back on track, without judgment. They are honest, and trustworthy and give you their full attention.

Who do you have in your life that holds you accountable? Who do you check in with to regularly chart your progress?

Who makes sure you keep your promises to yourself and others? If you don’t have a sponsor in your circle, who do you know who you could entrust with this important role?  Whomever you choose, it’s best to be clear about the qualities in them which you value, and feel you are missing from your life.

As a professional coach I hold clients accountable. I am also, variously, their cheerleader, champion, and challenger. But even if you’re lucky enough to be working with a mentor or coach, you still need a circle of friends and colleagues who motivate, inspire, and hold you accountable.

My recent experience as lead coach on a program involving 50 creative leaders revealed the importance of a circle of trust.  At the end of a year of interactive sessions and 1:1 mentoring with leading industry figures, what participants reported as most valuable was being in an evolving conversation with their creative, resourceful, and resilient peers.   Ultimately, it was the championing, challenging, cheerleading, and holding accountable by one another that supported the participants in achieving more than they had dreamed was possible. 





Notes On How To Transition A Friendship

There are of course many ways to end a friendship. You can phase them out and hope they won’t notice your weekly visits are now monthly and then yearly. You can block them completely and simply disappear, pretending not to see them if they bump into you on the street. But, these are the coward’s ways out.It is possible to end a friendship with grace and integrity. And, as with most things, if you take full responsibility for the conversation, it doesn’t need to be that hard. By removing yourself from a friendship that no longer serves you, you are showing great honesty, courage, and strength.

“Of course, there can be resistance toward difficult relationship conversations. At first, there might be a sense that it’s too much effort, too formal or that we don’t have the words,” says London-based psychotherapist, Jared Green. “Often beneath these thoughts are the feelings associated with the prospect of conflict. But if we focus on our own feelings and behaviors, these conversations may even be quite releasing

Start by appreciating your friend. Go back to the beginning of your relationship. This part goes something like this: “When we first met, and for many years I felt free/easy/joyous/seen/heard in this friendship.”

Chances are, you haven’t been truthful about what’s going on for you, so apologize for your own dishonesty. “I need to apologize to you for not being honest with you. I have not felt free/easy/joyous/seen/heard in this friendship for some time and I should have said something earlier.”

Then share exactly how you feel when you’re with them these days. “These days, when we’re together, I don’t feel able to be myself. I feel trapped by your idea of who I once was, but no longer want to be/ I feel powerless to express what really matters to me/ I am confronted by your values and choices which are so different from mine.”

Finally, declare a new possibility that you would be comfortable with. This part of the conversation goes something like:

“Although the friendship we once had will always be very important to me, I no longer want to see you every weekend/spend vacations together/ call you every week. Would you be open to us still meeting a couple of times a year/ not arranging to meet in the future and being cordial to one another if we bump into each other by chance?” If possible, it is best for you both to agree on the terms, in the end, it is up to you to stand firm.  If you cannot stomach meeting with your friend in the future, don’t offer it.

One word of caution: often “toxic” friends can’t resist having the last word.  When a friend protests that actually it’s they who no longer want to be friends with you, or say they’d rather never see you again, when you suggested meeting up twice a year, don’t fight it.  It may seem spiteful of them, but it’s actually a blessing. No matter who ends the friendship, you are doing each other an enormous service.

“None of this is cruel,” advises The School Of Life, “We are just liberating two people to go out and henceforth do greater justice to the deeper promises of friendship.”


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