Like it or not, the quality of people that surround you in life is a major predictor of the level of success and happiness that you’ll reach. Jim Rohn has said that you are “the average of the 5 people that you spend the most time with.”
It’s easy to believe that your collection of friends, family, and coworkers are really not that significant in determining how your life turns out, but that would be erroneous thinking. I know this is true for myself. I’d really like to believe that I have the right stuff already deep inside me — the stuff that will allow me to reach any level of success I choose, regardless of the people around me. But again, that just isn’t true. In the end, the quality of your reference group will determine your ultimate levels of success.
Your reference group is made up of individuals that (consciously or not) influence your beliefs, attitudes, and ultimately your behaviors. Unfortunately, most people don’t put any thought into this success factor at all. They just hang out with people they like, people they think are fun or nice, but surprisingly that can lead them down the road to failure.
The way the human mind works is that we’ll set our standards based on reference examples. Did you know that before 1954 it was thought impossible that a human being could run a mile in 4 minutes or less? It was commonly understood in the world of athletes that this was a barrier that was humanly impossible to break. After all, no one had ever done it, so it must be impossible, right? Wrong! On May 6th, 1954 a runner named Roger Bannister for the first time broke that barrier by running a mile in just 3:54.
For thousands of years before that date no human was able to break the 4-minute-mile barrier. But what’s really interesting here is that once a new reference point was set, a total of 10 more runners were also able to beat the 4-minute time — within just the next 30 months.
We all see the many problems in our world with poverty, complacency, and crime. But ultimately it’s much harder to be poor than to be wealthy (or at least comfortably middle-class). So naturally you might ask, “then why isn’t everyone wealthy?” Well, you guessed it: for many the problem is that their personal reference group is holding them back. If you surround yourself with other people who are constantly idle, content to scrounge, beg, make excuses, accept handouts, and still barely make ends meet, you’re making it much easier for yourself to behave the same way. If it’s all you know and see from those you consider your peers, you’ll eventually come to accept that it’s all that’s possible for you. The truth is that you can achieve so much more, and sometimes the only thing keeping you from seeing it is a bad reference point.
On the other extreme you may have also noticed that people with rich and successful parents so frequently end up rich and successful themselves. Many often begrudgingly and incorrectly assume that these lucky few just inherited all their money. It can be comforting to believe that such people just had everything handed to them — that way your own shortcomings are easier to swallow. But the truth is that even great wealth is often lost quickly without learning how to manage it, and just as importantly, how to earn more. In reality, these well-to-do kids grow up to be wealthy and successful adults because their reference group presented a higher standard. Your personal reference group not only helps you see how to accomplish your goals but also gives you the confidence and faith that what you want really can be accomplished.
Now here’s the good news: you’re totally free to choose any reference group (or groups) you like! But with that power comes some responsibility. You ought to choose the ones that’ll be the most beneficial in helping you reach your true potential. You should try to consciously align your reference groups to your success goals. Let’s say one of your goals is to be financially independent. If you’re serious about the target, then find and associate yourself with other people that are financially independent, or at the very least like-minded in that pursuit. And don’t put it off – start today. Bring that new set of people into your life — those who’ll provide you with the group mentality that you’ve set for yourself.
And though it can be very motivating and satisfying to start adding positive people to your life, the unfortunate truth is that in order to utilize the full power of this pattern, you’ll also need to start removing yourself from any negative influences. Do whatever it takes to make this happen. In extreme cases, you may even need to go as far as moving to a new area, or starting a new job. But trust me, the change will be worth it — once you’ve left your negative reference groups behind, you can finally begin to move ahead to a life of success and satisfaction!
Anthony Hampton is a success coach, thought leader, successful business owner and driver behind the Good Life.