If you were to evaluate the major influences in your life that have shaped the kind of person you are, this has to be high on the list: the people and thoughts you choose to allow into your life. My mentor, Mr Shoaff, gave me a very important warning in those early days that I’ll share with you. He said, “Never underestimate the power of influence.” Indeed, the influence, positive or negative influences, of those around us is so powerful! Many times we don’t even realize we’re being strongly affected because influences generally develop over an extended period of time.
Peer pressure is an especially powerful force because it is so subtle. These can be positive or negative influences. If you’re around people who spend all they make, chances are excellent you might spend all you make. If you are around people who don’t read, chances are excellent that you probably won’t read. People can keep nudging us off course a little at a time until, finally, we find ourselves asking, How did I get here? Those subtle influences need to be studied carefully if we really want our lives to turn out the way we’ve planned.
With regard to this important point, let me give you three key questions to ask yourself. They might help you better analyze your current associations and determine whether you have surrounded yourself with positive or negative influences.
1. Who am I around?
Make a mental note of the people with whom you most often associate. You’ve got to evaluate everyone who is able to influence you in any way.
2. What are these associations doing to me?
That’s a major question to ask. What have they got me doing? How have they influenced what I listen to? What have they got me reading? Where have they got me going? What do they have me thinking? How have they got me talking? What do I feel when I’m with them? How have I begun to speak and what have they got me saying? You’ve got to make a serious study of how others influence you, both negatively and positively.
3. Is that OK?
Maybe everyone you associate with has been a positive, energizing influence. Then again, maybe there are some bad apples in the bunch; the negative influences. All I’m suggesting here is that you take a close and objective look. Everything is worth a second look, especially when it comes to the power of influence. Both will take you somewhere, but only one will take you in the direction you need to go.
It’s easy to just dismiss the things that influence our lives. One man says, “I live here, but I don’t think it matters. I’m around these people, but I don’t think it hurts.” I would take another look at that. Remember, everything matters! Sure, some things matter more than others, but everything amounts to something. You’ve got to keep checking to find out whether your associations are tipping the scales toward the positive or toward the negative. Ignorance is never the best policy. Finding out is the best policy.
It’s easy to let influence shape our lives, to let associations determine our direction, to let pressures overwhelm us and to let tides take us. The big question is: Are we letting ourselves become what we wish to become?
Here are three ways to handle associations or relationships that have negative influences on your life.
1. Disassociate from negative associations.
This is not an easy decision, nor something you should take lightly, but in some cases, it might be essential. You might just have to make the hard choice not to let certain negative influences affect you anymore. It could be a choice that preserves the quality of your life.
2. Limit the association.
Spend major time with major influences and minor time with minor influences. It is easy to do just the opposite, but don’t fall into that trap. Take a look at your priorities and your values. We have so little time at our disposal. Wouldn’t it make sense to invest it wisely?
3. Expand your associations.
This is the one I suggest you focus on the most. Find other successful people you can spend more time with. Invite them to lunch (pick up the tab) and ask them how they have achieved so much or what makes them successful. Now, this is not just about financial success; it can be someone you want to learn from about having a better marriage, being a better parent, having better health or a stronger spiritual life.
It is called association on purpose: getting around the right people by expanding your circle of influence.
Here are a few final thoughts on associations and influence:
When you succeed, you will create and attract more success around you. Success breeds success, so when you succeed, even at just a level above where you are right now, you will see that the people you associate with will also start becoming more successful themselves (which will also increase the level of your own associations!). That is one of the exciting byproducts of success.
Initiate relationships with people who are further ahead in personal and professional development than you are. There are so many successful people around you who can help you in so many ways! And if they are successful, they are busy! So, chances are, they are not going to initiate anything with you, but they will more than likely be willing to meet with you or invest in you if you initiate contact with them. Of course, some won’t, but that’s OK; just move on until you find someone who will. Meet with them, buy them lunch or coffee. Let your association with them help you. Learn from them. Watch them. Let their experience guide you. But remember, you will have to pursue them, not the other way around.
Have people around who you can rely on to speak the truth to you. We need people who will tell us the truth. Even if it is negative, given with a heart of concern, the truth will still build us up and move us forward. We don’t just want people around us who will tell us only the good or what we want to hear. Growing in our personal and professional lives means we need to look at the whole picture and deal with both strengths and weaknesses. We need a good balance of people around us who can help us see all sides of an issue.
Carefully determine what will influence you. I use the word carefully because many people do not care about what they allow to influence them or who they associate with. And yet this is one of the biggest ways our lives are shaped. We need to be full of care when we are looking at who or what we allow into our lives and thus to shape and mould our lives. Look for people and information that will build you up and give you the next step you need to move forward in your journey.
Remember, your associations should move you forward, not impede your progress.