“You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” —Jim Rohn.
Growing up, I was always outdoors competing in sports like basketball, football, hockey, and baseball. My choice of the sport went with the seasons. No matter the contest, I wanted my opponents to be better than me. Only bigger, stronger, faster, and more formidable opponents could produce the improvement I craved. Stoking my inner fire honed my game. I never backed down. I loved playing well, content with losing to superior talent. It fueled me. I was molded by lessons from my early playgrounds, courts, rinks, diamonds, and fields.
Consistently surrounding myself with and playing against top-notch talent made me a better athlete. Years later, I received invitations to attend professional football training camps. Refusing to change my position, I fell short of making a roster. The genesis of those invitations sprang from my non-stop competitive playground days.
Proverbs 27:17 proclaims: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Your peer group sets the temperature on the thermostat of your destiny. The quote by Jim Rohn suggested five people shapen your iron. Or didn’t. Is Rohn correct? Let’s dig into the research.
“Every study we have looked at has consistently suggested that people vary in the number of friends they have and that the range of variation is typically between 100 and 250 individuals.” Robin Dunbar wrote in his 2021 book “Friends: Understand the Power of our Most Important Relationships.”
Robin Dunbar is a British anthropologist, evolutionary psychologist, and specialist in primate behavior, currently head of the Social and Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford. His fame came from formulating the “Dunbar number” of around 150 people as the “cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any person can maintain stable relationships.”
“About 40 percent of our social time is devoted to the five people in our innermost social circle, the support (comforters) clique,” Dunbar’s research indicates. Another 20 percent is dedicated to the ten additional people (confidants) that comprise the next layer’s fifteen members, the sympathy group. On average, we devote seventeen and a half minutes to each of the five people in the support clique and about four and a half minutes daily to each of the ten people that make up the rest of the sympathy-group layer.
The definition of the support (comforter) clique is the people you see at least once a week, while the sympathy group consists of the people you see at least once a month. Over a month, you would devote around 520 minutes (about eight and a half hours, an entire working day) to each support-clique member (more for some and less for others, no doubt), probably in half a dozen or more sessions. And you would devote 130 minutes (a bit more than two hours, or a whole evening every other month) to each of the ten additional sympathy-group members.
The friendship networks research aims to emphasize your social relationship’s impact on your future. As Wharton marketing professor Dr. Jonah Berger explains in his book “Invisible Influence,” “Just like atoms bouncing off each other, our social interactions are constantly shaping who we are and what we do.”
Interestingly, psychologists found that people prefer things not for internal reasons but simply because they’ve repeatedly been exposed to them. This idea is known as the mere-exposure effect. Your desires are often the result of simply being exposed to something. For instance, research shows that people frequently exposed to cigarette commercials reported a more positive attitude toward smoking. This is true of your peer group. The proximity effect predicts that you’re more likely to be friends with the person who sits next to you in class than the person who sits two rows ahead.
Business strategist Charlie Jones stated, “You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” By proactively changing your inputs of information, experiences, and people, you become aware of what you previously didn’t know. You see what you once didn’t notice. Your behavior and tastes change to align with your new evolved self.
Even Dr. Angela Duckworth, whose research focuses on grit—a relatively individualistic attribute—concedes that grit is much easier to develop and utilize in environments where high performance is the expected norm.
Humans adapt amazingly quickly. Those you align yourself with have massive repercussions. If you hang out with people who play video games and eat junk food, you’ll soon grow to like and even love those behaviors. Conversely, spend time around active and productive people; you quickly take on those traits. A true friend aligns with your goals and aspirations.
The key to sorting and filling your inner circle of friends starts and ends with awareness.
Once you decide upon something you want, your mind will become more aware of it in your environment. According to selective attention theory, you’ll see things that were already all around, which were previously invisible to you. This awareness equips you to find strategic pathways and processes to locate your destination and find the right people.
Awareness is essential, but so is courage. It can be hard or scary to un-align with people you’ve been deeply connected with. But it can also be simple and respectful. Unaligning doesn’t mean someone is wrong or bad. Frequently your vision has evolved, and that relationship is no longer taking you in a shared direction. To align yourself with specific people, you’ll want to be transformational and not transactional in your mindset.
This leads us to the relationship dominating your headspace; your romantic partner. Your success depends on pairing up with an individual who lifts you up and elevates your expectations for yourself. The person who is in your corner. Someone who never treats you as ordinary. In their eyes, you remain extraordinary.
Unfortunately, we often choose sparks flying as the only sign of compatibility. Relationship chemistry is a must and a good metric for measuring your bond, but it is only part of the equation. Your partner should share your goals, aspirations, and values and be committed to the persistent effort required to maintain a thriving romantic coupling. Selecting a poor partner often ushers in devastating drama, the fracturing of your mental health, and presenting an ever-represent obstacle to your vision for a better tomorrow. I will end this piece with advice in quote form.
“Never settle for a person who treats you as ordinary.”
Until next time. Travel safe.