I’ve been obsessed with performance and personal development for close to 15 years now, consuming new ideas and a range of media on a daily basis. But the most powerful lesson learned so far is also possibly the most simple. 

You are who you walk with. 

This has been translated into the modern age in various ways, such as “you’re an average of the 5 people you spend the most time with” and other interpretations. We’ve come to learn that science supports this assertion, as I’ve written about before in my review of the Framingham study

When we set a new goal to accomplish, we often create tunnel vision for the finish line and disregard the context we’re working within – think work environment, social systems, family systems, and more. But in doing so you’re handicapping your chances for success. 

And perhaps the most important variable in the equation is what people you’re giving your time, energy, and attention. 

You (always) need to audit the people in your life, and by doing so you’ll guarantee that you’re not allowing the following 3 types of individuals to consume your valuable resources. To ensure we’re really clear on the subject, I’ve also offered a type of person you should be actively attempting to replace that toxic entity with. 

Type #1: The Vampire

Yes, a vampire. Yet, in this case they’re sucking your 3 most critical resources (time, energy, attention) instead of your actual blood. 

This is that coworker or friend who is exhausting. After any length of time spent with them you find yourself needing to get a cup of coffee to re-energize yourself – or even potentially wanting to take a nap! 

They’re always complaining about something. Sometimes this individual is the personification of Chicken Little, always stuck on the doom and gloom of your workplace. The most innocent of memos could be released to the company about a change in coffee vendors, and the Vampire would interpret it as a sign of the company scaling back costs, it must be on the road to bankruptcy, so in turn everyone will be without a job in 6 months. 

Additionally, Vampires are really only concerned for themselves. Yes, they might be discussing how awful the upcoming company picnic is going to be, but, if you pay attention, you’ll find the Vampire is only really speaking about it in terms of how it’s going to impact them. They’re never truly concerned for the sake of others – including you – and once you pick up on this you’ll see how glaringly obvious it is that they’re never happy for other people. Even for people who show support for the Vampire. 

Beware of high functioning Vampires. They’re savvy enough to drop conversational notes around how they care about you and that might allude to your well-being. But notice how these conversations almost always devolve into gossip sessions, ventings about the apocalyptic changes taking place, or monologues about how awful everyone else is. You’ll see the truth for what it is. 

Oh, and they’re saying the same things about you when you’re not around.

Signs: You’re always fatigued from any time spent with them. Never happy for others. Only concerned for themselves, and often puts you down so they can feel better.  

Replacement? The Optimist

I’m not saying you should befriend the closest person you can find to Don Quixote. There is a significant difference between a person who is almost delusional in their blind faith that great things will always just happen, and the person that is dedicated to finding potential opportunities in any given situation. The former lacks the dedication and action of the latter. Make sure you’re spending your time with someone who embodies the stoic mantra that “every obstacle is an opportunity,” and who you find boosts your sense of resilience. 

Type #2: The Critic

In many ways, the Critic is easy to identify since they’re the person that never has anything positive to say about the actions you’ve taken. You could win an award for best project of the year, and instead of a congratulations the Critic would point out some – oftentimes imagined – shortcoming your work held. 

It’s not just the work you accomplish that the Critic finds fault with but also all of the decisions you’re either in the process of or have already made. When it comes down to it, you simply can do no right in this person’s eyes. 

Inevitably, when you come to see the Critic’s actions for what they are you’ll find yourself trying to negotiate the relationship. Why are they always so critical of you? Many times it’s an attempt to control you or the situation. If they can make you feel less, then in their twisted perception of the world they can gain some level of dominance over you. 

Regardless, this isn’t a person you want influencing your energy.

Signs: They find fault with everything you do. Never supportive of your decisions. Try to control every situation through criticism and fault finding. 

Replacement? The Cheerleader

There are few greater epiphanies you’ll experience in life than in replacing a Critic with a Cheerleader. Where the Critic had you constantly in a state of defeat and second guessing, a Cheerleader will prove the much-needed second wind for many of your efforts. And when you do require critical feedback, a Cheerleader will work through the situation with you and focus positive attention and energy on effort and other inputs rather than outcomes that you often have little influence over anyways. 

Type #3: The Perpetual Victim

You know the Victim. They’re the person that blames everything wrong in their life on other people. Nothing is ever their fault. Ever. And they want everyone to know how nothing is their fault, so they look for every opportunity to share their misery with others. 

But they’re never interested in the story of others. Only their own. 

Most heartbreaking when it comes to the Victim is that many of them are incredibly talented. I know of someone who is an absolute artist when it comes to working with wood. And if they had ever tapped into their talent they could have possessed everything they had ever dreamed of. They’re seriously that gifted. However, instead of putting in the work to develop their talent this person has spent decades looking for people to blame for things going wrong, and today they possess nothing – no partner or family, no property, no job. Nothing. Because long ago in their desire to blame fault on others they gave away any power they might have ever cultivated for their own story. 

So don’t give your valuable resources (time, energy, attention) – and thus your power – away to the Victim. 

Signs: Everything that has happened in their life is someone else’s fault. Finds an excuse for everything. Never assumes accountability. Always wants an audience for their problems. 

Replacement? The Coach/Mentor

If the Perpetual Victim is all about a person absolving themselves of any responsibility, then their end product is giving away all their control and power. Instead, you should be actively seeking to add someone to your circle who can guide you through the process of increasing your power and influence. Few possibilities are better suited for this role than either a mentor (someone who has already summited the mountain you wish to climb) or a coach (the sherpa to the mountain you wish to climb). 

Conclusion

Of its many iterations, I prefer the version of the quote we discussed today that focuses on peer influence – “You’re an average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” Mainly because this gives you an action you can make on a daily basis. At the end of each day take a few minutes to reflect on each of the people you had interactions with that day. 

What was the impact of that interaction? Did you come away energized or drained? 

Did that person feed your determination to achieve your goals, or did they discourage you? 

Last, if you read this article and wondered if you might be a Vampire, Critic or Victim, that’s okay. Awareness is the first critical step in any cycle of personal change. To find out the answer to your concern, just ask those closest to you. Take the characteristics and put them into questions. If some of your fears become validated, then embrace the challenge of self improvement. Find a mentor or coach who can support your journey. 

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