How to Get Others to Inspire Your Growth
Your Environment Makes Your Character
One of the strongest determiners of who we are is our environment. How we are raised, the kind of neighborhood we grow up in, and the social norms we become accustomed to all determine what feels natural and what our habits and habitual thoughts become.
If you live in a community that doesn't think twice about littering or that gives little thought to healthy food, you will find it very hard to do otherwise in your own life. Even if you have the motivation, making it a reality will prove difficult, and since willpower is a finite resource, it will leave you exhausted and unable to focus on other areas of growth.
Despite this, I feel that there is a tendency, in American society especially, to ignore the massive importance of environment. Because we are a very individualistic culture, we subscribe to the belief that people should just suck it up and forge a path.
I think this is a big mistake. Given how powerful environment is in shaping us, it is worth making the effort to put yourself in positive environments and surround yourself with the people you want to emulate.
Now, I'm all for personally empowering mantras and beliefs, but I'm also a fan of intelligent self-development, and that means understanding our limits and utilizing techniques to make our new habits easier to adopt. If that means surrounding yourself with the right people, I think that's a brilliant idea.
Directing Your Growth by Choosing Your Environment
Some may consider this a cop-out. After all, if you live somewhere without anything but local food, can you really claim ownership of your socially-responsibly eating behavior?
I would say yes, because in many cases, you get to choose your environment. You can consciously choose to put yourself in a place that supports your beliefs, or you can alter your environment to support the behaviors you want to adopt.
There are two key times you might want to apply this:
1. Starting a New Habit
The hardest part of growth is the beginning. That's when we are fighting the inertia of our old selves and facing the spectre of discomfort. Our willpower is being tested to the maximum, so we owe it to ourselves to create every advantage we can.
When I was trying to adjust my diet for the better, one of the techniques I used was to simply not buy foods I didn't want to eat. That gave me no choice but to eat the right foods.
If someone gifted me foods that weren't in my plan, I made an effort to give them away as gifts to other people if possible. Maintaining a supportive environment was my top priority.
But what happened when I got back into the real world? Did my new positive habits fall off?
Actually, no. I had developed a taste for the right foods, and learned how to cook with them, so when I was living with my parents and had access to unhealthy food again, I didn't even think about eating it. It was much easier to maintain the habit, even when it was being challenged, once it had become entrenched.
2. Playing a Bigger Game
One of my favorite entrepreneurial concepts is "playing a bigger game," which basically means that there are certain levels on which people do business. There are small-time businesses that get by, there are moderate businesses that might have a lot of influence in their communities, and there are the big players who play on a national or even international level. If you're a small-businessperson, you might not even comprehend the rules of the big times, and for that reason, a lot of small-business owners never try to "up their game."
At this stage, you're talking about more than the techniques and tricks that enabled your initial habit change. You are now dealing with mindsets and connections.
So how do you break past that barrier?
All the advice I've heard is to surround yourself with the people you want to be like. In this case, that means putting yourself in the company of those who play the bigger game. If you want to make it big in the tech world, move to Silicon Valley and surround yourself with the people who are doing that.
If you want to take your life of sustainability, spirituality, local food, and outdoors-oriented active lifestyle to the next level, move to Boulder and let your new friends drag you out to the Flatirons just before it starts to snow.
Get someone else to show you the ropes. Humans are great imitators, so often all it takes is the presence of good examples. Of course, there are always ambassadors willing to take you under their wing, and sometimes, it's as simple as following the social norms.
You may even find that you have something to contribute to this new game, something nobody else considered yet, and you can help others grow too (apparently, I'm weird even by Boulder standards in my willingness to hike the snowy Flatirons in barefeet or my Earthrunners).