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Picking Your Friends Consciously

  • 9 min read

A while ago, my dad was telling me about helping people with drug addictions.  After doing this for years, he told me he had learned that the biggest problem for recovering drug addicts is not the drugs.  It’s the friends.

Letting go of your body’s addiction to heroine is one thing.  But when you just sobered up after losing all your non-junkie friends to your addiction, where do you go?

If the only friends you have left in your life are dealers and addicts, would you choose loneliness over that?

I can imagine if you’ve been a serious addict for years that you don’t have a lot of self-confidence left to go make friends with “regular people”.  That is if you still want to, after experiencing how judgmental and unfriendly they were towards you when you were still addicted.

But still, as he told me, finding a more supportive peer group is often the key factor in predicting whether they’ll succeed or not.

This got me thinking:  How many people consciously consider the role of the people in their life?  Have you ever done it?

If you look at the people you spend most time with, are they generally encouraging you to grow, improve and become a better person?  Or are they holding you back from living the life you want to live?

I know you’re probably not a hardcore heroine addict, but I’m pretty sure you’ve already experienced in some way what the influence of a different peer group can be on your own behavior.  Even without any deliberate social pressure put on you.

For example, have you ever noticed how going to the gym with 2 different people can totally alter your energy levels or the way you perform?

Gym buddy A’s mindset can literally get you hyped up and turn you into the kind of person that pushes their body to the limit every single set.

Gym Buddy B can turn you into a lazy slob that decides halfway it’s “just one of those low-energy days” and starts half-assing every movement.

That’s because whether you feel it or not, mindsets are contagious.

Hanging more with certain friends for a while can turn you into more of a “party person” for example.  You’ll get more invitations, and when you go, it’ll remind you of how much you enjoy yourself when you’re going out.  So you’ll start to crave that experience more often.

If you are in a friend group with very loose morals, yours will start to loosen up as well (or you’ll just leave the friend group).

On the other hand, if your friends are all about the money and career thing, you might notice yourself working harder, planning your schedule more strictly and becoming more rational than emotional in your decision-making when it comes to invites from friends.

There’s no right or wrong here, as long as you pay awareness to the fact those things have an effect on you.


How Change-Proof Are Your Friendships?

Most people don’t make these decisions on a conscious level.  When we get to know someone new, we might decide whether we want to spend more time with them or not. But how many times have you actually looked at the people you’ve already known for years and considered what effect their mindset has on you?

• Are they verbally discouraging you from taking risks when it comes to making your dreams come true?  Or actively looking for ways to help you?

• Do they understand when your focus in life shifts for a while, or do they get mad at you when you don’t spend their desired amount of time with them?

• Do they enforce negative habits on you without knowing it (like by offering you fast food whenever you come over)?  Or do they applaud you for making positive lifestyle changes even when they’re not ready to do the same yet?

The answer to those questions can already give you an indicator whether  the people you surround yourself with are true friends, or people that want you to stay locked in your current position forever because they’re afraid they’ll lose you if you change a little.

Honestly have a look at how each relationship in your life supports your growth, and then ask:

If your current life was a prison, would your friends be the guards, or the people you’d be plotting your escape plan with ?


Assessing Your Peers

Take a moment to think about the people you spend most time with in your life (5-10 should be enough).  I’m not talking about the best friends you rarely see here, but the people you are surrounded by most frequently.  This includes:

• Co-workers

• Your boss

• Fellow students

• Gym buddies

• Family

• Roommates

• Online communities

• Influencers you follow

• What appears in your Facebook news feed

When you’re done writing down this list, write down for each person what their key qualities & character traits are.  Where do their priorities lie in life?  How do they spend their time?  How would you describe their mindset?

Keeping in mind that mindsets spread as fast as Rihanna’s recently leaked sex tape,  it’s safe to say that these people you spend most time with are a good indicator of what kind of person you’ll be 5 years from now.

So now write down how you’d like to see yourself in 5 years.  What kind of (wo)man do you want to be?  What would you want your life and mindset to look like?

Which of the people on that list are like that, or at least supporting you in that decision?

Is there anyone on there who clearly has values that oppose the ones you’d like to live by?  Negative influences?  Perhaps even people who actively drag you down into undesirable thought/habit patterns?  Write it all down.

Now look at that list.  Has it ever occurred to you that you can alter it any way you want?  You can remove people who have a negative impact on you.  You can start spending more time with distant acquaintances who do seem like a positive match. Asingle invite can do a lot.

Even when that seems like a drastic decision (breaking up with a toxic boyfriend, firing your boss or spending less time with your family), you’re future metaphorical-sobered-up-heroine-addict self will thank you for it every single day.

Don’t worry, this does not make you a sociopath.  This does not make you someone who sees people as “resources” and then dumps them when they’re no longer useful.  It makes you someone who respects themselves.  Someone who realizes it’s important to be surrounded with the (mutual) social support they deserve.

Moving towards and away from different relationships in your life is something that naturally occurs with everyone.  You stop spending time around people all the time without even realizing it.  Random strangers turn into friendships after a good conversation, and years later those friendships drift away again into loose affiliations, even though you both still like each other.

There’s only so much room in your life for relationships. So every time you spend more time with one person, that time gets “taken away” from someone else. And those connections start to become a little less close.  That’s how life goes.  The only difference here is that you consciously choose to become aware of that process and guide it in a way that actually supports you in the best way possible.

At least this way, when 9 of the ten people on your list turn to be victims, villains & chronic complainers, you can choose to spend more time with that one person who has a healthy influence on you instead of just mindlessly getting sucked into that abyss.


The Issue of Loyalty

If loyalty is one of your highest values, you may feel like consciously dropping people from your life would be an act that violates your own rules.

But is it?  I don’t question the value loyalty to a specific person. But should you be loyal to history or to quality?

If the man you fell in love with beats you up every weekend when he comes home drunk, should you stay loyal to him just because he’s your man?  I don’t think so.

True loyalty would mean that the both of you  are committed to making the other friend as happy and possible.  If your friend is holding you back instead of supporting you to grow in a positive direction, then they are not loyal to you.

Furthermore, sometimes the fact that you reward someone with your friendship, even when they create the same problems over and over again, is actually disloyal to their own growth and well-being as a person.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking the strength of your loyalty would be enough to drag someone out of the deep pit of despair.  They’ll only drag you in to sit imprisoned in there with them until they are ready to escape on their own strength.

What if the only way for them to finally have enough motivation to get their shit together would be a wake up call?  Like you spending less time with them?

When you’re truly loyal, you are loyal to their highest good.  Even if it means you have to let go of them.   They might not understand, and they might think you are a selfish prick.  But it’s often the best thing for them.  If you love someone, be willing to set them free.

I highly value loyalty myself.  I have some friends I still see regularly, even when everyone else has given up on them for various reasons (addiction, short fuse, etc.).  But the reason I will always be there for them is because I can tell they don’t impose their mindset on me.  In spite of their own issues, they support my growth in every way.  And I do the same for them.

While it’s normal to go through rough patches and crises, relationships should always be win-win in the long run.  If someone clearly has values that do not align with yours, or if all they do is drag you down and give you a bad vibe, don’t you think your loyalty is a little misplaced?

If you were a sobered-up heroin addict, would you spend your days around people who are shooting up with dirty needles just because you were loyal? 

Or would you cut those people out while sending a clear message that you’re available to everyone who wants to truly make a change as well?

What seems like the best option to you, both for you and the friends?

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