"An insincere and evil friend is more to be feared than a wild beast; a wild beast may wound your body, but an evil friend will wound your mind." -Buddha
Most people in your life fall into one of two categories: They either inspire, motivate, and encourage you, or they doubt, distract, and demean you. When I first began drafting this article I thought there may be a third “in between” group, but after more research and self-reflection, I decided that that group doesn't really exist. Rather, the people who seemingly fit into that third group are either subtle encouragers or very sneaky discouragers. It is important to realize that every single person you know is either a positive or negative force in your life who is influencing your thoughts, feelings, and actions in both direct and indirect ways.
The encouraging people in your life are those who, after speaking with them, leave you feeling hopeful and motivated on how to solve problems or move forward with your goals. These people are always on your side. Even when they may not necessarily agree or completely understand your decisions, they will lovingly and openly express their concerns. These people are your cheerleaders, mentors, true friends, who take the time to learn and understand who you are and why you are following your path in life. These people are the positive influences that you rely on to make the hard decisions, the important life-changing ones.
The discouraging people in your life are basically the opposite. But don’t be fooled. The discouraging people are more often than not, quite indistinguishable from the positive ones. The blatantly discouraging and negative people are (hopefully) eliminated from your life quite quickly upon having met them. True haters don’t make it into your inner circle, it’s the undercover “frienemies,” as I like to call them, who latch on and hang around, pretending to be your friends, all the while breaking you down from the inside out. These are the people who subliminally make you feel undeserving or jealous in hard times. They’re the ones who are your “bestie” when it’s just the two of you, but will ditch you quickly when a group of friends (or guys!) show up. These are the life (and dream) suckers!
An easy way to distinguish a positive influencer from a negative influencer is by how they make you feel about sharing good news. If you got a promotion at work, how would this person react and make you feel about your accomplishment? Would they celebrate with you in wholehearted happiness? Or would they tell you how “lucky” you were to be promoted, even though you worked your ass off, 6 days a week, for over a year, for the well-deserved promotion? Would they jealously compare your life to theirs, or be able to sincerely celebrate with you in your moment of achievement? I’m sure you can conclude who is who.
I encourage you to make a list of all the people in your life. Friends, neighbors, coworkers, family (yes, even family!), and social media connections. Anyone you come into contact with regularly, those in your inner circle who you spend a lot of time with, those who may be friends of friends, any one that comes to mind, write their name down. Granted, your list will probably have hundreds of names—I highly encourage the use of Excel—but it will be worth it! After you’ve made your list, go through and mark each person as a positive or negative influencer. Really think back, reminisce (even invite them out to coffee if you have to!) to get a true sense of what type of influence they truly are on your life and your goals.
Once you’ve marked everyone on your list as either a positive or negative influence, begin to eliminate the negative influences from your life! This may be as simple as not reaching out and making plans with a friend anymore, or may be as difficult as having to end a relationship with a significant other. Each relationship will be different, but usually the negative influencers won’t hold on too tight after they realize you’re pulling away because, more often than not, these people didn’t have a very deep and committed relationship with you anyway. This may take some time, but I think you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to eliminate most of these relationships. If you do have difficulty with this step, remember, you can always reach out to your positive influencers for support!
The final step is to strengthen and grow the positive relationships that you've discovered during this process, and also to identify other positive people that you can build new relationships with to add to your circle of positive influences! Spend your time and energy on the people who add joy, happiness, and encouragement to your life. Turn to only these positive influencers for guidance and advice, and see what a difference it makes!
Of course this process is a continuous cycle of welcoming new positive relationships and purging your life of negativity that really has no end, but at least now you’ll have a jump start!