In the first installment in this series, we explored what changes when you answer the question, "How do YOU define success?" Today, we're going to look at the importance of your human environment - a factor that is both critical to your success, and frequently overlooked.
Who do you spend the most time with?
Jim Rohn says, "You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with." To understand how much our human environment impacts our success, let's consider this statement alongside two key ideas that we've learned from neuroscience:
1. You are what you think. No really - this is how the brain works. Your thoughts determine how you feel; how you feel determines the actions you are enabled to take; your actions determine the results of your life.
2. The strength of our habits (including our thinking habits) is determined by attention and repetition.
Let's explore the connection between Rohn's idea that we are who we hang out with, the two neuroscientific principles described above, and your likelihood of being successful. This is a tale in two chapters, so put your learning pants on (and think about which scenario sounds the most like your life).
Scenario 1: Your 5 People Are Not Contributing to Your Success
Your best friend is a Negative Nancy who complains all the time. Your partner is insecure because they make less money than you. Your mother doesn't understand why you spend so much time in Brooklyn, and when you're going to get a 'real job.' Your boss is an a**hole and the colleague you have the most connection with is super overwhelmed, underwater, and stressed out.
Surrounded by this cohort, you'll find yourself spending the majority of your time thinking (and speaking) negative thoughts. Negative thoughts lead to negative feelings. That pervasive negativity will prevent you from (a) identifying the correct actions to take, and (b) taking the correct actions with any level of effectiveness.
Here's an easy example: the constant undermining and belittlement from your partner, boss and mom negatively impacts your confidence. You've correctly identified that you need to get out of your current job, so you apply and get a couple interviews. You interview for those jobs without confidence. You don't get the jobs. The cycle continues.
See where this is going? Let's try on another scenario for size!
Scenario 2: Your 5 People Are Contributing to Your Success
Your best friend is in a really healthy relationship, and you're learning a lot about how to communicate better in your own partnership. Your partner is confident in themselves and loves, respects, and values you for exactly who you are. Your parents don't really get your job, but they totally support you and brag about every little success to all their friends. Your boss is personally invested in your growth, and your "work wife" is a hilarious optimist who takes even the worst days with a grain of salt.
Let's consider how your predominant thinking patterns might shift in this human environment. First of all, note that your people don't have to be perfect. But it's definitely helpful if they generally lean towards the positive or the possible, and it's imperative that they treat you well.
Now you're spending most of your time (1) brainstorming how to improve yourself and your relationship with your best friend; (2) feeling grateful for your partner, safe sharing your vulnerabilities, and excited to continue growing with them; (3) loving your dorky parents, and having your confidence reinforced by their pride; (4) comfortable talking about your growth areas with your boss, from the perspective of leveling up as a professional; and (5) cracking jokes with your colleague, who manages to make even super-stressful days seem less epic.
The more time you spend with people who operate from a perspective of what is possible, the more you'll engage in helpful thought habits. The better your thought habits, the better you feel. The better you feel, the more actions you're able to identify and take effectively. Presto - SUCCESS!
I identify more with Scenario 1. What now?
I know I made it seem sort of apocalyptic above, but don't worry. You don't have to ditch everyone you know and love in order to improve the situation (but you might have to say 'Ciao!' to a few!). Here are a few simple steps you can take to improve your human environment, sorted by a few common types of not-so-helpful people:
1. The Complainers: Find a casual time to chat with your Complainer, and mention that you have noticed that you're complaining too much and it's negatively impacting your mood. You'd like to get better at talking about other things, instead of just bitching. Would they be willing to support you in your goal?
#PROTIP: Never make it about the other person's faults. Make it about you, and ask for help. This is a much more effective way of impacting behavior patterns in others.
2. The Underminers: In my experience, most Underminers aren't doing it consciously or maliciously. They just don't feel good about themselves, and are projecting it onto you. As a starting point, I encourage you to have a conversation with them about how this impacts you, asking them kindly to be more aware of it and stop. Additionally, see if there are any ways that you can support your Underminers to feel better about themselves. If you are dealing with an Underminer who is either intentionally hurting you or unwilling/unable to change, you may need to develop some healthy distance from that person.
3. The Unbelievers: It's ok if people don't get your thing, as long as you're ok with it. If you're not, it might be time for you to have a heart-to-heart with those people. Let's say your mom is constantly ragging on you to quit your art and get a job on Wall Street. Here's how that conversation might go:
You: Mom, do you have a few minutes to chat? (She does.) Cool, thanks. I've been doing some personal reflection lately and realized that I'm really impacted by how you talk about my career. Honestly, it's hurtful and distracting, and it impacts my confidence. I understand you have my best interests at heart, but I'm not sure you know how bad this makes me feel.
Mom: Oh honey, I'm really sorry. I never wanted to make you feel bad - I just don't understand why you have to make a job out of art. Couldn't you just do it as a hobby and a get a real job with some stability?
You: Ok, I get that you don't understand. Would you be open to hearing why it's so important to me that art is my career and not just a hobby? (She is.) Well, basically my identity is as a creative person. If can't make art every day, I don't feel like a whole person. (Continue to explain why you have chosen this path and why it matters to you. Share your vision of what you hope to accomplish.) I understand that maybe I value some things that aren't as important to you, and vice versa. It's ok for us to have different opinions. I'm just asking you to please be more conscious about the impact your opinions have when constantly voiced. I love you and your opinion matters to me, so of course I'm affected. But I'm not going to change my mind, and I would really love it if we could talk about more positive things that connect us, instead of things that pull us apart.
As always, if the Unbelievers in your life are either unable or unwilling to change their behavior, you can either spend less time with them, or make an effort to focus your conversations on other topics.
4. The A**holes: This one is simple. Stop believing their propaganda and ditch these losers. If someone makes you feel bad about yourself all the time, stop spending time with them. If that person is your boss, get a new job or start your own thing. If that person is your partner, break up. The momentary pain and disruption will be well worth your improved confidence and sense of self-worth when they're gone.
At the end of the day, the crucial point to remember is this: how (and with whom) you spend your time determines what you think about, and your thoughts determine the shape of your life.
If you want to experience true success on your own terms, first figure out what those terms are by defining success for yourself, then surround yourself with people that elevate and amplify you. Now make like Beyoncé and go build your dream, boo. You got this!