Do you have ambitious goals you're hoping to reach? You've written them down, made a commitment to them, and you take time every day to visualize yourself reaching your objective. These are all excellent tools to help you get from where you are now to where you want to be. But there's one more that many people don't think to use: Spend time with people whose successes you want to emulate. 

Why does this work? Because humans have lived in tribes since the species first emerged, and the company we keep becomes a norm with which we seek to fit in. It's an unconscious process over which we have little control, and it can be either a help or a hindrance as we work to reach our goals.

Why is having a successful social group so powerful? For one thing, our social group is the norm by which we judge ourselves. This is why having two good friends who are obese increases your own chance of being overweight by 50 percent. On the other hand, you will likely feel funny about eating a whole bag of potato chips while watching TV if your friends are hanging out at salad bars and CrossFit.

Second, spending time with people who've achieved what you want to achieve suddenly makes those achievements seem possible. I learned this accidentally after I'd been struggling for years to compete the draft of a book. One member of my writing critique group set himself the task of completing the first draft of a book within six months--and he did it. ( Here it is!) Suddenly, completing my book didn't seem so impossible, or even like such a big deal, and a couple of months later, I finished mine too.

Then there's the fact that people who've done what you want to do can help you in many practical ways. They can offer encouragement and specific advice. They will have professional contacts that they may be willing to share with you, or they may be willing to promote your work to these contacts. And if you're taking the wrong approach, they'll be in the best position to tell you that's the case--and what you should do instead. 

But if spending more time around successful people is a clear path toward success, making that happen can sometimes seem like a challenge. You want to start a successful company, but your friends and your spouse all work nine-to-five jobs and would never consider leaving the safety of a steady paycheck and health benefits. 

What do you do? Don't dump your friends and please don't dump your spouse, at least not for this reason. Instead, expand your social circle to include some people whose successes you want to emulate. 

Here's how:

1. Identify your targets.

These should be people who've done what you want to do--but you don't necessarily want to head straight for the most successful or well-known. Yes, Bill Gates would be a powerful chum for you to have, but if you've never met him and you have no friends in common, the chances that you'll get to spend much time together seem small. On the other hand, there are plenty of successful entrepreneurs out there who are much more approachable. 

2. Work your contacts.

Chances are, someone you already know knows someone you would like to meet. You can use social media (especially LinkedIn) to figure out who knows whom. Ask your friends for an introduction, or for advice on approaching someone you'd like to know.

3. Don't sit home. 

Events of all kinds are a great way to help fill your social circle with successful people. If someone you'd like to meet is giving a presentation, go. After it's over, go up and talk to the presenter. You'll have done your homework, so you'll be familiar with his or her books, company, videos, etc. Telling someone you really like their work is almost always a good way to start a conversation.

4. Take classes.

Signing up for classes, in-person or online, gives you another way to get to know people who have succeeded in your chosen field, and/or those who have similar goals to yours and are working toward achieving them. Both types of contacts will enlarge your social circle in a good way.

5. Join groups.

This could be anything from a Meetup to an online community to a traditional trade association. Joining an association made of successful people will increase your chances of success. And if you're active within your group, you can't help but add some successful people to your social circle. Joint membership in a professional or trade group can be a great way to erase the distance between you and the people you'd like to meet.

6. Just get in touch.

Sometimes the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. So if you've identified someone you'd really like to get to know, reach out directly, using LinkedIn or by finding your target's contact information. Explain that you would like some advice and ask if your target would be willing to spend a little time on the phone with you, or invite him or her for a beverage or a meal. If your target is a professional consultant or paid expert, offer to pay for his or her time.

7. Pay it forward.

Just as there are some people it would benefit you to know, there are others who could benefit from your expertise and contacts. So be generous. Take the time to meet with people who are less successful than you are and offer whatever guidance you can. Consider mentoring high school or college students. Helping others succeed will make you feel good. And getting to know a younger person who's ambitious and headed for success can be as much an asset to your social circle as someone who's already gotten there.