My husband is a basketball coach, and we often have players staying with us – generally women in their early to mid twenties from abroad coming to play professional basketball in the UK.

The two players staying with us this year are truly inspirational. They’ve teamed up to spur each other on in the areas of nutrition, exercise, and attitude. I can see that they are helping each other to be better. And their self-improvement regimen is even rubbing off on the rest of us.

All of which reinforces the point that we are as good as the company we keep.

Sure, we’re born into situations beyond out control, but that doesn’t have to be where we end up.

Not only are humans pack animals, we’re also adaptive, learning and growing beings. We have a choice of which pack to run with, and who we invite to join our pack.

So, who are you hanging out with? And are you running with this pack by design or by default?

If you want to keep getting better, then here are five questions to ask yourself to make sure you’re hanging out with the “right crowd”… as in, people who will help you be the best version of yourself more of the time.

5 ways to tell if you’re hanging out with the “right crowd”

1.  What are their aspirations?

A young man who is the first in his family to go to university told me that seeing the work ethic and ambitions of his girlfriend’s family has opened his eyes to an entirely different world of aspiration, motivation and mindset.

When you hang out with people who set their sights higher, you raise your sights as well.

He has set his sights on a set of aspirations substantially higher than the world of his current friends and extended family, and now needs to spend time learning from people who have succeeded in these new directions.

This doesn’t change his love for his family, but it does mean he is going to consciously seek out people with higher aspirations and accomplishments.

It’s the same in your chosen career – find people who aspire to be better, to keep learning and growing.

2.  Are they willing to challenge you?

You’re never going to be the best you can be if you’re surrounded by “yes men”.

When you are challenged and adapt or overcome it, this makes you stronger. And by the way, you have to also make it safe for people to challenge you. If it helps you to give ground rules on when and how people can challenge you – such as only in private – then do so.

Just make sure you surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth.

3.  Do you up each others’ game?

I’ve mentioned my “gym buddy” Karen in a prior post. I love training with Karen because we egg each other on.

We’re friends, but in the gym, we drive each other to perform at our respective maximum levels. When I’m tired but see Karen still do those burpees, it makes me grit my teeth and keep going because I’m not going to let her outlast me! And she’s thinking the same thing. As a result, we’re both stronger and fitter than we otherwise would have been.

This phenomenon occurs in other areas of life as well. Use it to raise your game.

4.  Do they have a “can do” attitude?

Attitudes rub off. Sometimes they even pass between people like a virus.

If you’re only hanging out with Eeyores (the negative energy character in Winnie the Pooh who sees problems with every situation), it’s harder to stay in the positive frame of mind and get things done. Avoid these energy drainers whenever possible.

Instead, choose to be around “glass half full” people who see possibilities and opportunities and have a winning attitude.

5.  Are you usually the smartest person in the room?

If your answer is yes, then you’re either full of it or you’re coasting. Drifting along and not challenging yourself to be the best you can be.

I love being the least knowledgeable person in the room, because that means I’m about to learn.

Of course there are times when you’re going to be the “smartest” person on a subject and need to be – like when you’re doing brain surgery, or teaching the physics PhD seminar. But in most of life, the more powerful differentiator is your attitude and desire to learn.

If you’re serious about improving in a particular area, then you need to hang around with people who are smarter and farther ahead than you are. Fortunately, we can all be smart about something different so you are also able to add to the relationship.

The bottom line is to make sure you choose wisely and by design, not default.

So, how do you and the people you hang out with stack up on the five questions? And how do you choose the company you keep?