Positive Relationship Building: Surround Yourself with People who Get Sh*t Done

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?

The One Social Media Habit That Will Make You Feel Better, Not Worse

Study after study has shown that social media makes us feel bad. Whether we browse through Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat or Pinterest, we get the sense that other people are more successful than us, look better than us, are having more fun than us, or even just living a better life than us. Social media has been linked to higher levels of loneliness, envy, anxiety, depression and decreased social skills. It’s all about that comparison – and usually, we’re comparing our real lives to the highlight reels of others.

It’s easy to forget about the promotion we just got, the vacation we just took, or even just the nice dinner we just had, even if we did post it to social media, and got a thousand “likes”. You know what I’m talking about here. It’s when you save up for some type of large, extravagant purchase that you’re absolutely sure will change your life for the better. Or when you’re chasing that goal achievement of making a certain amount of money. Or perhaps getting to your goal weight. The, “If only I…” creeps into your mind. If only I had more money. If only I could lose those last 10 pounds. Yet when we actually reach those goals, our happiness is rather short-lived. We forget about it and move on to the next thing.

This is because of the phenomenon of the hedonic treadmill. The hedonic treadmill is a term coined by psychologists Brickman and Campbell to describe the tendency of people to keep a relatively stable baseline level of happiness despite external events or changes in our demographic circumstances. This is why lottery winners aren’t happier months after their big win, and people who go through difficult times tend to often bounce back to their former disposition. Rather than changing our circumstances, we need to change the way that we look at the life that we’ve already experienced. Instead of chasing the next dream all the time, what if we were to spend some time re-living, or savoring our memories of the past?

“It’s not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.”

— Charles Spurgeon

The good news is while changing our external circumstances often doesn’t lead to increased happiness, changing our internal circumstances does. According to Martin Seligman, one of the founders of the field of positive psychology and a past president of the American Psychological Association, “there is quite a number of internal circumstances (…) under your voluntary control. If you decide to change them (none of these changes come without real effort), your level of happiness is likely to increase lastingly.”

So here’s my suggestion for the one social media habit that will make you feel better:


That’s right, instead of going through the social media feed of others, go through your own highlight reel. Connect with the good memories, those moments where you felt pride and joy. The moments that are a part of your past, but rarely a part of your present.

According to Denis Waitley, author and motivational speaker, “a good life is a collection of happy memories.” Well luckily for you, you’ve got that collection in your hands right now.

The Character Strength of Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence

Winter in New York is a dark and deary time. It’s also relentless – in that winter can last from October to May, bringing howling winds, bitter coldness and snowstorms. For that reason and many others, New Yorkers tend to spend most of their winters indoors. Especially after daylight savings hits, the days become rather short, with darkness falling around 4:30 pm. When the workday ends later than sundown, New Yorkers bundle up to leave their concrete jungle, putting on layers upon layers – scarves, hats, gloves, boots, and thick winter coats. There are no rooftop happy hours, no walks in Central Park, and strolls through SoHo. Just a quick hustle towards the closest train station, and then a miserable and bitter-cold walk home.

As a former California girl, I didn’t realize how deeply winters in New York affected me. Without access to sunlight, that sweet, sweet, vitamin D, I was feeling worse by the day. Whether it was with friends, colleagues, or even complete strangers, we complained about the weather. We lathered our skin in excessive amounts of lotion to combat dryness, wore a lot of black sweaters to cover our pale tones. Getting dressed for work felt like getting dressed to go into battle.

One day, a few friends and I were chatting, and we decided that enough was enough. If the weather wasn’t going to change as yet another nor’easter was going to be upon us, we would do it ourselves. We impulsively booked a long weekend trip to Bermuda.

 Horseshoe Bay Beach was secluded in off-season, perfect for us.  Horseshoe Bay Beach was secluded in off-season, perfect for us.

It wasn’t until we arrived, and I dipped my toes – actually I practically ran into the ocean, embracing 65F, which Bermudians consider “too cold to swim”, that I realized just how much nature meant to me. I was in complete awe of the beauty of what surrounded me. The pink sand between my toes, the cold, clear ocean waves upon my skin and the open, salty air. I felt connected to all of it. Gratitude, peace, and joy swelled in my heart. I was WOWed. I loved every moment of being on that beach. I felt a thrilling sense of overwhelming awe. At that moment, I recalled one of my top character strengths – Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence.

Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence is a character strength that has been studied by psychologists Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, the pair who developed the VIA Institute of Character Strengths. Defined as “the ability to find, recognize, and take pleasure in the existence of goodness in the physical and social worlds,” it falls under the virtue category of Transcendence. Transcendence describes strengths that provide a broad sense of connection to something higher in meaning and purpose than ourselves.

Peterson and Seligman have determined that there are three types of goodness for which individuals high in Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence are responsive to:

Physical beauty. This may be visual, auditory, tactile, or abstract. This type of goodness produces awe and wonder in the individual experiencing it.

Skill or talent (excellence). This is often energizing, and makes the individual want to pursue their own goals. It produces admiration.

Virtue or moral goodness (moral beauty). Virtual goodness makes the individual want to be better, more loving, and produces feelings of elevation.

Unsurprisingly, I respond to all three. Feelings of awe and inspiration are absolutely critical to my well-being, and I need these moments to be happy, just like I need air to breathe. Now you might feel more drawn towards one or two types rather than all three, or you might find yourself like me – drawn to all of them.

Remember when you were a child? You probably experienced this type of awe and wonder all the time. Whether it was something new and novel, something that was physically beautiful, or seeing excellence in performance or art, you audibly exclaimed “WOW!” What does that for you now? Taking the time to cultivate the character strength of Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence makes our lives better, more meaningful, more worthwhile. By reconnecting with the beauty of nature, we are able to get in touch with our sense of inspiration, awe, and wonder.

So here are some quick tips to help you reconnect with nature, even if you live in the city and it’s winter, like I do.

1. Get out. Go for a walk. Do something else that’s a change in routine. Whether you live in the suburbs or the city, take a moment to enjoy your surroundings. Make it a slow stroll, and be mindful of the little bits of beauty and joy around you.

2. Make time and effort for little pleasures. Buy yourself flowers, plant a little garden (even an urban garden), and watch those documentaries on Netflix about people who have done extraordinary things or have excelled in their fields. Print out vacation photos and put them in your office to remind you of times where you truly were connecting with nature.

3. Travel. Traveling is one of the best things to do to open up our minds and explore new things that can lead to that sense of wonder and awe. When traveling, fully engage with the experience of being somewhere novel and new. Lose yourself in the experience and take full advantage of any nature experiences that are afforded by that location.

I’m not going to lie, coming back to yet another nor’easter after a beautiful 3 days in Bermuda wasn’t easy. But I came back with the new perspective of making time and effort for reconnecting with nature. And though it’s not completely the same as being in Bermuda, I ended up visiting the Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Gardens, and it was amazing! Who knew that just 30 minutes away from my apartment in Queens lies a wonderful world of natural beauty.

Start with Strengths

Strengths psychology is based on the premise that instead of focusing on what is wrong with people, we should focus on what is right with people. Imagine if you were able to do only the things that you do best at work. How productive would you be? Each of us has a unique set of talents that we are born with. Think about what your talents might be. What do people consistently recognize you for? What comes naturally to you? Now answer the following questions below. If you respond “yes” to these questions, they might give you some insight as to whether you have talents in those areas.

  1. Do you have a color-coded, or otherwise very organized closet?
  2. Do you find it easy to talk to anyone anywhere, whether it is in elevators, supermarkets or while waiting in line?
  3. Do you find it easy to relate to others, their pains and joys?
  4. Do you enjoy puzzles and board games?
  5. Are you considered the “fixer” in your family? Are you always solving problems?
  6. Do you feel like it’s difficult to let go of work, even on vacation?
  7. Do your strong beliefs guide what you do everyday?
  8. Is it easy  for you to stay on a diet or regimen?
  9. Are you competitive by nature, even when there is no competition?

If you answered “yes” to several of these questions, they might clue you into whether you might have talents or strengths in that particular area. Notice that while some were an absolute “yes”, others might be a resounding “no”. For me, I know I lack discipline and self-control, and staying on a regimen to me sounds almost torturous. So a job where repetition is important may not be the best job for me.

Knowing what your strengths are is not only important because it is a frequent job interview question, but also because it had tremendous implications in unlocking your potential at work, and in your personal life. By knowing what makes you tick and understanding how strengths play into your day-to-day, you’ll be able to strategically utilize your strengths while managing around your weaknesses. What do I mean about managing around your weaknesses? Perhaps it is finding a partner at work who had different strengths from you, or perhaps it is minimizing the types of tasks that don’t play on your strengths and talents. That way, you can maximize your success by engaging in projects that increase your opportunities for success.

Research in strengths have consistently demonstrated that people who have the opportunity to do what they do best everyday are not only more successful, they are more engaged. In fact,

People who respond positively to the question, “I have the opportunity to do what I do best everyday.” are 6 times more likely to be engaged and 3 times more likely to report an excellent quality of life in general.

— Gallup

People who are working in their strengths zone look forward to going to work, have more positive than negative interactions with their colleagues, treat customers better, tell their friends that they work at a great company, achieve more on a daily basis and have more positive, creative and innovative moments.

Now take some time, to think about your strengths. What are you known for at work? You might be the go-to person for this. Are you particularly strong in coming up with fresh, new ideas? Are you able to make the world’s greatest, most organized Excel spreadsheets with built in formulas and pivot tables? Maybe you’re the go-to girl for winning over new customers. Take a moment to think about where you truly sparkle at work. Write down three things that you’re known for, which we’ll call, your strengths.

Now that you have three strengths written down, think about how much time you spend utilizing these strengths at work. How much of your week is spent doing the things that you’re naturally good at? How much time is spent doing things that you might struggle with, or not enjoy? These might be great opportunities to take a look at how you are spending your time, and readjust.