It’s that time of year. That looking back and reflecting time of year that either has you fist pumping the sky or pulling the duvet over your head. If you’re currently under the covers, don’t beat yourself up just yet.
How the last year panned out may not be entirely your fault. You had a role to play, sure, but it also has to do with the company you keep. If you didn’t achieve the goals you set for yourself in 2018, it’s time for a come to Jesus talk.
A talk that begins by answering this question: How are you spending your days?
Because, as the well-known author Annie Dillard points out, ““How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
Have you ever wondered why some people are annoyingly good at setting and achieving goals, while you can barely get it together to make it to the gym a couple of times a week?
One possibility is that you only think you want to learn French, write a novel, run a marathon, or whatever. But if you’re honest about it, it’s the idea of being a published author that’s appealing. You don’t really want to write the book.
Another possibility —and this one’s a little harder to swallow— is that running a marathon is something you actually want to do. That’s a significant goal. Achieving it would require hard work, focus and dedication.
I’ll ask the question again, this time with an addendum.
How are you spending your days? More importantly, who are you spending them with?
Let’s Do Some Social Auditing
It’s time to take an honest look at the people in your inner circle. These guys are your tribe. They’re the ones you spend most of your time with. They’re also the people who have the biggest influence over you.
Friendships are great for a lot of reasons. Your health improves, you live longer, your mind stays sharp and maybe it’s just me, but I think coffee tastes better, too.
Unfortunately, not all relationships are good for you.
Whether you’re aware of it or not, your friends shape your future. They influence your self-esteem, your likes and dislikes, and your lifestyle choices. Your current friendships can even dictate how you’ll be around new friends in the future.
The Michelangelo Effect
Just like the famous sculptor ‘revealed’ the statue within the marble, so too do our relationships have the ability to bring out the best in us.
It’s not nearly as complicated as it sounds. According to psychologist Shelly Gable, it all comes down to how well you respond to good news. She claims this one thing can make or break a relationship.
Think back to the last time you shared some really great news with a friend or loved one. How did they respond? Were they genuinely pleased for you or were they not all that interested?
If they were anything other than overjoyed, it begs the question. Do they genuinely care about you or is it all about them? We’ve all met those people, some of them have even muscled their way into our inner circle.
Find Your Right Tribe
When Dan Buettner set out to find the world’s longest-lived people, his journey led him to identify five longevity hotspots around the globe. Although geographically diverse, Dan discovered that inhabitants of these Blue Zones all share nine healthy lifestyle habits.
Among other things, folks in these parts understand the importance of downshifting, they move naturally and they eat a mostly plant-based diet. They also spend time in social circles that support and encourage healthy behaviors.
Some choose their ‘right tribe,’ while others, like the Okinawans, are born into their ‘moais.’ Chosen by their parents at birth, these groups of five friends remain committed to each other for life.
By keeping good company, the world’s longest-lived people have succeeded in favorably shaping their health behaviors. Research from the well-known Framingham Heart Studies backs this up.
According to the studies’ findings, smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious.
It’s a little like six degrees of Kevin Bacon. Except in this case, how close you are to a person determines how likely you are to indulge in similarly destructive behaviors.
For example, if you’re directly connected to a person (one degree), you’re 52% more likely to be lonely. Whereas, if a friend of a friend is lonely (two degrees), the chance that you’ll also be lonely is reduced to 25%. Which is still fairly significant when your mental wellbeing is at stake.
Friends with Benefits (Not like That)
You’re only as good as the company you keep. Your friends hold sway over your life. We’ve already established that they can influence your thoughts, your feelings and the way you show up in the world.
Knowing that, wouldn’t you rather surround yourself with the kind of people you aspire to be? People you admire?
Let’s say you lack self-discipline. A surefire way to boost your willpower is to spend time with someone who is strong-willed.
Having friends who help you make good choices is awesome. But it’s also nice to have a partner in chocolate crime too, someone to enjoy the occasional indulgence with without feeling guilty. (It’s all about balance, really.)
Having a strong, positive inner circle is helpful for stressing less, being happier and preventing toxicity in your life. (Plus, they’ll probably share their chocolate with you.)
Making new friends as an adult can feel a little intimidating, but it definitely doesn’t have to be. You just need to look in the right places.
For example, if you want to run a marathon, hanging out in bars and nightclubs won’t help. You need to join a running club. You could also join a hiking club. Both will introduce to people who enjoy exercising.
Toastmasters —an international non-profit that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs— is a fantastic way to make new friends.
The organization brings together people from all walks of life, making it the perfect environment to mix up your social circle. We humans have the tendency to stick with what we know, but stepping outside of our social comfort zone allows us to learn about other cultures and even break stereotypes.
Making new friends serves another purpose, too. You’ll have less time to squander on those folks who aren’t a good influence on you.
Eliminating the Toxic Influences
You’re supposedly the sum of the five people you spend the most time with, but as the editor of Success Magazine discovered, cutting the negative people from your life isn’t that simple. I agree, life is nothing if not nuanced.
Still, some people just aren’t good for you. There are plenty of reasons to cut the toxic influences in your life. Whether they’re holding you back, drowning you in their drama, leaving you drained or just killing your good vibes, they’ve got to go.
Confrontation has never sat well with me. I prefer the back away slowly method in which you just become increasingly unavailable.
If you prefer a less cowardly approach, this therapist’s script for breaking up with a friend will help.
I know what you’re thinking. That’s fine, but what if the bad influence in my life is my sister? Well, obviously you can’t break up with family. I recommend a combination of gentle honesty and bribery (e.g. peanut butter cookies).
What it comes down to is this: you’re the most important person in your life. Who you choose to spend your time with will determine how you spend your days and ultimately, how you spend your life.