The people around us matter--a lot, according to happiness researcher Shawn Achor in his new book Big Potential. "The height of your potential is predicted by the people who surround you."

Achor spent eleven years at Harvard where he lectured in one of the university's most popular classes on positive psychology. Achor's TED Talk on the subject of happiness has topped more than 17 million views. In Big Potential, Achor explains how any of us can create a "star system" of people who help us reach our potential.

According to Achor, these three strategies will help boost your motivation, increase your energy, and spark higher levels of performance. They've worked for me. 

1. Tap into the power of positive peer pressure.

Just as being around negative, unmotivated people drains our energy and potential, "surrounding ourselves with positive, engaged, motivated, and creative people causes our positivity, engagement, motivation, and creativity to multiply," according to Achor. 

It's been said that you're the average of the five people you hang around the most. There might be something to do that adage. Billionaire Warren Buffett once offered this advice to Columbia University business students: "You want to associate with people who are the kind of person you'd like to be. You'll move in that direction." 

Achor brings up an important point--you can associate with super successful people who you don't know personally. You do it by reading books and biographies of the people you want to be more like. Achor cites fascinating research from Dartmouth and Ohio State that found people who are engrossed in a book actually begin to take on some of the traits and characteristics of the main character.

This reminds me of research I did years ago on Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy. They were voracious readers who were obsessed with real-life heroes and adventurers. Both Kennedy and Churchill cited the books they read in their youth as inspiring their own quest for adventure. 

You are what you read. Fill your mind with true stories of success and achievement.

2. Create balance through variety.

"From evolutionary theory, we know the key to survival is biodiversity," writes Achor. Diverse species are more resilient to disease and other forces of nature. In the same way, says Achor, people with diverse social networks are more resilient, open-minded, and innovative. 

If you're surrounded by people just like yourself--culture, backgrounds, experiences, beliefs, attitudes, interests--it limits your potential. Achor stresses the importance of "cognitive diversity." It's important to expose yourself to different ideas and perspectives.

This reminds me of the famous quote Steve Jobs gave when asked about the team that made the original Macintosh. Jobs said, "Part of what made the Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians, poets, and artists, and zoologists, and historians."

Steve Jobs created balance through variety and the results were world-changing. 

3. Create reciprocal bonds.

"The best relationships are build on reciprocal bonds," writes Achor. In other words, don't  reach out to your network only when you need something; make a habit of reaching out to them to offer something with no expectation of anything in return. Research published in the Harvard Business Review found that "the most successful leaders always look for ways to give more to their contacts."

I've discovered this in my own universe of contacts, especially in the past couple of years. I've become friends with several CEOs who are admired in their fields for cultivating large networks of strong relationships. I found that they're givers and don't ask for something in return. 

For example, I spoke at a conference for top performers at one of America's largest real estate companies. The CEO learned that I was a fan of the local NFL football team. Weeks after my keynote, the CEO arranged for lunch with a legendary player from the team. He had nothing left to "gain" from our relationship, but he built his reputation as a giver, not a taker.

Achor uses the metaphor of a star and its constellation to explain potential. If you want to be a star, you have to surround your with a constellation of people who give you a "super bounce." If you want to bounce higher, make a conscious effort to associate with those people who will lift you higher and not drag you down.

Published on: Mar 14, 2018