May 21, 2019

4 Ways to Surround Yourself With People Who Challenge You


Article by Brittany Hodak

You may not be average, but according to Jim Rohn, you are an average: the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

Through his studies, Rohn came to understand the power of peer influence. Peer pressure, he realized, isn’t always a bad thing. It may be a primary reason teens pick up smoking, but it can also promote stronger performance in school.

Peer pressure doesn’t simply go away after adolescence. Whether we realize it or not, each of us feels the implicit pressure to think and act like the people around us. If our friends like to drink, we’re more likely to indulge as well. If they prefer to hit the gym on a Friday night, we might also start the weekend with a workout.

Health and fitness aren’t the only habits affected by peer pressure. When my son was born in 2017, I made a conscious effort to spend more time around friends with young kids. I’ve picked up countless parenting hacks — and lots of reassurances that, yes, that’s normal toddler behavior! — from my parenting circle.

When I began taking on more speaking gigs, I made a conscious effort to research the best in the business and follow them on social media. A year later, many of them have become friends and colleagues in real life, which has helped propel my career.

To better yourself physically, mentally, professionally, socially, and spiritually, surround yourself with people who challenge you. Here’s how:

1. Get In on Group Exercise

Whatever your exercise of choice, you’ll get more out of it if you do it with a group. Research published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association found that, unlike individual exercise, working out with others decreases stress by 26 percent while significantly elevating quality of life. Group classes also create an external source of accountability and teach their members new exercise moves.

Those who live in fitness deserts can try group fitness apps like Gixo and Apple Activity, which can also attract more diverse participants to support one another. What is most important is to create a supportive group of people who will push you to achieve something greater than you could alone.

2. Join a Mastermind Group

No matter how tough your job seems, you’re not challenging yourself if you’re spending all your professional time around the same people. Attending conferences can be a short-term solution, as can after-work meetups, but rarely do those settings provide deep enough interactions to facilitate meaningful growth.

Instead, look for a mastermind group. Although many mastermind groups cater to corporate CEOs, not all of them do. In fact, Napoleon Hill, who came up with the concept in his 1937 book Think and Grow Rich, grew up in a one-room schoolhouse. No matter your background or role, you need exposure to people outside of your organization in order to advance, and mastermind groups can give you just that.

3. Find a Creative Community

Contrary to the myth of the creative genius, creativity can be trained like any other skill. In his latest book on creativity, big data entrepreneur Allen Gannett argues that anyone trying to challenge themselves creatively needs a likeminded community. Not only do such communities serve as support networks, but they also tend to be the best sources of peer feedback.

You might find the creative network you need at a nearby meetup, but you don’t need to prioritize proximity over specificity to your craft. For obscure interests, you’re likely to find the most vibrant creative communities online. Gannett’s book notes that Ben & Jerry’s has even built one through its email list. After brainstorming new flavors, the ice cream brand asks its 700,000 ChunkMail subscribers to weigh in on which they’d want to try.

4. Put the ‘Social’ Back in ‘Social Networking’

If you are like many busy professionals, social hour has become social media hour. The occasional Facebook session isn’t likely to hurt you  — and can actually help if you’re following the kind of people you aspire to be the average of — but studies have linked social media overuse to depression, anxiety, self-esteem issues, hyperactivity, and sleep disturbances. In contrast, frequent socializers enjoy lower risk of stroke, stronger immune systems, and improved memory.

No matter the direction in which you want to grow, you need the right network to do it. That’s not a slight; it’s a simple truth about how humans work. Neither you nor anyone else is free from peer influence. You might as well put it to good use.

A version of this article originally appeared on

Brittany Hodak is cofounder of The Superfan Company, an entertainment agency that helps brands and celebrities identify, engage, and retain their most important customers. You can book Brittany to speak at

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