You are who you spend your time with

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”― Mark Twain

It’s often said that you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with. I agree, but I have some ideas on how to expand on this because it definitely needs clarifying.

First, I believe you should surround yourself with people that have various qualities you admire and want to develop. This doesn't have to be just people that have money or are successful. For example, you can have friends that are not financially successful, but who are outgoing and great with people, and you like to be around them to learn how to be better in this department.

That said, you should always try to surround yourself with people more successful than you if possible. And if success is your goal, you can’t spend all your time around people that don’t know how to--or don’t care to--become successful because certain qualities not conducive for success will rub off on you. There is a ton of research backing this phenomenon. (You can also see the power of group psychology by studying in-group bias and mob mentality.)

What happens when you hang out with people, especially when it's in a regular group setting, is your perception and what you “expect” for yourself become shaped by your peer group. The group sets the bar high, your bar will be high. If the group sets it low, yours will be low.

This is why you have to be so selective in the group, and specific people, you choose to be around. Whether you like it or not, your choice in this part of your life is what sets your bar high, medium or low.

Now, I do have a disclaimer I need to point out here. It's this: I don't believe you have to completely “eliminate” people from your life just because they may not fit the “criteria” of what you are after. However, you absolutely have to limit the amount of time you spend with them.

It’s perfectly fine to have a bunch of friends that work average jobs, have average bodies, and do and think average things. For most of us, this is our situation. Not all of us can be born into elite, high-achiever families.

The fact is, most people are average.

This is the society (world, actually) we live in, and with 316 million people in the United States alone, it has to be this way. Not everyone can be the 1%—some people have to makeup the 99%.

This might sound harsh, exclusionary and “elitist,” and you are probably right in a way, but this is reality and reality is often a bitch.

The thing about reality is, as unpleasant as it is, we have to face it if we want any chance of living to our fullest potential. The truth hurts for a reason: it is a powerful tool we can use to make our lives better.

No one became great by having the world spoon-fed to them with a sugar-coated silver spoon.

I’m interested in becoming great. I’m interested in studying greatness. I have no time for political correctness or disclaiming every single sentence so as to not "offend" anyone. Whatever.

I will do everything I can to become the best version of myself as possible. If that means I have to limit my time with certain people, and even exclude a few more, then that is exactly what I'm going to do. This is the price I have to pay.

Sometimes you need to spend time with yourself and your thoughts and your dog...[/caption]

Now, this isn't always black and white. For example, I've learned that you can be “leader” in small circles and motivate and inspire those around you to become better. This is the role I have often defaulted too in my own social groups. And by doing so I find myself motivated and inspired when I see those around me getting motivated and inspired. When this is the dynamic, others in the group may not be as along as I am, or think the way I think, but I can still be empowered by them.

I think this is extremely powerful.

The problem is, not many people can do this. If you struggle with following the group, or if you are still developing your identity and belief system as a person, you have to be especially careful with those you surround yourself with, leader or not. Those of you that have strong beliefs and opinions and that are seldom swayed when challenged, have more leeway in who you spend time with because you are less susceptible to the effects. Notice I said "less susceptible"--you still have to be careful.

As you can see, this topic isn't black and white. But that’s life. As humans, we try so hard to distill the world and everything in it into black and white, right or wrong, or positive and negative. But life almost never fits within these definitions (except math).

Now, with all that said, I do believe there is a type of person that you should do everything you can to exclude from your life without exception.

Do everything you can to exclude negative people from your life.

You know the type: complains, makes excuses, immediately sees the worst in everything and is a drain to be around.

Life is too short to be negative. Life is too short to focus on the worst when the best is sitting right there smiling at you. Succumbing to Negative-Bias is a sad reality that I want no part of… nor do I want to be around to see and hear it.

With negative people, you have to eliminate them from your life because they are so toxic. Notice how drained you feel after spending time with a negative person. It's a real physiological effect. It's physical and mental poison and you have no choice but to get as far away from it as possible.

If you can't do that—because they are family, for example—then you have to explain to them that you don't want to hear or see any of their negativity. Tell them to not complain around you, and to keep their negative opinions to themselves. They won't like hearing this (in fact, it'll be the perfect thing to complain about), but the thing is, you have to protect yourself. Plus, you are doing them a favor because you are forcing them to work on their negative-bias when you are around.


Earlier today I was driving and listening to Tara Brach’s podcast—highly recommended—and she spoke of a story about a women that was perpetually negative. This woman was challenged, by her son, to add the words “and my life is very blessed” to the end of her every statement. When the women complained, she would always finish the statement with this phrase.


“I can’t believe the traffic today, it’s terrible, and my life is very blessed.”

“My salmon is overcooked, and my life is very blessed.”

“I hate doing the dishes, and my life is very blessed.”

After a few months, the practice created a revolutionary change in her. On her 80th birthday, while losing her eye sight and dealing with all the things that come with old age, she sent her son a card.

The card went like this,

“I’m happier than I’ve ever been and truly mean each word. The thoughts that cause the worries now all seem so absurd. Though my eye sight has been dimmed, I see clearer than before. The glass is not half-empty, it’s overflowing to be sure.”

At 80 years old, while going blind on top of having been a perpetually negative person her entire life, the simple act of adding a phrase of gratitude to the end of her sentences completely transformed her life.

Something to think about for those of you that struggle with negative-bias.

My last point

I want to revisit the “5 people you spend the most time with” topic before we close this out. While most people think of their friends when they hear this phrase, I believe it goes beyond just the people you spend time with in person. Let me explain.

See, you can spend time with people in ways other than in physical presence. The most powerful way to do this is through books. Sure, videos, documentaries, music, and art are also viable options. But I believe books are more powerful because they use the written word and have the ability to communicate messages that can change your life in only the intimate way that a book can. And this is as close to "in the flesh" as you can get, in my opinion.

Spending time reading the best books ever written will change you for the better. There is no doubting that.

Spending time with the works of Aristotle or Seneca, or a biography of Gandhi or Mother Teresa, or anything by Anthony Robbins or Stephen Covey or Napoleon Hill—to name a few—is going to have a similar effect as if you were to spend time with these people. It may not be as powerful as if you had spent time in the flesh with them, but it’s about as close as you can get. (And in some cases, I think books are more powerful.)

So, when it is said that you are the sum of the 5 people you spend the most time with, what it really means to say is "you are the sum of how you spend your time."

If you spend the majority of your time watching the Kardashians and reading gossip magazines, your personality will match what you are taking in. The same goes for reading great books, watching great movies and documentaries, and appreciating great art. Each shapes you.

What you do and what you fill your mind with is what makes you who you are. As Marcus Aurelius said, “Our life is what our thoughts make it.”

I hope you will be inspired to be more conscious of your time and how you are spending it. After all, your life is the nothing more than a series of singular moments strung together.

Be conscious of how you are spending these moments; they make you who you are as well as who you want to be in the future.