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The Average of Five

By Chuck Cusumano and Jillian Broaddus

“We are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with.”

This is the “Average of Five” rule, credited to motivational speaker and trainer Jim Rohn.

However, when I think back to first learning this concept, I credit my grandmother. She would repeatedly ingrain in her grandkids: “Watch out who you hang out with, because a bad apple spoils the bunch!” My high school football coach reiterated the sentiment, often saying, “If you’re running with a bad crowd and you get caught, you are all the same: guilty.”

In social psychology terms, it is explained as the Proximity Principle. This principle states that individuals have the tendency to form interpersonal relationships with those who are close by.

So what Mr. Rohn, my grandmother, and my football coach were trying to explain to me is something like this: Pick your friends carefully, because they will have the most influence on what you think, believe, and do. And you will have the same on them!

I have seen this happen many times in my life. When I was speaking with other soldiers during my time as an enlisted member of the Armed Forces, almost every other word was an expletive; but when I was off the base and talking to my wife and family, I almost never used a swear word. Simply put, I became who I was around. Or, at least, an average of all the behaviors. The same concept holds true when I analyze my actions as a single guy with single friends, versus as a married guy with married friends, as well as further down the road as a father amongst other fathers. We both gravitate towards people we’re already like, and rub off on the people we’re already around!

Here are a few tips on how to leverage the Proximity Principle and the “Average of Five” rule:

  1. Make a list of what you want to be or become. (This may be easier said than done!)

  2. Make a list of the 5-7 people that you spend the most time with on a weekly basis.

  3. List the most influential ideas or behaviors that each of your 5-7 people possess.

  4. Answer the following questions: Do the people on my list possess the things that I want to become? What do I possess that I am sharing with the group?

  5. Determine if you need to change out a few (or all) of your 5-7 people that you spend the most time with! It may mean a whole new group or just spending less time with a couple of people that are not adding value to your life or where you want to go!

Be very intentional with who you choose to spend your time with. Be it a company that you work for, a romantic relationship, or for some of us, even the friendships we have on social media. After all, you may end up more like them than you realize.

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