We are profoundly influenced by the people we spend time with. Many studies show how much people affect each other—consciously and unconsciously. This is because our brains are deeply programmed to conform with social standards, so we can be accepted in society, and thus increase our likelihood of survival.
Thus, we tend to adopt the same goals, beliefs, preferences, habits, and narratives as the people we associate ourselves with, because our mind sees them as the norm—even when those thoughts and ways conflict with our own values.
Research shows that if a friend becomes obese, your risk of becoming obese increases considerably; if your friends or family members get a divorce, you’re more likely to get divorced, too; and students will increase their GPA if they share rooms with high-performing students.
If you spend time with people who are lazy, you will tend to feel (unconsciously) that laziness is normal and okay. If your partner doesn’t believe in you, you will tend to experience self-doubt. If you watch depressing news and movies, you will tend to feel depressed.
By contrast, if you spend time with people who are honest, you tend to become more honest. If most of your friends practice meditation, you will be influenced to meditate, too. If your partner encourages your dreams, you’ll feel more self-confident. If you read uplifting blogs and books, you will be uplifted.
Therefore, it is wise to choose your company and influences very carefully. This means friends, of course, but also everyone else that you spend time with, learn from, watch, and talk to—basically everyone who can plant an idea in your mind or influence your moods.
Who are your influencers? Take time for this important inventory. List the ten people you spend the most time with, whether directly (person to person) or indirectly (authors you read, websites you visit, TV programs you watch, and social media accounts you follow).
Ask yourself, for each one of them:
- How is this person influencing me?
- After engaging with them, do I feel empowered or disempowered, energized or demotivated?
- Do they feed my good habits and qualities, or my bad ones?
(You can download the free Workbook to go through this exercise more easily.)
Sadly, some people don’t want you to succeed. Not necessarily because they are evil (although that could be the case). Maybe they just envy you. Maybe your progress highlights their feelings of inadequacy. Maybe they think they don’t deserve to go after certain goals, and they feel triggered that you dare try to get those things yourself. Maybe they just don’t believe that your goal is worthy, good, or possible. They may even appear selfless and concerned, trying to dissuade you from following your dreams so that you “don’t get hurt”.
Intentionally or not, some people make your self-discipline journey harder.
Avoid them at all costs. Avoid them if you can. Life is too short for listening to them. You can care about their wellbeing, of course, but diminish time spent with people who drag you down. Recognize when your values and mindsets don’t match, and respect your time—and theirs—by setting appropriate boundaries. Doing that is not being arrogant and selfish. It is not about thinking “I’m better than you”. It is about self-respect.
Then it’s all about spending more time with those who empower you.
Seek the company of those who push you forward. Those who celebrate your success. Those who help you find a solution to every problem, rather than a problem to every solution.
Again, it is worth remembering one of the tenets of Mindful Self-Discipline: be balanced. Exposing yourself to intelligent criticism from those who have your best interests at heart is healthy. Spending time with virtuous people who stretch you and widen your worldview is healthy. Caring for the wellbeing of those who deeply disagree with you is healthy. Listening to those who make you hate yourself is not. Being in the company of those who discourage your higher values is not. Putting up with negative influences that drag you down is not. Seeking the right company and influences is the only self-discipline shortcut I know of.