Newborns are in a nursery, bundled up tight and in a temperature controlled room. Most of them have recently fed, and almost all are warmly dozing. 

All except for one of them, who recently awoke hungry. He begins crying, instinctively trying to let the nurses know about his hunger. Within moments, all the babies in the nursery are crying. 

Why? 

Many neuroscientists consider the discovery of mirror neurons to be the greatest advancement in psychology in recent decades. These are the aspects of your brain that light up when you watch the activity or absorb the experiences of other people. 

This is why when one baby starts crying it’s as if a contagion sweeps the room, and soon all nearby babies are crying. Like a mirror, they’re reflecting the emotions of others nearby. 

I previously wrote a piece on the Framingham Study, primarily focused on the power of social influence in our lives. In summary, human behaviors can pass through a population much like a virus – if your friends smoke, then you’re significantly more likely to begin smoking as well. The study brought a scientific validity to the idea that your friends predict your future. 

But what about other factors in your life, beyond your circle of closest friends? What other elements in your life are influencing your current behaviors and in turn predicting your future? 

What You Listen To

Understanding that music has a profound impact on our moods is somewhat intuitive. I don’t believe it a stretch to assume that we’ve all been moved by a piece of music before. Research has also shown the link between listening to intense or fast-paced music and athletic performance, which I don’t believe anyone would be too surprised to learn. 

But did you know that music also affects your visual perceptions? Researchers found that listening to happy, upbeat music led participants to identify expressions and emotes as happy in nature, even when there were no discernible indicators for them to determine them as happy. The researchers repeated the experiment with sad music, and the participants over-identified the expressions and emotes as sad in nature.

If you want to find happiness and opportunity in the world, this research should give you pause when it comes to your choices in music. And the faces you see today, how you relate to them, and the opportunities you can identify – these will all hold profound influence on your future self. 

And it’s not just music. 

Podcasts have seen a meteoric rise in recent years, experiencing double digit year over year growth since 2016. 

Music? Sure, to some extent its influence is pretty intuitive and widely accepted. But what happens to your brain on podcasts? 

Researchers have studied that, too. They have mapped individual’s brains while listening to storytelling podcasts, and they found areas of the brain light up when hearing terms such as “mother” or specific dates – just as they would if the individual were experiencing those concepts firsthand. 

Do you need a jolt of motivation on your way to work in the morning? Then you should consider listening to a productivity podcast chronicling someone else’s successes. 

What You Read

We’ve all heard the saying, and yes, it’s a fact at this point. Reading makes you smarter. 

But there’s so much more power when it comes to reading, especially in regards to how it can impact your future self. 

Reading about experiences perfectly does not replace hands on learning – but it comes close. Reading about the experiences of others actually activates the same regions of your brain as if you were living out the words on the page. 

Need to develop leadership skills? Read the biographies of the greats, or find case studies focused on specific areas. 

Additionally, reading makes you a more empathetic person. This goes hand in hand with the previous note of reading the experiences of others. For example, as parents we can forget what it’s really like to be a young person in grade school. However, if we want to empathize with the lives of our children, it really helps to pick up a young adult novel concerning the subject and reconnect with that former life of ours. 

Thinking Beyond the Traditional “Closest Friends” 

The idea that your friends predict your future or that your closest friends are a direct reflection of yourself, those two principles have long guided this area of the self development conversation. 

However, I didn’t personally have a breakthrough in this area until I expanded the idea of “closest friends” to include some non traditional aspects, such as podcast hosts, my favorite writers, and entrepreneurs whose frameworks I was trying to incorporate for myself. 

Now? 

Teddy Roosevelt is my best friend in the world. His dedication to daily progress, sheer focus and discipline, and his prolific output across many different areas of his life, these all inspire – and humble – me daily. 

Gary Vaynerchuk? One of my best friends, although of course doesn’t know it. He’s a visionary with no apologies for who he is and what he believes. And his content is a daily reminder to me to live my life according to my terms and not what everyone else thinks I should be doing. 

Once I had this shift in perspective and shared it with a few of my clients, it also created a breakthrough for them as well. Expand your idea of “closest friends” to include any and all people, across time and space. But if you’re going to do this you truly have to be obsessed with them, and as intentional about spending time with them like you would a traditional friend. 

Consume their content on a daily basis. Even go so far as to put it on your calendar as if it’s a date with a real life friend. 

Write letters to them that you know you’ll never send, but still become a conversation between the two of you where you’re challenging them, expressing gratitude for them, or more. 

Above all else, be purposeful in who you’re spending your time with, and know in this digital age of access that this means far more than just your circle of friends.

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