Select Page

Every so often, you hear a quote that changes your whole life perspective. This one did that for me a couple years ago:

Today’s Big Idea: You are the average of the top 5 people you spend the most time with.” –Jim Rohn

Stop and reflect for just a moment—Who is in your average right now?

How is this affecting the trajectory of your life?

Is this intentional on your part? If you are still hanging out with friends or family members by default instead of by design, it’s not too late to change.

To a huge extent, we become who we hang out with.

One great example for me is mountain biking.

For years I rode alone or with people that didn’t ride often, and my skills and fitness didn’t improve much. I rode at a comfortable pace and didn’t go far.

If mountain biking had ninjas, then my friend Kelly is a mountain bike ninja.

When I finally got over my insecurity of riding with him—I got better—rapidly.

When I ride with people who are faster and more skilled than I am, I am quickly stretched by their pace, distance, and superior technique. That would not happen if I only rode with people I was comfortable biking with.

Life isn’t much different.

The relationships we choose are a central force in shaping who we become.

Positive relational buoyancy

A few years ago, I decided to aim for positive relational buoyancy. That simply means you need more people in your life that lift you, than those that drag you down.

Don’t get me wrong, I love helping people. And that often involves spending time with people who are in a hard season of life or people who are difficult to be around.

But if you’re average is only filled with difficult people, you will find it very hard to maintain your hope, energy, and compassion for those around you.

Ray Johnston is the lead pastor of Bayside Church in Granite Bay, California—a church of more than 18,000 people and one of the largest churches in the North America. He was even interviewed by Forbes because CEO’s wanted to learn how to grow their companies as fast as he grew the church.

Here is a quote from Ray’s book The Hope Quotient“A few years ago, my wife and I made the decision that if someone was too discouraging, we would not spend much social time with that person. What I realized is this—the father, husband, pastor… (the leader) I need to be are just too important, and I need to be at my best. So I watch who I hang out with.”

Apparently, minimizing time with discouraging people is even something pastors find necessary.

Research on social environments

There’s an old saying—Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are.

But modern research has begun to illuminate the data that supports this adage.

In a massive Harvard study, The Equality of Opportunity Project, they showed that whether you will improve your economic situation is highly predicted by the county you live in.

In another large and mind-bending study of the effects of our social environments, researchers found that even the habits of a friend of a friend of a friend can influence your life without you even knowing it.

In their 2009 book Connected, Harvard and Yale alumni James Fowler and Nicolas Christakis explain their theory on the “three degrees of separation” and how social networks influence human health and behavior.

Here is an excerpt from the New York Times book review:

So if your friend’s friend’s friend — whom you’ve never met, and lives a thousand miles away — gains weight, you’re likely to gain weight, too. And if your friend’s friend’s friend loses weight, you’re likely to lose weight, too.”

Their conclusion is that biological and behavioral traits are strongly influenced by social ties—even distant ones.

The authors illustrate how everything from back pain, to suicide, to sexual practices among teens, to politics—can spread through social contagion.

Much of their research is based on the famous Framingham Massachusetts Heart Study data which ran from 1948 until present day.

If you are wondering how these influences can actually pass through distant social connection, read the New York Times review below.

In our culture of hard core individualism, we like to think we can make changes on our own while ignoring our social environment. But countless studies debunk this thinking.

If you are not where you want to be in your life, then it may be time to take a serious look at changing your relationships.

“You can’t soar with the eagles if you hang around with turkeys.” –Anonymous

Turn information into action

  • Find a mentor whose lifestyle you admire. To a large extent, people do what they see. I’ve seen this repeatedly in leadership. If you don’t have a leader at work you want to follow, go find someone outside your workplace whose life you admire and tell them you want to learn about their life.
  • Join a group. Last year my wife and I joined a yearlong marriage program at our church. We got to spend time every week with other married couples who wanted to strengthen their marriages. Whether it’s a fitness group, a life group, or a mastermind group— find a way to get around other people who have the same goals and your life will change.
  • Read what you want to become. Reading is a great way to be influenced by someone you may never meet. “5 years from now, you will be the same person you are today except for the books you read and the people you meet.” –Charlie Tremendous Jones
  • Hire a coach or therapist. Coaching helps you carve out time every week where you can reflect on whether you are headed in the direction you want to go in your life. They can ask the hard questions your friends and family are not willing to ask, and serve as a champion for your dreams.
  • End a relationship. This might be what you need to change your average. I love the book Necessary Endings by psychologist and coach Dr. Henry Cloud. The title says it all.
  • Go on some new friend dates. This can be scary the older you get. People seem settled in their circles, but there are often people just like you looking to make some new friends. Take some risks on getting rejected and realize it always takes time to form new relationships.
  • Teach your kids to select good friends. Have a conversation this weekend with your kids about how important it is to choose good friends. What qualities do they think are important in a close friend?
  • Be selective about romantic relationships. Few decisions will have a greater impact on your life than who you choose to date or marry. If you aren’t married yet, go slow and set high standards. If you are married, it might be time to dig in and do the hard work.
  • Be the friend you want. If you are the kind of person that is always complaining, you might be the person people want out of their average! If that could be true, it’s time for you to become the friend you’ve always wanted.
  • Be the least skilled person in the room. If you are always the smartest person in the room, then you aren’t placing yourself around people who will stretch you. Make it your goal to get into a room with others who will stretch you.

Have a great weekend!


*If you have enjoyed Parker’s blog, check out The Next Peak Podcast that Parker co-hosts. We interview successful leaders and discuss research-based principles that help people win in the workplace without compromising the things that matter most—relationships, a life of purpose, and health.

Suggested Resources

  1. Ray Johnston—The Hope Quotient
  2. Daniel Goleman—Emotional Intelligence
  3. Willpower doesn’t work—Benjamin Hardy
  4. Connected—Fowler & Christakis
    1. New York Times Book Review
  5. The Proximity Principle—Ken Coleman



Dr. Parker Houston

Parker Houston

Dr. Parker Houston is a licensed clinical psychologist and board-certified in organizational psychology. He is also certified in personal and executive coaching. Parker's personal mission is to share science-based principles of psychology and timeless spiritual practices, to help people improve the way they lead themselves, their families, and their organizations. *Opinions expressed are the author's own.
Get the latest posts delivered to your inbox

Get the latest posts delivered to your inbox

Subscribe to receive the latest news and updates.

You have Successfully Subscribed!