Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambition. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you too can become great.
A major predictor of whether we remain stuck or whether we grow and experience life more fully is how well we manage our daily influences. We are susceptible to external influences. Always be vigilant and attempt to gravitate towards positive influences (uplifting reading material, fulfilling experiences and inspirational people) and steer clear, as best you can, of negative influences.
The influence of our personal relationships must be understood and managed. Personal relationships can be a reservoir of negativity that needs to be avoided. Friendships often just happen. We need a better criterion for cultivating and developing friendships than just a shared past (grew up in the same town), a common interest (golfing buddies) or geographical proximity (next door neighbor). We need to be as serious about evaluating candidates for friendship as companies are when hiring new employees; we need a much stricter criterion: Are these people nutritional (good for us) or toxic (bad for us)?
Perhaps you feel you can handle the negativity of acquaintances that you see infrequently (Al’s a good ole boy and we were in the army together. Just because he drinks too much, distrusts everybody and bashes the opposite sex doesn’t mean that we can’t go to a football game once in a while).
The people you see on a regular basis, the people you routinely socialize with pose a much bigger risk; negative people re-enforce the wrong beliefs, and can be a major contributing factor to remaining stuck, having a pessimistic outlook and struggling to enjoy life.
It’s easier to apply the negativity/toxic rule with a new acquaintance. We have the luxury of being highly selective as to which people we choose for a new friendship or romantic involvement. It’s much more difficult to apply this rule to relatives, a spouse, longtime friends and co-workers.
Here are some suggestions on how to handle the harder, more complex cases that often involve loved ones:
- 1. Develop greater awareness: Just having awareness of how susceptible you are to the negativity of others is a great first step. Once you have awareness, more behavioral choices are available. I love my wife dearly, but her excessive fear about trivial things (not necessarily a fact, just my perception) can be upsetting and depressing to me. Kathy can’t be supportive of anything she perceives as a risk. I protect myself by being selective as to what I share with her and understand that she cannot give me something she doesn’t have. Kathy places a high premium on security and I place a high value on freedom. These conflicting values can often be mutually exclusive. Another common trap that needs to be avoided is habitual complaining about things we have no control over. I do my best to avoid all forms of gripe sessions. You always want to focus on solutions, not perceived injustices of the past or all that’s wrong with society. A victim mentality stifles creativity and undermines self-confidence.
- 2. Examine the dynamics of the relationship: We all love to fantasize about one stop shopping in which one individual fulfills all our needs. Ask yourself if you are looking for too much out of the relationship. You can’t expect someone to give you what he or she is not capable of providing. Perhaps you need to balance this relationship by depending on it less and finding and adding other more positive influences to your life.
- 3. Understanding reality and being practical: Don’t waste energy by trying to help people who aren’t willing or ready to be aided. You aren’t responsible for that person’s life or happiness. Nothing of significance is going to happen until the other person is ready to change. There is the story about the farmer who tried to teach his pigs to dance the polka; it was a complete waste of time and it also agitated the hell out of the pigs. Don’t be like the Boy Scout who helped a little old lady across the street…who didn’t want to cross the street in the first place.
- 4. Action always speaks louder than words: Remember that being the best you can be always sends a far stronger message than preaching. People learn from your behavior more than from what you say. Sometimes you have to view this from a long-term perspective. I love my kids (now adults) but I refuse to have an unhealthy relationship with them. Over time our relationships have become less dysfunctional, more honest and are now the best they have has ever been.
- 5. Forgiveness: Try to see the innocence in the other’s behavior. Remember that we are all doing the best we can. Try to understand the influences that have conditioned the person to behave in a negative or toxic fashion. It’s makes it less painful to be around that person. This quote by Goethe is scotch taped to my bathroom mirror: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
- 6. Set Limits: Control the circumstances and limit the amount of time that you are around a troublesome person. As you become stronger and less influenced by that person’s behavior, you can then reconsider spending more time with that individual. The limits only have to be known by you; it isn’t necessary for the other person to know. Telling the other person can feel like blame to the person and can have a counterproductive effect on the relationship.
- 7. Call a time out: Kathy uses this technique. If the relationship isn’t working, Kathy will discuss her concerns about the relationship with the person and suggest that they suspend their relationship for a while and get together later and see if they can redefine the relationship in a more healthy way. Usually the other person is also aware that it isn’t working and is receptive to Kathy’s suggestion and often the friendship can be salvaged.
- 8. End the relationship: I recently terminated a long-term relationship with someone whom I shared several common interests. Whenever I was with this person I always felt either upset, depressed, frustrated or angry. Although it’s difficult to end a relationship, you have to act in your best interest.
Never underestimate the impact that relationships have on the quality and enjoyment of your life.