There is a saying that ‘you are the average of the five people that you spend the most time with’. It’s believed to have come from motivational speaker Jim Rohn, who spent a lifetime studying human achievement — and the various blocks to it.
When you think about this idea, it does make a lot of sense. After all, the five people that you spend the most time with are the ones who might have the most ability to influence you (even indirectly). They are the people who could be having a huge impact on your behavior, habits, attitudes, values, goals, self-esteem, and worldview, sometimes without you even realising it.
You will see evidence of this repeatedly out in the world. Because if you pay attention to friend groups, families, or even communities (spiritual, political, or subcultural), you will see this pattern at play — for instance, people wearing similar clothes, making similar lifestyle choices, and sharing similar beliefs. Sometimes, these groups often deal with the same problems, blind spots, and blocks again and again (or, conversely, achieve similar things and encourage each other’s success).
Also, you can likely find evidence of the power of the ‘five people rule’ in your own life. Because if you think back, you can probably remember at least one time when your habits or outlooks changed — for better or worse — due to being surrounded by a new set of people or being in a new place.
It makes a lot of sense. After all, humans are social beings with a deep-seated, survival-based need to fit in. It stands to reason that you might gradually adapt to those around you, in big ways and small. In general, no one wants to be the odd one out (and even outsiders and rebels tend to gather into their own niche groups that display shared beliefs and behaviors).
We can assume from all of this that your closest people — or at least those you see the most frequently — are a very big deal. In fact, they could actually make the difference between you achieving your dreams or not.
Why? Because if you are surrounded by people who are not goal-orientated — for instance, are negative, directionless, or consumed by bad habits, then what kind of effect do you think this will have on your own ability to achieve? It’s not that you should get rid of friends who are going through a low period — not at all. But you should learn to be mindful of their influence.
Even if it’s only partially true that we become an amalgamation of the five people we see the most, it’s still worth keeping this common-sense concept in mind. In other words, it’s probably a good idea for you to do a regular audit of your biggest influences. But where do you start?
How to become aware of the influence of others
The fact is that we often attract people into our lives who are similar to us in some way. Sadly, this isn’t always a good thing, as it means that our friends can sometimes amplify our weaknesses, flaws, and mental blocks. Eventually, this can become a sort of shared reality bubble, where we reinforce each other’s negative or limiting beliefs about the world.
To overcome this, start by making a list of the five individuals whom you see the most. Remember, these aren’t necessarily your best friends or favourite people; they are just those who are around you a lot. Your list could include housemates, work colleagues, or business associates. It could even include online friends, media commentators, or social media influencers whose content you immerse yourself in.
Then ask yourself: ‘Are there any negative patterns and themes in my life that also show up amongst these five people?’ For instance, if you’re not satisfied with your job, is this reflected among your friends too? Do they often grumble about their boss when you’re out for drinks, for instance?
If you’re single and can’t seem to meet the right person, are some of your ‘five people’ in the same boat? Do you reinforce each other’s negative beliefs about love, for instance, by complaining that ‘finding the right person is like looking for a needle in a haystack’?
If you often find yourself short of cash, is it the same with your five people? Do they have cash-flow problems, lots of debt, or a tendency to overspend?
To be clear, no one’s saying that the five people you spend the most time with are all exactly like you — in fact, your closest friends probably have qualities that are the complete opposite of yours (it might even be what attracted you to each other). Remember, we’re not talking about personality qualities here, more about mindset.
In other words, even if you’re a total introvert and your best friend is the world’s biggest extrovert, do you still share the same limiting mindset about certain things? Are you reflecting that worldview back to each other in a negative feedback loop? Worse still, is this holding you back from your dreams?
Start looking for shared themes and patterns among the people you see the most. This process is all about waking up to how their perceptions, beliefs, and behaviours could be affecting you. For instance, if few of your close friends ever hit the gym, maybe that’s why you’re in a fitness rut.
But what do you do if your ‘five people’ aren’t necessarily the best role models, but you still have to be around them regularly?
How to choose your influences wisely and mindfully
If this is the case then all is not lost, because there is another way. The truth is that you can actively choose a whole new set of ‘five people’ very quickly. What’s more, these five people can be the highest achievers in their fields, and you can also spend as much time with them as you like — without ever having to be introduced to any of them. How do you do this?
By finding mentors, inspirations, and role models who are public figures. In other words, people who have made a point of sharing their thoughts, beliefs, and ideas with the world over the years, meaning that you can access their teachings and learn from them. They don’t even have to be from this time period — after all, what’s stopping you from learning from the Greek philosophers? Or from famous leaders and civil rights activists of the past? From Marcus Aurelius or Leonardo Da Vinci or Georgia O’Keefe?
How to immerse yourself in the mindset of successful people
Start by choosing an initial group of inspirational public figures — just pick a few people whom you find inspiring, intriguing, or interesting, then go from there. It doesn’t even have to be five; you can just start with one or two. Also, remember that it isn’t set in stone, as your group might change over time as you change and grow, and that’s fine.
Once you’ve chosen your people, aim to immerse yourself fully in their books, lectures, videos, podcasts, interviews, creative output, and workshops. Get to know how they think, what makes them tick. What attitudes, mindsets, and actions made them so successful? (You could almost see this as a form of detective work.)
In essence, it will be like having a new set of best friends who happen to have some of the world’s best wisdom to share with you. You will find that their influence could start to show up in your life very quickly.
Also, if there are different areas of your life that you feel need attention — for instance, money, artistic achievement, or self-worth — why not pick a mentor from each area? Just try to aim high by finding a true master in each respective field, as you deserve the best of the best.
It’s important to stick to this habit, as it isn’t some short-term diversion or temporary motivation boost. If you treat it that way, you might get a bit of momentum, but the effects will soon wear off. Instead, being mindful about the five people whom you spend the most time with should become a lifelong practice.
Also, your five people don’t always have to be public or historical figures — you can also make room for new real-life influences. You could do this by taking up a hobby, joining a speaker’s club, attending networking events, or seeking mentorship from a leader in your workplace, industry, or field. It’s all about putting yourself in places, groups, and situations where you think you might find wise or inspiring people. And who knows — maybe you could end up being an inspiration to them as well.
Again, no one is saying to give up your current closest friends, not at all. Because old friends can bring other valuable things into your life beyond inspiration or mentorship — for instance, shared memories, fun experiences, and a listening ear. These things mean a lot, too (although if you feel that you need to remove certain people from your life for your own well-being, then don’t hold back from that either).
Overall, if you want to achieve your dreams — and you notice that those closest to you are a little stuck in this area — then be willing to open yourself up to new teachers, influences, and guides instead. You might be amazed at how much they can teach you. Maybe, in turn, you can share their teachings with others.