Lately I’ve been working out my ideas about this concept that we are the average of the five people with whom we spend the most time. Talk about double-edged swords! Are you one of the Avengers or are you in a maximum-security prison? Or somewhere in the middle with people who do nothing but complain and gossip?
It seems like this might be viewed differently depending on whether someone has a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. The growth-mindset person thinks, “Let us go forth and be awesome together.” The fixed-mindset person thinks, “This is just how I am, and if you don’t like it, you must not be my real friend.” It’s a question of whether we believe we can control our attitudes, speech, and actions, or whether we believe our behavior is a natural aspect of our personality that is dictated by events.
Find five people who blame others, make excuses, create drama, vent and complain, or talk smack about everyone. That shouldn’t be too difficult. Now ask yourself how much time you give up to buying into negativity like this.
People can and do change. I’ve learned to recognize this sort of negativity in myself, and to work to stop it. One part of ending negativity is to get out of negative situations. Sometimes the answer is that a certain activity or group of people is just a poor fit. When I’m feeling negative about being involved with something, the other people involved are feeling it, too. It doesn’t do anyone any favors to keep torturing yourself (and them) by hanging around and wishing the circumstances would change. For instance, my first job was at a convenience store, and I hated it. I found a better job that paid more, and I loved it. There was no reason for me to keep working part-time at a minimum wage job, and I’m sure everyone who either worked or shopped there had forgotten I ever existed a week later.
A better way to end negativity is to create something positive. I couldn’t get that convenience store to give me a predictable schedule, a living wage, or a uniform that wasn’t orange. Each of those battles would have continued to this very day. What I could do was leave the situation entirely. I guess it’s probably obvious that I’m talking about business scenarios rather than talking about whether social scenarios should be disrupted, or whether to end friendships. There is no good way to say, “I’m not hanging out with you anymore because you are too negative for me and I don’t want you in my life.” There’s also no magical way to swap out your friends for a team of superheroes, especially once they’ve found out that you’re screening new recruits.
So the thing about the five people isn’t about them, it’s about you. Friends are a mirror. Friends are the people you count on to tell you the truth when nobody else will. Friends are the people who know you best, sometimes better than you know yourself. If you cultivate the sort of friendships that revolve around that kind of honesty, you’ll grow together and make each other better people. We also have to accept that it’s a give and take, and make an effort to be the giver more often than the taker.
What I’m working on is assembling five role models I don’t know in person, and probably never will.
Someone who is more compassionate than me
Someone who is smarter than me
Someone who is healthier than me
Someone who is braver than me
Someone who knows how to do something I want to learn to do
I’m relentless about self-improvement, partly because I feel like I started with a major deficit and I’m still trying to get to zero! It’s too much to expect for my friends to lead that kind of effort. High achievers don’t necessarily need or want someone like me calling them all the time. If I want to be a “better person” in terms of creative productivity or accomplishing goals, there is plenty of material for me to read about my selected role models. If I want to be a better person in terms of character and emotional presence, there is no reason to look further than the friends I already have.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.