Have you ever found yourself taking on the accent and speech patterns of the people you’re talking to?

For example, when you’re playing pick-up basketball in the inner city you might adopt some “street” language. Or when you’re staying with your posh friend’s family for the summer, you might start sounding more sophisticated yourself.

If you do, that’s normal. Psychologists have found that we humans have a subconscious desire to imitate gestures or speech patterns of others we’re interacting with. It comes from an inbuilt urge of the brain to empathize and affiliate.

While picking up speech patterns here and there is harmless enough, the issue – and the opportunity – arises when this inbuilt empathy instinct spills over to other aspects of our lives.

Your Environment Matters

A good friend of mine recently shared that her son is thinking of transferring to a different university because he is surrounded by people who are artists when he is an athlete, and most of his friends suffer from anxiety and he feels like it’s rubbing off on him.

He said, “I didn’t realize the extent to which environment makes a difference and has an effect on me.” Always a thoughtful, introspective type, he realized that he’s become increasingly isolated and depressed – much like his closest friends.

While we all have our tendencies, these can get magnified or suppressed based on the people we hang around most. And those are the people you’re closest to in your network.

Who You’re Around Affects Everything

In fact, the people you spend time with hold the key to success in your career and life.

As entrepreneur, motivational speaker, and author Jim Rohn said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

I’ve found that people affect you in at least four ways: how you think, how you feel, how you act, and the opportunities you have.

How You Think

The people you listen to regularly will begin to inform your worldview. That extends to ethics, politics, social issues and beyond. Just think of those times when you’ve thought to yourself, “I can’t believe she has that point of view – how can she think that’s okay?” and the other person is thinking the same of you.

But if all you hear is one side of the story, you’ll most likely start adopting those views yourself. That makes it easy to be confident you’re right while others see it a completely different way.

As they say, history is written by the victors. And what constitutes a “fact” is still open for interpretation.

The people you spend time with also affect your mindset, including how brave you’re prepared to be, what’s normal, what’s possible, and what’s possible for you.

Your mindset is likely to be different if you’re constantly criticized versus if you’re surrounded by people who adopt a “can do” attitude in the face of challenges.

How are the people you’re around affecting the way you think?

How You Feel

According to Scientific American, moods are contagious – just like in the example of my friend’s son. Psychologists call this “emotional contagion”, which is a 3-stage process through which feelings are transferred from one person to another.

It starts with unconscious mimicry, where you unconsciously adopt the other person’s nonverbal cues, for example smiling when you see the other person smile, but without realizing it.

Then you move to the feedback stage where, in this example, your smiling action leads to your feeling happier.

Then finally, the other person’s emotions and behaviors become synchronized with yours, and you adopt the good mood of the other person. This, in turn, strengthens the relationship bond between the two of you.

While this was a positive example, the opposite contagion is often more prevalent – where you catch the bad moods of those around you. And of course, emotional contagion means that you are spreading your moods to others as well.

Are you catching more good moods or bad moods from the people you’re closest to?

How You Act

The behaviors and habits we adopt are also influenced by the people we spend time with.

  • What you eat or drink – For example, it’s easier to not drink alcohol if you’re around others who don’t. On the other hand, I’m more likely to eat that brownie if I’m with my friend who’s a self-confessed chocoholic.
  • How hard you push yourself – One of the reasons I love my gym is that I’m around people who are pushing themselves and really going for it, which inspires me to work hard and push my boundaries too.
  • What you say – The crowd you hang with determines what’s acceptable to say or not, and the language you use. Most of us are less likely to swear when we’re around children, the boss, or the Queen.
  • Habits you create – Your morning routine, the way you prepare for a meeting, whether you wait to be called on before speaking are all affected by the group you’re with and the norms that are established.

Opportunities that Come Your Way

If you’re only spending time with juniors, then you’re less likely to get those bigger opportunities that come from senior sponsorship.

And if you surround yourself with people who won’t challenge you, you’ll be less prepared for bigger opportunities should they come your way.

You Have a Choice

It’s up to you to decide who you want to spend your time with. And if you’re in an environment that’s toxic for you, it’s up to you to make a change.

When you choose who you want to have in your network, it’s not a choice you make once and then never change. People will come into and out of our lives at different points in time, so the options you have are never static.

Think of it as an opportunity as well as an obligation to yourself to regularly revisit the choices you make about the people you spend time with.

Do What’s Right For You

So, when you do a reality check of who’s in your inner circle, ask yourself these questions:

  • How do they support my bigger future? And how do I support theirs?
  • Do they lift me up, or bring me down?
  • Do they lead me to growth opportunities, or make me think small?

Keep in mind that the people who influence you can also be ones you learn from through the things you read and watch. As we learned from Napoleon Hill, we can draw on the minds of people we don’t know – ‘Masterminds’ – to help us advance.

So be choosy about the things you read, listen to and watch. Instead of listening to the equivalent of “hate radio” every day, you can choose to learn the wisdom of people who have encouraged others and made the world better, whether that’s Nelson Mandela, Tony Robbins or the grandmother next door.

Then, make some smart choices about who you want to hang out with, whether that’s in person or virtually, and curate your network of people carefully.

They make a big difference to who you are, the opportunities you attract, and the person you become.

Your Challenge

Take a look at your network and ask yourself:

Who do you spend the most time with, and how are they bringing you closer to the person you want to be?

And who is missing from your network who can help bring you closer to the person you want to be?

Leave a comment below and let me know.