Surround yourself with people who hold you to a higher standard than you hold yourself

There’s some interesting research in social psychology explaining how most people form their peer groups. Especially as children and adolescence — but often as adults — people select their friends based on proximity more than anything else.

Even in a college classroom, who are you going to make friends with? It’s not those who have similar personalities and interests. It’s the people you literally sit next to.

As a general rule: Human behavior is almost always based on the path of least resistance. If it’s convenient, it often happens.

Socioeconomically, there is loads of research showing a person’s social mobility — or ability to upgrade their economic status — is highly determined by the county they live in. In certain counties, your chances of improving your financial situation are very good. In others, like the one our three foster children came from, your chances of improving your financial situation are slim-to-none.

Put most simply, what stands in nearest proximity to you has enormous implications. As Jim Rohn has wisely said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Similarly, Tim Sanders, former Yahoo!director, said, “Your network is your net worth.”

Your input shapes your outlook

“Your input determines your outlook. Your outlook determines your output, and your output determines your future.” — Zig Ziglar

Quite literally, you are what you consume.

You are the product of your environment and experiences.

While growing up, there is a great deal you cannot control in your life, when it comes to your environment and experiences. As economist, Mark Caine, said, “The first step toward success is taken when you refuse to be a captive of the environment in which you first find yourself.”

Very few people grow up unscathed from the experience of growing up. Many people — if not most — go through deeply traumatic experiences. Very few people do the deep work of solving those internal “thorns,” but instead build their life around them in the form of reasons.

Dan Sullivan, founder of Strategic Coach, has said, “There are two types of people, those who get results and those who have reasons for not getting results. Don’t be a person with reasons.”

If you’re the product of your situation and experiences, then what are you to do?

You absolutely do have agency — or the ability to make choices.

Without question, external influences matter. But it is your responsibility to shape those external influences and experiences.

It is your job to shape the garden of your mind.

It is your job to shape the people you surround yourself with.

It is your job to create life-transforming experiences.

If you’re waiting for your external situation to change on it’s own, then you’re being a victim to circumstance. In other words, you’re being an object which is being acted upon.

As a human being, you have the innate ability to not only react to your circumstances, but to impact your circumstances and make them a product of you.

It starts with the decision to change.

You must proactively choose to start changing your life, your surroundings, your inputs, and your experiences.

You need to raise your standards for yourself and your life.

You raise your standards by improving the external inputs you let it. You start listening to better music, learning from better sources, surrounding yourself with better friends.

Overtime, you’re going to adapt to whatever you consistently interact with. This is a concept in biology known as “structural coupling,” which means that with repeated interactions, two things become more closely alike.

As psychologist, Dr. Wendy Watson Nelson, has said:

“Structural coupling involves two entities having interactions with each other over a period of time. Each interaction between the two triggers changes. Through this history of interactions, the two distinct entities become less different from each other — they become more alike and there is an increasingly better “fit” over time. Like feet and shoes, like two stones rubbed together, they change in concert with each other.”

When you realize how flexible your brain, identity, and life are — you begin to be very thoughtful about how you live your life.

You begin to think about how every thing you allow into you life has an influence on you.

Structural coupling is a real thing.

Therefore, the more elevated your standards become, the less willing you are to let low-quality inputs into your life, knowing they could have a negative effect. As BaseCamp founder, Jason Fried, said, “I’m pretty oblivious to a lot of things intentionally. I don’t want to be influenced that much.”

If You’re Feeling Stuck — Upgrade Your Surroundings

Who are the people in nearest proximity to you?

How did they become your peer group?

Was it on purpose or based on convenience?

Do these people hold you to a high standard?

Or, do they hold you to an even lower standard than you hold yourself?

If you want to improve and succeed in your life, you need to surround yourself with people who have higher standards than you do. As Tony Robbins has said, your life is a reflection of your standards, or what you’re willing to tolerate. Most people are willing to tolerate unhealthy relationships, poor finances, and jobs they hate. If not so, those things wouldn’t be in their lives.

Recently, I’ve been getting help from Ryan Holiday, author of several books, on a book proposal I’m working on. Personally, I was extremely satisfied with the manuscript several iterations ago. Yet, every time I send him a draft, he shows me why and how it could be 10X better, and he holds me to that standard.

Looking back now at the product I was formerly satisfied with, I actually cringe. Wow, my standards for my work are so much lower than Ryan’s standards for my work.

The same is true of my Ph.D. research adviser. I’ll send her a research paper I’m satisfied with and she’ll not be satisfied at all. She’ll then challenge me to rethink things and go much deeper. Although this is challenging and even frustrating, it’s how you get better.

This isn’t true just in working relationships.

What about your romantic partner?

Do they hold you to a high standard?

Do they help you become more than you currently are?

Do you help them?

The 80/20 rule applies to people and peer groups. 20 percent of the population is moving forward, 60 percent of population reactively mimics whoever they are around at the time, and 20 percent of the population is moving backwards.

Most people are a direct reflection of those around them. If the people around them have lower standards, they drop theirs’ as well. If the people around them have higher standards, they raise their game.

You’ve been around people who, simply by being around them, elevated your thinking and energy. Those are the kinds of people you need to surround yourself with. Those are the kinds of people you need to be like yourself, so that others are better simply by being around you.

The quality of your life and the quality of your work is determined by the standards you have for yourself, and the standards of those around you. If you’re fine doing mediocre work, than those around you are as well.

If you genuinely want to become better, you must surround yourself with people who will hold you to a higher standard than you currently hold yourself. You want to be around people with a higher and better vantage-point than you have, so that you can quickly learn from them.

Your level of talent and “potential” are irrelevant if you’re surrounded by people who don’t help you realize it. We all know many people who have unfulfilled potential. Don’t let that be you.

Who you surround yourself with has huge consequences. You can’t ignore this. What are you going to do about it?

Ready to upgrade?

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This article first appeared on Medium.