“You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” — Jim Rohn
I love this quote, but I look at it from a slightly different angle: If you surround yourself with four losers, you’ll be the fifth. To some degree, we are all products of our environments.
As Benjamin Hardy argues in his book, Willpower Doesn’t Work, you can only go so far on willpower alone. If you’re in a bad environment, you’re going to spend an enormous amount of energy fighting against that environment. But if you intentionally set up a positive environment, you exponentially increase your chances of being successful. There is perhaps no bigger or more impactful piece of your environment than the people who are in it with you.
This includes the people you live and work with—where you may have less of a choice who’s in your environment—and the people with whom you choose to regularly spend time.
Let me give you an example. If you want to dedicate more time to your career, yet you live with three roommates who are constantly pressuring you to go out and get drunk every night, that environment is not going to be conducive to your goal of focusing on your career. (Unless you career involves getting drunk every night, in which case, let’s talk. I’ve got questions.)
Then there are the people you choose to include in your environment. Sticking with the same goal, you should be spending time with high-achieving people who are talking about ideas, goals, and strategies. These are the types of conversations you want to be having.
If you surround yourself with people who spend all day gossiping or talking about reality TV, those interactions are not going to move you closer to your goal. One of the greatest predictors of growth amongst people is who they surround themselves with. People either make you better, keep you right where you’re at, or in a worst case scenario, actually bring you down.
As with many things in life, controlling your environment (especially the people in it) begins with awareness. From there, you can shift into a tactic I’ve used in my business to control the people we bring onto our team: non-negotiables. Look’s look at how both these ideas work.
Multiplication by Subtraction
At our annual law firm growth conference, the Game Changers Summit, we do an exercise where participants write down the first five to ten people in their lives who come to mind.
From there, they’re asked to assign each person a number: 1) they support you 2) they’re against you 3) they want you to do less 4) none of the above applies. Once that’s done, the takeaway is simple: grow the 1’s on your list, and give less time to the 2s, 3s, and 4s.
When you become aware of the people who actively work to undermine you, drain your energy with their demands, or just do nothing but take up your time, you can be strategic about how much time you give these people. It’s what I like to call “multiplication by subtraction.”
By spending less time with these people, you not only minimize (or remove) the negative effect they have on you, but you’re also able to multiply your efforts elsewhere because you have more time and less holding you back. This could mean ending a relationship with someone who is sabotaging your growth, firing a bad-fit client who gobbles up too much of your time and focus, or moving out of an apartment where you live with your party animal roommates.
The Power of Non-Negotiables
This leads to a strategy that’s been a game-changer for me: having non-negotiables. Much of your progress comes down to simply not putting up with something or someone. So, the more things that become non-negotiables in your life, the more control you exert over your progress.
When our daughter was born, being home for bath time became a non-negotiable for me. From there, I had to work backwards to determine what needed to happen for me to be home every night. What that came down to was building up a larger support team with clear accountability, and making my non-negotiable known to the team. Now, if I miss bath time, it means somebody slipped in their accountability or failed to execute, keeping me at the office late. If that were to continue to happen, that person would no longer be employed by our organization.
Your non-negotiables and your environment go hand-in-hand. In every area of life, we get what we tolerate. So, as a business owner, you’ll have problematic team members as long as you continue to hire them and put up with them. If you set a non-negotiable of getting to the office by 9 a.m., yet you allow employees to show up at 9:30, it’s not a non-negotiable.
Be Prepared for Tough Decisions
To unleash the power of non-negotiables, you must be willing to make difficult decisions. If your culture is a non-negotiable, you don’t want to play the convincing game with your employees. If you constantly have to get people to buy into the culture you’ve created, you’re taking valuable resources (time, money, effort) away from work that could help you achieve your goals.
In our organization, we want volunteers, not hostages. We want people whose presence adds to our culture. How do we achieve that? By knowing the traits of the people we want to attract:
Smart. Hungry. Humble.
You see, it’s not enough to know the type of people you want to avoid bringing into your environment. You also need to know the type of person you want to let inside.
At our company, these traits were easy to define because they align with our core values. We hire based on these values because we’re not in the business of instilling character traits into people after twenty or more years of life. If how they operate is not aligned with how we operate, then it’s best if they find an organization that’s a better fit for them and how they work.
Who we surround ourselves with is everything. When we put up with 2s, 3s, and 4s in our lives, whatever we’re trying to do becomes more difficult. If we choose to grow the 1s in our lives, we’ll have the right people in our corner to reach success on the other side of our difficulties.