Have you ever noticed that some people energize you while others drain you? In some groups, you feel smarter while other groups make you feel less intelligent? Perhaps your productivity differs depending on the type of company you’re with.

So I’ll just come out and say it – yes, your friends matter.

In the 1950s, a psychologist named Solomon Asch did an experiment with a group of volunteers to study group conformity. Imagine that you, a participant in the experiment show up to the experimental room where there are seven other participants. You don’t know this at the time, but the others aren’t actually participants, but co-conspirators of the experimenter. You’re the only real participant. The experimenter tells you that the study is about visual judgments, and places two cards in front of you. One card shows one straight vertical line, while the other card shows three lines of various lengths, labeled A,B, and C. The experimenter then asks each person to indicate which of the three lines matches the length of the card with only one line. You’re the last person to answer. You can tell that line that perfectly matches is obviously C, but one after the other, the “participants” say that it’s B.

What would you do in this situation? Would you conform? Or stick to what you know is right?

While in the control condition, where participants did not have pressure to conform to a unanimous answer, only 1% chose the wrong answer, yet in the experimental condition, over 1/3 of participants chose the unanimous and obviously incorrect answer.

What happens in our brains from a neurological perspective is that when we have an opinion that matches those of people around us,  our brain’s reward center releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which gives us a jolt of pleasure. We feel good, validated, and closer to others. Yet when our opinion differs, we feel bad. The area of our brain responsible for pain is activated, and we can either pretend to agree with others but secretly hold onto our own thoughts, or more likely, our brain will actively change how we think and molds our thoughts to align with those of the crowd that surrounds us.

When we choose to hang out with those who bring us down, the naysayers and pessimists, who tell us “no” and rain on our parade, we get less done. Misery loves company, and people who don’t get sh*t done don’t want you to either! Our brains are rewired to say, “it’s okay, I don’t have to do it.”

But yet, if we choose to spend our time with high achievers, people who are dreamers and more importantly doers, they inspire us and supercharge us to do even more than we ever thought we could. If you surround yourself with like-minded people, who are full of energy and ideas, are excited to put themselves out there and to make things happen, you will too. While misery demands company, so does success. People who are successful actively surround themselves with people who also successful. When we spend time with these people, our brains are rewired to say, “They did it, and you can too.”

“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”

— Richard Tirendi, CEO and Co-Founder of VisionQuest

So how can seek out mutually beneficial relationships with other successful people to help us achieve more?

Who You Should Spend Time With

Spend time with people who inspire you. Have you ever looked at a friend and thought, “Wow! I wish I could be more like you in ___ area?” Spend more time with people who inspire you to be a better person through their own behaviors and examples. Ask them their secrets to success and pick up a few life hacks!

Spend time with people who share your values. Authenticity matters in friendships. When you spend time with people whose values differ vastly from your own, you not only run the risk of setting off your brain’s pain receptors (ouch!), you also might end up changing your opinion to match theirs.

Spend time with people who you can learn something new from. I love having friends who come from different backgrounds and have different skill sets. It not only makes life more interesting, but it also gives me the opportunity to learn something new.

Spend time with people who make you a better person. Real friends who will call you out on your BS are gems. They not only tell you the truth, but they will also continue to raise the bar on your personal growth. Treasure them!

Who You Should Not Spend Time With

What you don’t want to do is spend time with people who are consistently negative, who aren’t achieving their own goals, who don’t share your values and are constantly dragging you down with drama. This person doesn’t have much to offer you but is always asking for help. They spend a lot of time tearing others down, gossiping and complaining. If you have people like this in your life currently, make an active choice to minimize their role in your life.

What About Networking?

The word networking is intimidating, but it shouldn’t be. People who are getting sh*t done are all around you, and in fact, are likely your friends, family, and colleagues. Take a look at your personal network. Are there people who you would like to be spending more time with, but you aren’t currently doing so? In this day in age, where we have social media, email, and more importantly, smartphones, your future cheerleaders are often just a few clicks away. Notice that they’ve done something extraordinary lately? Send them an email of congratulations and let them know how much you admire their achievements, then simply ask if they would like to grab a coffee or drink sometime. After all, the worst they can say is no, and more often than not, people are usually quite willing to spend time with you.

Another idea is to host informal gatherings or parties to bring people together. Do you have different groups of high achieving friends who might benefit from getting to know one another? Make the introduction simple by inviting a curated group to happy hour, or perhaps an intimate dinner party. The activity of breaking bread tends to break the ice, and to me, people who eat together often also achieve together.

Ultimately, it’s scientifically clear that you are the people who you choose to surround yourself with. According to the motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, “The law of averages says that the result of any given situation will be the average of all outcomes. Therefore, you are the average of the five people you most associate with.” So take a good look at your innermost circle. Are you associating with those who are bringing you up, helping you become a better person, and get sh*t done?

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