I know your future! Well, I can show pretty accurately what it will be anyway. I’ll explain. But, first I want to tell you a little bit of my story. I grew up in a good home, my parents are both Christians and they always did a good job letting my sisters and I know that we were loved. Because of my parents, I had daily examples of what moral codes and character were all about. So I knew what right looked like. Fast forward to the day that I moved out, I had freedom at last! Right? Well, now what? Maybe I should find some cool people who seem like they have it all together and ask them what I should do! So I made new friends. I took the first acquaintances that came along, and as it turned out they weren’t good ones. Within one year of moving out of my parents home I was couch surfing, dabbling with drugs and alcohol, and had growing debt. That was a lightning fast downward spiral! Especially for someone who “knows better”. I’ll tie back into this in a bit.
The reason I tell you all of this is to show you how easy it is to make the mistake of allowing influence into your life without mindfully pursuing growth. Taking the first people who came along and deciding to follow them was my mistake. I do not blame them for one second, I blame myself for following without thinking. I knew better. But I did it anyway. Without a picture in my mind of who I wanted to become, it didn’t matter who and what I surrounded myself with.
Luckily I had a foundation of knowledge that kept tugging at me – deep down inside I knew I was headed nowhere, but I got so good at ignoring my conscience that I almost stopped hearing it. I never turned away from my faith, but I definitely wasn’t glorifying God with my actions. I was living one day at a time without any purpose except to seek the next entertainment or party. I was being selfish. I was headed nowhere. There are a lot of people who go through a phase like this, they reel it back just enough to keep a job that affords them the ability to continue a cycle of mediocrity – hoping that once they are old enough for retirement it will all have been worth it. I’ve heard this kind of person called a “sleepwalker”, the idea being that you sleep your way through life without ever having a purpose or mission that encourages growth. Statistically, this category includes the vast majority of the people on earth. Even worse is the kind of person who drags you down, taking you from complacent hovering to a downward spiral. These people feed on your acceptance and complacency so that they can reach their own next piece of gratification.
Wanna know two small changes that will increase your odds of improving yourself and avoid the sleepwalker cycle? I’ll tell you what has worked for me. These two changes have changed who I am and what my trajectory is by 180 degrees.
Surround yourself with people that support and encourage your growth. That’s it, you say? Well, it’s pretty easy to quit talking to the frustrating jerk from high school on Facebook – you unfriend and block them. Problem solved. What if it’s someone you go way back with? What if it’s your sibling? Gasp…Spouse? Now it gets dicey.
Most people you know will not be favorable to your self-improvement and change. This is unfortunate, but it’s probably not because they aren’t happy for you. It’s because by you becoming brighter it will make them realize that they are dull. If they don’t want to put in the effort of changing themselves, it is likely that they will resent you for it. Maybe subconsciously, maybe not.
Think of a group of guys who went to college together. Every weekend for the last 20 years, they get together to drink too much, binge eat junk food, and watch sports. After 20 years, you wake up and realize you’ve got a spare tire and an alcohol problem and your family is suffering for it. So you start to cut back on the brews, improve food choices and spend more time with your kids. Amazing, and good for you! Most people can’t even make those changes! The group of guys will start by poking fun at the chicken wraps you have now. Then they move on to jeering you about switching to water after a few drinks. After a few weeks of this it starts getting old and you get the feeling that you’ve been the butt of the joke when you’re not around.
The truth is that they all know that the things you’ve fixed are exactly what they need to do as well, but they are unwilling to put in the work. It’s tough to be the initiator who rocks the boat. Nobody likes that guy. They will try to pull you back into old habits. If you do not curb the amount of exposure you allow into your life, they will win. It depends on your personality and fortitude to determine how much exposure you can take before falling away from your newly budding growth habits. You might need to sever ties for a while, or at least reduce the exposure to them. If it’s your spouse or family member – you just embarked on a journey to setting and enforcing boundaries that will take some time and effort to establish. Dr. Henry Cloud has a good book titled Boundaries, this would be a good place to start that journey. I can tell you this though – the people who truly love you and support you will be your biggest allies and cheerleaders once they wrap their head around the fact that the ‘same old you – ain’t the same old you anymore’.
Finding new people who are further along in their journey than you is another good way of improving your chances for growth. Surround yourself with good, improving, growing people – not sleepwalkers or downers. Jim Rohn famously said “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”. I love that quote. I’ll leave this point alone because Jim nails the thought with that!
Be mindful of the influences you take in through media. We sing a little song to our kids that starts out like this “Oh be careful little eyes what you see. Oh be careful little ears what you hear…”. You might have heard it in Sunday school. It captures this concept at such a fundamental level – but we all tend to ignore it. Be careful! You are sorely mistaken if you think that watching shows chock full of crude, sexist, or cruel people will not influence you. The books you pick, the music, the tv shows… it all pours into your mind. And it will come out later, whether you want it to or not. We could dwell on the negative effects indefinitely, but instead let’s look at the positive side effects of good influences. I’m a big fan of podcasts because I’m in the car a lot. I changed the lineup on my list from things like comedy central to the Art of Manliness and Entre Leadership. So guess what happened? The last thing on my mind before walking in the door when I get home isn’t a wiener joke, it’s ideas for me to be a better dad! It’s that easy! Filter the media choices you make through this simple question: will this make me smarter/better OR dumber/worse? It took me several years to identify and filter out poor influence choices – I would have never stuck with it if I had tried to do it all at once. Start with eliminating one thing, the drama-infused news channels maybe, and watch your anxiety about current events melt away. I’ll bet you won’t miss it nearly as much as you think you will!
So that’s a lot to take in, I know. There are also a lot of loose ends, like the practical ways of reducing exposure to sleepwalkers or negative people without feeling like a bridge burning jerk. We will get to that in time. Feel free to bring it up in the comments below or on the facebook page and we can explore the subject further together.
Once it’s all said and done, this is one of those things that is as effective for you as you want it to be. You can be as aggressive as you want in how dramatically you cut out negative influences or people.
Remember the story I told you at the beginning of this post? Where I was around people actively pulling me away from the growth path I should have been on? I knew I was doing nothing and going downhill quick. I moved in with my grandparents (they literally forced me to – they saved me from myself! Thanks guys!) and cleaned my life up while I waited to ship off to the Army – I went all out cutting ties with my downward spiral crowd. And I’ve never looked back at that lost time fondly because I’ve grown and am now a completely different person because of those choices. You can do it too. yYou can become the person your spouse deserves you to be, the parent your kids need you to be, and the person God intends you to be. One change at a time. So make a change today and see how it goes. Then make another change. And then another. This kind of growth is the good kind of addiction!
Let’s end average together.
If you enjoyed reading this you can share it with you friends with the media buttons below, it’s the best compliment you can give me!