The company we keep.
And using our environment to elevate us.
Redwood is a book on how we can optimize our environment and our habits to create remarkable lives. As John Steinbeck once wrote, from redwood trees come silence and awe. We have the power to create this same remarkability in our own lives.
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Who Are Our Five?
In a recent interview on the CreativeLive blog, Tim Ferriss was asked what the best advice he’s ever received was. His response?
“The best advice I’ve ever received is ‘you are the average of the 5 people you associate with most.’ I’ve actually heard this from more than one person, including bestselling authors, Drew Houston of Dropbox, and many others who are icons of Silicon Valley. It’s something I re-read every morning. It’s also said that ‘your network is your net worth.’ These two work well together.”
Tim Ferriss is one of the most celebrated authors and entrepreneurs of the 21st century, but this alone isn’t what makes his advice above interesting. What makes it interesting is that Tim’s life work has been studying the success of himself and others, and distilling that into the most actionable advice possible. He is an incredibly intentional writer, thinker, and modern-day philosopher. And whenever someone has produced the prolific amount of work that Tim has, it’s best to listen up when they have solitary pieces of advice that can create major impact in our lives.
As stated in his quote, Tim certainly isn’t the first person to come to the conclusion that we’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with. As best as I can tell the advice originated from Jim Rohn, one of the greatest motivational speakers and personal development coaches in history. So why do so many influential people, Tim and Jim included, tout this advice as critical to our success?
The Mindset We Keep
The mindset of the successful is oftentimes very different than the mindset of the unsuccessful. This is obviously somewhat of a generalization, but I have found this to be the case time and time again in my own life. There are many factors that lead to an individual’s success, but one of the most common threads is a mindset of growth and positive beliefs about the future. In a nutshell, they believe that they can improve their position in life through growth and they believe that their future looks brighter than their past. Mindset is not something that stays isolated to ourselves. It bleeds over into the lives of those that we’re regularly around. And this is precisely why surrounding ourselves with people that have mindsets of growth and positive beliefs directly impacts our own mindset whether we realize it or not. I have a true story that illustrates the impact this can have, both for better or for worse.
Not long after I had graduated from college I was living in Dallas and working part-time at a high end gym. There was an obese woman (literal, not just figurative) that worked out several times per week with her personal trainer at this gym. After months and months of casually observing her coming in and working out with her trainer, I noticed her progress wasn’t budging much. I was pretty good friends with her trainer so I decided to ask him what was holding her up. His response shocked me, and has clearly stayed with me until nearly a decade later.
“She actually doesn’t want to lose weight. That’s her words, not mine. She said all of her best friends are also overweight, and she feels like if she lost weight she would isolate herself from them. So she just works out to feel better, but has no desire to lose any of the weight.”
That response left me dumbfounded, but it also clearly illustrated how much the company we keep can elevate or deflate us, whether we know it or not. If the five people this woman spent the most time with were highly motivated and healthy individuals this would have likely dramatically affected her desire to improve her own position in life. Mindset is infectious and we need to be intentional about the mindset of the people we surround ourselves with day in and day out. If their mindsets are ones of growth and positive beliefs, it makes it that much easier for ours to be as well. If their mindsets are ones of status quo and negative or neutral beliefs, it is as if we’re trying to move forward in quicksand - trying to step forward but not making much progress.
The Habits We Keep
In tangent with mindset being infectious, the habits of those we spend the most time with are also infectious. Think about the most practical application of this. If the five people you spend the most time with are more likely to be found at a bar on a Wednesday night than in the gym on a Wednesday night, where do you think you’re most likely to be found? If your closest friends are swapping stories about The Bachelor instead of a new book they’re reading, what do you think your recreational activities are more likely to consist of? Humans are intrinsically drawn to be included in a group. Part of that desire and drive to be included involves doing the things that lead to inclusion. If doing a specific activity, or creating and keeping a specific habit, creates inclusion into a group of people then we are by our very nature incredibly motivated to participate. It satisfies one of the most basic needs of being a human - feeling a part of a community.
The mindset of those around us shapes our own mindset. The habits of those around us shapes our own habits. We can either accept this reality and use it to our advantage, or we can brush it off as something we can overcome. If we choose the latter we are most surely going to face an uphill battle of creating a reality in our own life that is separate from the reality of those around us. While it may sound simple enough on paper, it is incredibly difficult to do in practice.
Being Intentional About Our Five
Some of us might read this as “ditch your friends if they aren’t serving your highest self.” But this isn’t the case. It’s a question of quantity more so than quality. We all have friends and family that will be a significant part of our lives forever, regardless of whether or not that benefits our own personal development. And that’s how it should be to be honest. There’s value in those relationships as well. But this topic is a question of quantity. Who do you spend the most time with? Do the hobbies you share together, the habits you create together, and the conversations you have together drive you toward a better version of yourself? If the answer is no, it’s simply a signal that you have a massive opportunity to increase the caliber of close relationships in your life. This sort of evaluation helps you figure out if you’re on a path toward improvement or stuck in that same quicksand from above. When the majority of our social or working hours are spent with people that don’t elevate us, we’re participating in the habitual stunting of our own growth. To change it, start with intention - an intention to give yourself the best possible chance at success. Is there room to add new positive influences in your life? Is there room to elevate the mindset and habits of those around you, in turn elevating your own mindset and habits?
Put in the simplest way possible...write down the five people you spend the most time with. Choose the most average person out of those five people. Is that who you want to be like? If the answer is no, it’s time to evaluate the company we keep.