“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
I feel like I’ve seen this quote everywhere. But what does it mean, practically? Why should it matter who I spend time with? Is there proof of this phenomenon?
5 Reasons to Have More Successful Friends
Why would it matter who I spend time with? This question seems rhetorical. But I’m going to try and break down the reasons:
Peer pressure is a powerful force. If your friends are succeeding, you’ll either have to succeed or get left behind. In the same way, if your friends are encouraging you to commit crimes with them, you’ll be more likely to commit crimes as well. The same goes for drinking and drugs, and the same goes for getting fit.
If you have successful friends, your vision of what’s possible is expanded. Personally, I have a hard time visualizing myself as a success. But if one of my friends does something that I don’t see myself doing, it becomes easier to see myself in that role. For example, for a long time I didn’t see myself as a public speaker. But by going to a Toastmasters group, I learned to see myself as someone who can give speeches, and even lead a group. What could you imagine yourself doing if your friends were CEOs or hang gliders or Senators? I believe this is a big part of the reason why people have a hard time moving up socioeconomically.
If you have unmotivated friends, you’ll be less likely to push yourself to achieve. Why should you get up early on Saturday morning and exercise when your friends are drinking on Friday night? It’s easy to give into the temptation; it’s hard to motivate yourself by yourself.
Unsuccessful people actively demotivate you. Have you ever had an overweight friend who complained about your attempts at being healthy? Have you been told by a (bad!) teacher that you can’t succeed at ? We all have parents or relatives who are downers. Why not hang around people who share your positive outlook and goal orientation?
Successful people are great to have in your network. If you are succeeding, and growing, and talking about your goals, your successful friends can give you a hand! An advocate who knows you are driven can help you find work, can introduce you to other successful people, and can pass opportunities your way.
What does it mean, practically?
Is the average the strict mathematical average? Is the average a general idea? How do I determine the value of my friends? There are different metrics that might apply – fitness, wealth, happiness.
Here’s my preference: average is a loose term. If you are friends with 5 models, chances are your popularity will be below the average of those 5 people (the assumption being that models are popular). However, if you are friends with 5 shut-ins, I think it’s reasonable to assume your popularity may be higher than average.
Here’s an exercise I found in Entrepreneur magazine that might help determine your friends values:
Write down the five people with whom you spend most of your time. Assign a numerical value to each person from 1 to 10, and then calculate your average (with 10 being the most positive influence possible). How does each person affect your average?
I think the point is: Are the people you associate with pulling you up or down?
Is there proof of this phenomenon?
The best evidence I’ve seen is described in this TED talk by Nicholas Christakis, The hidden influence of social networks. He describes studies of networks over time, specifically with obesity and happiness. I’m not sure it supports the claim that you are the average of 5 people, but it does support the general idea that, for at least some attributes, you are influence by your network.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
Personal Excellence – You are the Average of the 5 People You Spend the Most Time With
Entrepreneur Magazine – Why the Five People Around You Are Crucial to Your Success
LifeHacker – How the People Around You Affect Personal Success