I assume that many people who read this blog will be interested in self-development, will have already invested time in trying to understand themselves better and get that this is a life long journey which only ends with the last beat.
But, shock horror, it isn’t all about us and the quantity or quality of our own navel gazing skills.
The people that we choose to surround ourselves with have a big impact too and often we don’t have the breadth of vision to realise it. We place such a spotlight on ourselves, our own shortcomings and the whirrings of our own mind that we haven’t stepped outside to consider the influence that we allow others to have.
Who do we surround ourselves with?
Who are the people in a position to influence our thoughts, feelings and opinions?
Certainly they’re likely to include close friends, family and trusted work colleagues. Some we’ve known most of our lives and others we’ve picked up along the way.
Perhaps that network spreads even wider and we’re so open to others that we’re happy to share our thoughts with and give our energy to people we hardly know.
As I always seem to say, everyone is different. And thank goodness for that.
Some of us are very open, will share our innermost thoughts at the drop of a hat, taking the approach of ‘better out than in’. Some are very private and might only reveal something significant to our good friends once the thing has already happened so there’s no chance for debate.
When faced with a decision, some of us need significant opinion, validation and approval from others before we’re comfortable going ahead. Others get more value from confiding in one or two select individuals or even just from our own internal evaluation process.
On the flip side, some people are very open to other people’s problems, easily get emotional involved in their stuff and will leave an interaction finding that we’ve taken on someone else’s energy and mood, whether positive or negative. Others will be able to listen to someone else’s dramas all day and walk away totally unruffled and in the same mood in which we arrived.
Where do you sit on these spectrums? How conscious are of you of the influence you let other people have?
At various points in the past, particularly when I’ve been at a significant cross-roads, I’ve been very open in sharing my thoughts (mainly gripes) with anyone who would listen and many of my close friends had to go through months of repetitive conversations with no sign of any progress towards a decision or resolution. (Biggest thanks has to go to EP.)
I am a relatively open person and I often find it useful to say things out loud to crystallise my thoughts. But, if I’m totally honest, I also like to seek validation from others so that it feels like I’m deferring some of the responsibility for any potential negative outcome. Not so healthy or constructive.
Just over two years ago, when I was trying to make a decision about my career (having been unsatisfied off and on for far too long), I spent about 6 months sharing my latest version of the same story with all and sundry and, not surprisingly in hindsight, ended up totally and utterly confused.
Each person was coming from a very good place, they really wanted to help (if only to shut me up) but one day someone would convince me I had nothing to lose by giving up corporate life and the next day the pendulum would swing back again to sitting tight and finding a way of making my current job work better for me.
It was exhausting, for all involved.
I was also looking for someone to tell me with 100% certainty that resigning and starting my own business was 1) absolutely the right thing to do, 2) that it was definitely going to be successful and 3) that I was going to love it. Thank goodness I got over that one because I would have been waiting for a very, very long time.
It was a conversation with a great therapist which made me realise that endlessly gathering opinions and seeking validation from others was never going to give me a definitive answer.
The only way I was going to make the best choice was to listen to myself, to tune in to my own internal compass and to prioritise my own unique values and preferences.
The majority of people that you choose to share with will be very well meaning. But it’s almost impossible for them to approach your problem/decision completely from your point of view – they’ll always be influenced by their own preferences and biases, they may want to protect you from hurt or failure, or they may even have a vested interest in the outcome of the situation.
Choosing a different path
Another time when the people you surround yourself with can have great influence is when you’re steering towards a more unconventional pathway in life.
If you’re looking to do something that’s different to the majority of those around you then it’s likely to feel like hard work and that you’re battling against the tide, after all we’re programmed to want to fit in, but it’s also going to subconsciously challenge the choices that those around you have made.
It’s good to remember that the reaction you get from them might be far more to do with the dissatisfaction they feel about their own lot as it is about their concern for what you’re about to do with your life.
Protect your energy
I mentioned above that some of us are really sensitive to other people’s energy and others are like teflon.
If you know that you’re feeling a little bit fragile or on the edge, then it’s probably best to not spend time with people who you suspect may sap your energy further. It may sound harsh but it can be small decisions like this which tip the balance into or out of low mood.
So it’s important to have awareness of our vulnerabilities in the moment, but it’s also good to take a longer term view of how our energy/lifeforce/mojo is built up or down by the people we spend the most time with.
It’s tough to admit sometimes, but people change and relationships evolve over time. Someone that was your best drinking buddy in your 20’s may not add so much to your life now that you’ve had two kids and get tiddled on one glass of sherry – or perhaps you’re lucky enough that there was something deeper to your connection, that your lives have moved together and they still bring loads of value to your life.
It’s healthy for there to be a balance in the giving and taking of energy in a relationship. In any moment we’re rarely in equilibrium but, over time, it’s important to feel that the other party is just as willing and able to give as you are.
You don’t have to tell anyone else you’re doing it because it feels a bit dirty, but a little relationship audit every now and then is a great thing to do. And the outcome doesn’t have to be negative and result in a big cull. It may be that you decide that there are people who bring a huge amount to your life who you’d like make the time to see more of.
We’re all different – hurrah for that. We all have something different to bring to our relationships and I feel like our lives can only be enhanced by surrounding ourselves with lots of different types of people, with different strengths, skills and opinions.
But when it comes down to the wire, when we’re facing a challenge or a tricky decision, when we’re suffering with some serious low mojo, I can’t help but feel that it’s super important to be really selective and purposeful about who we choose to share our stuff with.
I definitely believe in the power of saying things out loud. But that doesn’t have to be to everyone.
Examine the problem you’re struggling with and try to understand what kind of help, support or advice you need right now. Then think about your network, work out who your best sounding board is going to be for this particular situation and then be explicit in telling them what you role you want them to play.
If you’re trying to choose between a range of options, pick your most logical friend.
If you’re trying to generate new ideas, pick the most creative person you know.
If you’re struggling with low mojo, talk to someone who you feel safe being vulnerable around.
If you just need to be heard, then find someone who is good at just listening.
And if, after considering all that, you still don’t know who to turn to then…..get in touch with The Mental Movement!