It’s amazing how easily I am influenced by everything around me. The words I read shape the way I think and reason. The relationships I see in movies and TV shows shape the expectations I have for my own relationships in real life. The music I listen to influences my mood and emotions. The images I see portrayed in the media influence the way I think about myself and those around me. This fact scares me.
It is unnerving to admit that you don’t have full control over your thoughts, ideas and actions. It seems cowardly and weak to admit that you are one of those people who fall victim to marketing hype. But the truth of the matter is that we are all one of those people.
Whether we like to admit it or not – it is a part of the 21st century human condition that we are influenced to act (contrary to what we might have done otherwise) by the myriad of stimuli that get thrown at us every single day.
There are of course ways to improve in this regard. The first step is merely being conscious of this human instinct and in so doing you can immediately make serious progress – by watching that impulse appear and then letting it go, like a cloud floating across a blue sky. For the stronger among us, self-discipline is another trait that can be cultivated and utilised to steer clear of the shiny new objects. Easy to say, hard to do – of course.
All of these are great tips and worth looking into – but this is a double edged sword.
To be easily influenced is not inherently bad or good. The influence is merely a tool that can be used both ways. If being influenced results in you changing your actions – then it follows that good influences that make you into a better person are worth chasing.
It is hard to make positive changes in your life. The habits that sit with you today define who you are and it is a tremendously difficult endeavour to change those habits. You have that epiphany when you decide that you need to make a change and you seek out the thousands of articles existing on the internet right now that show you the exact five steps needed to break that bad habit that has been plaguing you. You can read all of those and agree with every single one. The articles can fill you with energy and motivation – but the action needed to make that change is where most fail. The epiphany is long since forgotten and the daily slog of changing a particular habit while also keeping all our other balls up in the air saps our energy and willpower. We get caught up in the trap of being busy and we slowly roll down the slippery slope towards where you started. It can feel like you are swimming upstream against the tide.
Influence is that tide.
If you can craft positive influences and let them take control – you begin to swim with the tide, as opposed to against it. You can use that human condition for your own benefit. You can force yourself to get better by riding that tide.
There is a quote liberally thrown around in self-development that goes like this:
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn
It is has become somewhat of a cliché which makes it feel icky, but there is truth in the statement. As with all clichés, they only become clichés because they are true. Otherwise they would not have survived this long.
The five people that are closest to you influence you more than you know. If you are like me, every aspect of your current worldview is stress-tested and adjusted based on what these people think. Some like to think of it as your board of advisors and I think that’s a helpful analogy. Your advisors are those who you can be totally vulnerable and honest with – knowing that you will receive the tough love that you need, when you need it.
I witnessed this in action last week when I was lucky enough to attend the Brightest Young Minds summit in Johannesburg, which brings together 100 young leaders from all over Africa to network and collaborate with one another during five days of full immersion. Such an atmosphere can’t help but leave you inspired and motivated to take action and make things happen. It is really hard to remain apathetic when you are confronted with enthusiastic, driven people who truly want to build an Africa that they can be proud of.
I felt that. I felt the energy and the passion. It was infectious.
Five days of transformational, eye-opening, gut-wrenching, foot-tapping, insomnia-ridden, energy.
It fades though. As I return to my normal day-to-day life, the distractions return. The comfort returns. The temptation to slip into complacency and laziness returns. You simply can’t sustain that kind of fever-pitch excitement.
Or can you?
Aha – you see. I am bringing you full circle. Back to influence.
It occurred to me that if I could stay connected to those young leaders going forward – I could maintain that energy and that drive. I could ride the wave of that influence and hold myself accountable. I could use the social pressure to force me to lift my standards and chase my dreams.
What about you?
Who are the five people that you spend the most time with?
It’s a really worthwhile exercise to consider your response to the above and be brutally honest with yourself. Are you being influenced by positive, happy people whose values are aligned with yours? Or are you being influenced by pessimistic, complaining people who drag you down the wrong path?
It’s a difficult exercise, because sometimes it unearths truths that you don’t want to discover. Sometimes it points to a vice that you keep reinforcing. Sometimes it points to a weakness that you unconsciously surround yourself with. Sometimes it points to a relationship borne of convenience and not of genuine love. Sometimes it points to a friendship that needs to be reconsidered. Sometimes it points to a family member that you need to distance yourself from.
They are tough decisions.
However, it is the hard choices that we make that determine what kind of person we are going to be.
Choose to be surrounded by the superheroes - the ones who are happy and optimistic in this crazy world of ours. Let them influence you.
*Thanks to Craig Johnson, Themba Langa and Ross Thompson for reading early drafts of this post.