How the Company You Keep Shapes Your Life

by | Feb 19, 2024 | Life Lessons

My grandmother always told me, “Birds of a feather flock together.” She was right. In this article, I share how the people around us have a significant impact on our life’s direction and quality. I hope you’ll reflect on your relationships and consider how these connections influence your personal and professional growth, decisions, and overall well-being. When you finish reading the blog, check out the latest Your Aha! Life Journey Accelerator I created as a complement.

In the journey of life, the paths we choose and the companions we walk with shape our destiny in ways we often underestimate. The adage “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” attributed to motivational speaker Jim Rohn, underscores a profound truth about human nature: we are deeply influenced by our relationships and associations.

Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, the characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors of those closest to us seep into our lives, molding us little by little each day. This phenomenon isn’t just wisdom passed down through generations; it’s a principle grounded in science. Therefore, understanding and being mindful of the company we keep isn’t just about our preferences or social compatibility; it’s about steering our lives towards the future we aspire to have.

The Science of Influence

We are mirrors to each other. Have you ever noticed yourself yawning right after someone else does, or adopting the language and catchphrases of your closest friends or coworkers? For instance, I’ve heard my children and nephew use the phrase “Gotcha” to acknowledge understanding something I’ve said. They aren’t the only ones. I hear it everywhere now. Similarly, in place of the traditional “You’re welcome,” many of my coworkers say, “Of course,” mimicking one another’s expressions. This tendency to adopt others’ language patterns and phrases is a result of mirroring. Mirroring is the unconscious imitation of another’s actions, gestures, speech patterns or emotional expressions. We even synchronize our walking pace with that of our companions. We lean in when someone we’re speaking with leans in. Through mirroring, we harmonize our behaviors with those around us, fostering empathy and deepening our connections.

This influence extends beyond mimicry, influenced also by the principles of social learning theory and emotional contagion. Albert Bandura’s social learning theory explains how we acquire new behaviors by watching and copying others, which explains the adoption of phrases like “Gotcha.” And emotional contagion, a concept explored by Elaine Hatfield and her team, illustrates how we “catch” the feelings of those close to us. For example, the positivity of a friend can lift our spirits, making us feel more optimistic ourselves.

Together, the phenomena of mirroring, social learning, and emotional contagion serve as potent reminders of the significant impact our social circles have on us. They shape what we say, do, and feel in profound ways, underscoring the importance of the company we keep.

The Personal and Professional Impact

Let’s reflect on Jim Rohn’s quote again. He says, we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Who do you spend the most time with? What are you learning from them? What are they learning from you?

Here are just a few examples to illustrate how our social circles shape who we are and how we navigate the world:

  1. Health and Well-being: Being surrounded by friends who prioritize fitness and healthy eating can motivate us to adopt similar habits. Conversely, if our close associates have sedentary lifestyles and poor eating habits, we might find ourselves mirroring these patterns as well, negatively affecting our overall health.
  2. Emotional Support and Resilience: The emotional support provided by a strong, positive social network can be crucial during times of stress or adversity. Friends who offer us a safe space, understanding, and empathy can help us navigate through tough times, enhancing our resilience against mental health challenges. In contrast, a lack of supportive relationships may leave us more vulnerable to stress and depression.
  3. Career Aspirations and Achievements: The ambitions and work ethics of our peers can inspire us to set higher goals for ourselves. Being in the company of motivated, career-oriented individuals can provide valuable insights, mentorship, and opportunities that might not have been accessible to us otherwise. Conversely, if we associate with others who have low expectations of themselves and their careers, it could impact our own levels of achievement.
  4. Cultural Exposure: Being around people from diverse backgrounds can expose us to different cultures, ideas, and worldviews. This diversity enriches our understanding and appreciation of the world, fostering empathy and open-mindedness. Teams that are diverse in thought and expertise are more likely to generate more creative ideas and solutions. Without diverse exposure, we could remain closed off to different perspectives, thus limiting our personal and professional growth.
  5. Mentorship: Having mentors within your professional circle can significantly accelerate your career growth. Mentors provide guidance, offer feedback, and serve as role models on how to navigate the organization, leading to wider acceptance, promotions, and increased responsibilities. Without someone to show you the ropes and help you build skills valued in the organization, the path to career advancement can be tougher to navigate.

These examples highlight the pervasive impact that our social environment has on various aspects of our lives. They underscore the importance of being mindful about who we choose to spend our time with, as these choices shape our experiences, our growth, and ultimately, our destiny. 

Assessing and Cultivating Your Social Circles

To leverage the power of association, it’s crucial to assess and intentionally cultivate your social circles. This involves two steps: evaluation and action. First, evaluate your current relationships by asking whether they uplift you, challenge you, or hold you back. Next, action involves consciously seeking out and nurturing relationships that align with your aspirations. This means participating in communities, events, and networks where you can connect with individuals who reflect the qualities you value and aspire to embody.

If you want to learn more practical tips for building better associations or assess your current social circle, click the link to my latest Your Aha! Life Journey Accelerator, The Company You Keep: A Social Circle Inventory. In this Accelerator, you’ll also find reflection questions and journal prompts to help you build a powerful social network that fosters growth, happiness, and fulfillment.

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