“Show me your friends, and I’ll tell you what kind of a person you are.” Many moons ago, a good friend of mine used to say this as we tried to understand the people around us. At the time, it was a way for us to reconcile the inconsistency between what people said and what they did. This was often triggered by something hurtful they had done to us, hence the amateur psychological evaluations over lingering cups of coffee.
It remains a useful adage, even when I’m no longer interested in psychoanalysing strangers. That’s because who you surround yourself with is a helpful indicator of whether you’ll achieve your goal, whatever that goal may be.
Who we surround ourselves with has a big influence on what we end up focusing on. If I find myself around people who love cricket, I’ll find myself drawn into following the teams, making time in my day to watch the matches, and pledging fandom to a particular cricketer. Soon enough, I’ll have passionate opinions about an umpire’s call or the crappy grass on the field. If those same people happen to be into football, and I happen to identify myself as a cricket lover, I’ll still get pulled into the world of football.
Whether it’s sports, cooking, politics, or any other topic under the sun, the same emulating behaviour can happen. Because I’m around people I like, I want to be like them.
It’s usually a subconscious thing – we gravitate towards people that interest us or have a quality we admire, and we try to find ways in which we are like them. There’s probably an evolutionary angle to this, where our chances of survival were higher if everyone adopted the behaviour that had been proven by someone to succeed in keeping predators at bay.
So what does this have to do with achieving goals? It’s a roundabout way to say that if you’re around people that are working on the same goals as you, you’re likely to make progress and hit that goal. On the flip side, if you’re around people that behave in a way that is the opposite of what you’re trying to do, it’s likely to slow you down or prevent you from achieving your goal.
The simplest example: food. I have found that it is much easier for me to achieve “clean eating” when I’m with others who also believe in it. It affects the choice of restaurants we go to. It reveals itself in the conversations, where little tips might crop up in the course of a discussion. In the most subtle ways, there is an easy acceptance of my grocery choices, an empathy for the struggles I may face, and an encouragement of my chosen goal. When I am with such people, I feel good about myself and I feel reassured and supported for what I’m trying to do.
The opposite happens with people who don’t believe in clean eating. Disparaging comments get made – they are often intended as well-meaning jokes, but they still have the same effect of putting down my chosen goal. Difficult foods show up on the table, the opposite of clean eating choices. There is an underlying friction that can be exhausting without realising it. I end up indulging in those wrong food choices (because they are inevitably tasty, as greasy, salty, and spiced food will tend to be), and get taken further away from clean eating.
There are so many examples in my life that illustrate this idea of associating with a group that you like. Fitness is a big one for me. I’ve talked about fitness before, and the people, magazines and social media feeds that uphold fit lifestyles. It keeps me on track as I aspire to be like my strong and beautiful role models. Reading is another one. I have people in my life who read a lot, and share the new ideas they are coming across. They provoke me to form an opinion, learn more, and as a result, read more. Even without this, the fact that my group is reading makes me want to also engage in the same activity; it creates a sense of kinship.
It’s why book clubs and running clubs make sense. They bring you into a community of people who share the same goal as you, and this creates the environment and energy to propel you forward. In this day of social media and virtual connectivity, it’s possible to find your tribe from, literally, around the world.
It’s the single biggest nudge you can give yourself towards achieving your goal. Make a conscious effort to surround yourself with like-minded people. If you don’t, the default community in which you find yourself may end up holding you back.