Studies prove time and again that strong relationships are the key to lifelong health and well-being yet in today’s digital age we are drowning in contacts and absolutely starved for genuine connection to other people. Entrepreneurs, who already tend to be socially isolated due to the demands of their professional lives, are particularly susceptible to depression and the detrimental effects of lacking social connection.

In this episode I dive into the importance of establishing your tribe, the power of peer group influence, and how to assess whether you should love them, lift them, or leave them.

You really are the company you keep.

“You can’t change the people around you, but you can change the people you are around. Who you surround yourself with is who you become, so be sure to choose wisely.” – Jayson Gaignard

Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m your host Jayson Gaignard and Welcome to the Community Made podcast…

I wanted to start today’s episode with a little story about a problogger article I came across back in 2011 called “4 Words That Will Get Your Email Opened”. That article cited a game-changing discovery by an email marketing automation platform called AWeber.

In their two and a half years of sending all kinds of emails to almost every kind of list, they discovered that a simple 4 word subject line worked brilliantly across a wide range of content from personal development, to potty training, to viagra and virtually everything in between. As Aweber counts each email that has been opened (and they even count when an email has been opened multiple times by the same person) they found that this single subject line, has had an average open rate of 90%, and has even surpassed the 100% mark several timesThe simple phrase?

  “You are not alone.”

Those 4 words resulted in the most-opened subject line they had ever seen — by far. I use this example quite a bit in speeches because I think it demonstrates a cultural truth that many people don’t acknowledge or address – And that is the fact that we are drowning in contacts, and absolutely starving for community. The rise of platforms like Facebook was so sudden, and have proven to be such a forceful distortion of our social space. Having been relegated to our screens, are our friendships now anything more than a form of distraction? When these said friendships are shrunken to the size of a wall post, do they retain any content? If we have 12,000 “friends,” in what sense do we have any?…

We post on Facebook desperately seeking the validation of strangers. We use Instagram to crowdsource our self esteem. We inflate our job titles on LinkedIn to bring significance to our existence…

We fall into the trap of thinking that they have a lot of friends because social media tells us so. Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter have caused most people to “collect” contacts as opposed to genuinely building deep and authentic relationships, and few people actually stop to assess the actual strength of these so-called relationships. Conventional “networking” gospel has left many with a breadth of relationships that have no real depth or meaning.

Let me ask you this… have you ever had the experience of seeing a “Facebook friend” at the mall, or somewhere in real life? Are you guilty (like me) of turning around and walking in the other direction just to avoid running into them and having to have an awkward face-to-face conversation?

Tolstoy shared in his book War and Peace almost 200 years ago “a numberless multitude of people, of whom no one was close, and no one was distant.”

I can say that most of the time, that’s how I feel about navigating the society we live in. We might feel that we are more “connected” than ever, but we see time and time again that this is simply not the case.

Keith Ferrazzi, who authored a book brilliantly named Never Eat Alone, wrote another book called Who’s Got Your Back. In the research for that book, Keith shared with me that they conducted a study where they asked a wide range of participants one simple question: Who has your back?

Surprisingly, 50% of people felt like no one had their back. Even more surprising was that 60% of those people were married. We are experiencing a lack of belonging in droves, and it’s showing its effects everywhere. Today’s children and teens are more depressed than ever before. According to suicide.org 20% of all teens experience depression before they reach adulthood, and suicide is the third-leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24. This is largely attributed by experts to be the cause of social isolation, a lack of community, and social media induced anxiety and stress.

In one of my favorite books,  Tribe,  Sebastian Junger points out that even though only 10% of American armed forces ever see combat, cases of PTSD are now at historic levels. Not because they have been psychologically scarred by bloodshed on the battlefield, but because there’s such a tight social cohesion during their time in the military that when they return home, they are traumatized by that shift from the cohesion of a band of brothers and sisters to the social isolation that often comes with living in today’s society. There are countless mental health, physical health, and longevity studies that prove time and again that living disconnected lives is a dangerous health risk. In fact, there’s a ton a research out there that shows that the secret to a long healthy life is relationships.

Consider the longest study of human life that’s ever been done, the Harvard Study of Adult Development. Researchers studied the lives of 724 men over a period of 75 years, tracking key indicators like their work, their home life, finances and so on, to see what keeps people happy and healthy. 60 of those 724 men are alive and still participating in this study today, well into their 90s. Here is the current director of the Harvard Study, Robert Waldinger, explaining the results in his TedTalk, ‘What makes a good life?’

Select excerpts from Robert Waldinger’s TedTalk: “So what have we learned? What are the lessons that come from the tens of thousands of pages of information that we’ve generated on these lives? Well, the lessons aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep people happy and healthier. Period. We’ve learned 3 big lessons about relationships. The first is that social connections are really good for us. And that loneliness kills. It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, their physically healthier and they live longer than people who are less well connected. And they experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic. People who are more isolated than they want to be from others find that they are less happy, their health declines earlier in mid-life, their brain functions decline sooner, and they live shorter lives than those who are not lonely…And we know that you can be lonely in a crowd and be lonely in a marriage. So the second big lesson that we learned is that it’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship, but it’s the quality of those relationships that matters….The people who were the most satisfied with their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80…And the third big lesson that we learned about the effect of relationships on our health is that good relationships don’t just protect our bodies, they protect our brains. It turns out that being in a securely attached relationship to another person in your 80s is protective, that the people who are in relationships where they really feel like they can count on the other person in times of need, those people’s memories stay sharper, longer.”

I share all of this because a great life (and a great businesses) is built upon a foundation of deep and genuine relationships. Period.

I’m here to tell you that everything has changed, but nothing is different. We overestimate the value of access to information and underestimate the value of access to each other. Regardless what realm you’re striving to achieve success in, you need to surround yourself with the right people. As John Wooden famously said… “Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future…”

And if you haven’t started to consciously choose who you surround yourself with, it’s time to start.

Dan Sullivan has a philosophy that for the first 6 years of our life, we’re born into the world where everything is happening to us, and along the way you start building relationships that are based purely on proximity. You are born into a family, you go to school, you play a sport… you didn’t really choose these relationships, they were chosen for you.

As time goes on we start becoming conscious as to where we want to go, and all of a sudden, our new consciousness conflicts with our loyalty to these people that we never chose. We end up being very emotionally attached to these relationships, and there comes this crucial point in life where we have to make a decision about where we allocate our energy.

At some point you will realize that as you choose your life more and more, you’re also going to have to choose a different set of relationships. You can stay in touch with your past, but those individuals that you knew in the past generally won’t be all that supportive of your future because to a certain extent you’re leaving them behind. There are people who you had relationships with that were important at a certain stage of your life in the past to get where you are (in a business context this could even be team members, customers and clients). But what got you to where you are, won’t get you to where you want to go.

Jim Collins talks about having the right people on the bus in his famous book called Good To Great. Ultimately, if you want to build an 8 figure business, you will need an 8 figure opportunity, an 8 figure skillset, 8 figure structures, an 8 figure team, and 8 figure relationships. Upgrading your tribe is inevitable should you want to pursue growth in any area of your life. One question I really like people to soak in is: 

Are the current relationships in your life related to your past, or related to your future growth?

 

If you are continuing to grow and the people you surround yourself with are not, there will come a time where a difficult choice will need to be made. You’ll have 3 options ultimately, and I’ll share more about those in a minute… But the hardest decision for most, is to leave certain individuals behind. This notion often leaves people very conflicted. Because of that, I thought I would share a few things to consider…

 

  1. Anything that doesn’t grow, dies. Anything that doesn’t contribute, gets eliminated. That’s evolution. That’s how we’ve survived as a species. You hear me talking about our early tribal life all the time, but as I made mention earlier… Everything has changed, but nothing is different. In tribal days, those that didn’t contribute, those that were seen as liabilities, they were eliminated… they were left behind. Especially in nomadic tribes.

 

Growing is a lot like muscle. Everyone is born with muscle, and muscles continue to grow until we’re about 30 years old. After 30, unless we proactively seek ways to grow through working out, every year we’ll have less muscle. If we’re going to have muscle after 30, then that muscle is there because we went to the gym to create it. Now that’s on the physical level, but on the emotional and psychological level, it’s very much the same. When we’re kids, we have a lot of structure and support in our lives that force us to grow (I.E School), but when we hit 25 or 30, it’s almost like society says “alright, we’ve taken you as far as we can”, now if you’re going to have a future you need to create it for yourself, and some people never catch on to that.

If you’re having a hard time letting go of someone in your life who’s not growth oriented, in my mind… they made the executive decision to go against nature and not continue to grow. Everything on this planet is designed to grow or die. If you put blocks in front of a baby with no instruction, they will try to stack them. If you are pursuing growth in your life you are simply fulfilling what you’re put on the planet to do. It’s like that Benjamin Franklin quote of “Most people die at 25 and aren’t buried until they’re 75.’ If someone chooses to jump off that train and coast through their 20s, 30s or ultimately the rest of their life, that’s totally fine. That’s their decision. But don’t feel guilty for continuing on this path called life.

 

  1. Let’s be honest, time and energy are scarce. The beautiful thing about time is that it’s universal. You can be born with access to more resources like money, or a network, but time is universal. Bill Gates doesn’t have more time, Richard Branson doesn’t have more time. Where time is allocated is the key. Warren Buffett once said that the difference between successful people, and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything. I share that because there’s an opportunity cost to relationships. You have 1440 minutes a day. Every minute spent interacting with people who don’t serve you is not only time you will never get back, but you’re ultimately saying no to someone who would serve you… who would support you… who would energize you… You want to surround yourself with people who are batteries… not black holes.

 

For those old school gamers out there, the way I look at it is like this… Everyday you wake up with a life bar at 100%. Every time I send an email, have a meeting or interact with a friend, I’m using up some of my life bar. If you think of your days like that, you’ll start to use your time differently. There’s another thing to take into consideration here which I will dig into in future episodes of this season, but you also need to accept the fact that from an evolutionary perspective we have a cognitive limitation to the number of relationships we can have. So although physical time is a serious factor, even if you had all the time in the world, you are still limited by the fact that your brain can only have approximately 150 stable social relationships. This number has been confirmed countless times through research, history and science.

 Now one thing I want to make clear before I jump to my last point is that there’s a common misconception that when you subscribe to prioritizing certain relationships over others, that it’s often based purely on where they land on the “totem pole of success”. That’s not the case at all, one of my principles when it comes to relationship building is that you should invest in people like you would invest in a business. Amazing people become increasingly amazing over time. The people I eliminate without question are those who are toxic, inauthentic, and operate from a transactional scarcity mindset. These are non negotiables. This doesn’t imply that all my relationships are easy. I have mentors that have higher standards for me, than I have for myself. They force me to stretch and that’s incredibly uncomfortable. There are also people who I choose to have in my life because I know I can learn something from them, or they force my character to grow at it’s outward edge.

Sometimes you have an opportunity to make your tormentors, your mentors. Ram Das said that when “you know how to listen, anyone can be your guru”. So I don’t just have easy relationships in my life, but again… I’m very conscious as to who I have relationships with.

 

    3. The third thing is that the human brain is easy prey for influencers.

 

There’s a saying that I came across many years ago which was “before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, surrounded by assholes”.  We are deeply influenced by those around us…

Researchers from Arizona State University’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change have found that obesity can be contagious. People who have a higher number of obese friends or relatives are at a greater risk of becoming obese themselves. Friends are likely to share similar eating habits and hobbies – which will influence their weight. Having overweight friends can make people see their weight as ‘normal’ and eat accordingly until they’re the same size. This is because, according to researchers, ‘we learn about acceptable body size from family and friends’.

Most marines have the highest standard they will ever have while they are in the marines, and the reason for that is because people’s lives are a direct reflection of the expectations of their peer group. Your peer group is made up of the people in your life who you care deeply about how they feel about you. Whoever that group of people are, they exude an enormous amount of influence on you whether you’re conscious of it or not. And, you need to be conscious of your peer group because proximity is power.

If you have friends that have a lower standard than you for their life, two things happen… often times, simultaneously.

First, your standards will unconsciously lower. Not because you want low standards for your life, but because you don’t want friction with them all the time. So eventually you make low standards ok for them. And when you make it ok for them, a part of it makes it slightly ok for you. And now your standards drop.

The second thing is that when you have a peer group that has lower standards or expectations than what you have, they are going to try to bring you down. Not because they are bad people, but because they quite simply have a lower set of expectations for themselves, so now we have a gap and they don’t want to lose you. So they will nicely (or not nicely) bring you back to earth. “a cheat day isn’t going to kill you”, “I think you should stay at your job”, “don’t worry you have plenty of time…”…

These are words often spoken by those with low standards. I was in a relationship with someone who saw it as her role to “bring me back to earth” anytime I received praise publicly. So if your expectations of life or your expectations of yourself, are higher than your peer group, you’re faced with 3 options: lift them, love them, or leave them.

Lift them by raising them to your new standards (which is not always easy). Love them which means to accept them. Which can be a slippery slope because unconsciously you may drop to their level. Or leave them. And that doesn’t mean burning bridges and having a come to Jesus talk saying you can no longer be in my life, but be conscious as to where you allocate your time, and distance yourself gradually. There’s a saying that God put people in your life for a reason …. and some for a season. People can stay in your heart, but not in your life. You ultimately have that choice.

Now if you choose to leave one person, that’s one thing. If you choose to leave you whole current peer group, that’s something else. For many people making a major shift in their peer group is a necessity, and can be a defining moment, but it can also be incredibly uncomfortable. The reason for that is deep rooted. We have a deep need to belong and to feel accepted. Because 10 000 years ago, if you didn’t belong and weren’t accepted within a tribe, you would die. You would either starve or get eaten by an animal bigger than you. One of the only reasons we’ve survived as a species is because of our ability to band together in numbers. Although our environment has changed, this need to belong is a survival mechanism buried deep in our subconscious that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. When you understand this, you can use it to your an advantage.

” If I could boil down my success to one thing, it’s that I’ve always surrounded myself with people who were one or two steps ahead of me. “

The model I’ve always subscribed to has been that If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. I constantly try to surround myself with people who make me feel uncomfortable on some level, because that discomfort forces me to grow unconsciously as quick as possible to fill the gap between where I am and where they are. Growth begins at the end of your comfort zone.

Why do people go people go to Chili’s or Applebees when visiting a new city? Because we don’t want to rock the boat, we don’t want to step outside of our comfort zone. Changing tribes is uncomfortable, surrounding yourself with people one or two steps ahead of you is uncomfortable. I’m here to give it to you straight…. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable, because unfaced fears become your limits. As Brene Brown says, choose courage over comfort. Surround yourself with people who make you feel uncomfortable, because if you do, it’s a great indication that it’s forcing you to grow. When we choose to surround ourselves with people who are playing at a level or two above us, it unconsciously drives us to strive to get to that level as soon as possible as we don’t like being an outcast.

In future episodes I will share how to upgrade your tribe, and ultimately how to grow, nurture and amplify your business relationships. But I want to leave you with a fun little exercise…

Jim John famously said… “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with”

 So look at your social media accounts or the last couple weeks of your calendar… Who are the 5 people you spend the most time with?

How is their health? Rate their general health and fitness on a scale of 1-10 and then add them up. How about wealth? Write down each of their salaries (or the size of their businesses) and add them up. Happiness?  Rate their overall happiness individually on a scale of 1-10 and then add them up. Relationships?
Rate the quality of their relationships individually on a scale of 1-10 and then add them up.

Now divide those numbers by 5. The sum of those around you is often surprisingly accurate to your own personal baseline.

You can’t change the people around you, but you can change the people you are around. Who you surround yourself with is who you become, so be sure to choose wisely.

For resources mentioned in the podcast, as well as a Relationship Assessment Worksheet from this episode,  visit the Community Made Group! In there we give away free books, host special trainings, and Q&A’s. 

Reviewer of the week: Gordie Bufton

Select links and references:

AWeber

“4 Words That Will Get Your Email Opened”

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t by Jim Collins

What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness by Robert Waldinger

People Mentioned in this episode:

Keith Ferrazzi

John Wooden

Dan Sullivan

Jim Collins

Warren Buffett

Jim John

Sebastian Junger

 

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