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Examine the People You Are Spending the Most Time With

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

—Proverbs 27:17

Just as you have to be intentional about what you are consuming and what you are thinking, you also must be mindful of the people you are spending the most time with. All that time you spend with them makes an impact. Over time, you become more and more like the people you spend the most time with. It's inevitable.

So then the questions become, “How are you being guided and influenced by the people with whom you spend the most time? Are they making you better? The same? Or worse?”

Most people would rather keep things the same than risk uncomfortable change. However, when we take that risk and consciously curate the people who can add the most value to our lives, we enter into a community that uplifts each other and supports us to succeed in ways we may not have thought possible.

The Profound Influence of the People You Spend the Most Time With

The late Jim Rohn, famous entrepreneur, author, and speaker, once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Though that was an opinion and wasn't a scientific assessment, it's still a quote that you will see popping up in business and psychology articles to this day. As the decades pass since he originally made that statement, evidence has accumulated that he may have been right. Some people have even taken it further financially, saying that, over time, you'll earn within either $2,500 or $5,000 of the average income of the five people you spend the most time with.

I don't think anybody doubts the value of having close friends in our lives or having regular social interaction. It's part of what it means to be human. However, with that engagement and the social need for interaction also comes influence. You are influencing your circle of friends, and they are influencing you. Some researchers call this a network; others compare it to an ecosystem. The gist is that you are all influencing each other inside the circle for better or worse. And that influence can have surprising impacts on your psychology.

Just on the health front, your friends' attitudes toward healthy habits are likely to influence your own. If they eat healthy food, chances are you will as well. If they exercise regularly, you probably will too. But the same goes toward unhealthy habits, which can gang up on you down the road.

On that front, strong‐willed friends might rub off on you and help you conquer habits that you wish to replace. This is part of the idea of having an accountability partner, someone to help you stick to your goals and manage your self‐control. Seeking out people with strengths in areas where you have a weakness is a great way to enrich your team of friends. In short, they help round you out.

Together, a circle of friends with different strengths and backgrounds can be an ideal group to help each other earn and maintain success in all the buckets of their life. One metaphor that I use to visualize a great circle of friends is a high‐performing football team.

Even though a football team is composed of all athletes at the top of their game, they do not all look similar to each other. They all have remarkably different yet complementary skill sets based on their position. For example, if you ever look at a kicker, you might think, “Wait? That guy plays the same sport?” Because the kicker doesn't look like a 330‐pound offensive lineman. But you need that kicker—a lot of games come down to the kicker, and many games are decided with three points or less.

Another example is the long snapper—all he does is throw the ball 15 yards on punts and 8 yards on field goals back between his legs, and often he doesn't look like the prototypical football player, either. Likewise, wide receivers don't look like offensive linemen. They all have different skill sets, but you need all of them to form a championship football team.

A championship football team doesn't have all guys who are just perfectly built at six foot five and 250 pounds to play any position. It's not the same as other sports. For example, in basketball, you could have five Kevin Durants on a team and win a championship. In football, arguably the best player of all time is Tom Brady, but you couldn't have 22 of him and win a championship. As much as I love Tom Brady, he's not tackling anybody, and he's not blocking anybody. He's not very fast, either.

So, that being said, your group of friends, the people you surround yourself with most, need to be well‐rounded because God gives us all individual strengths, weaknesses, and passions. Someone who's passionate about health and wellness, or finance, or what have you may be able to help round you out where God may not have blessed you in your life. You need many different types to make it work.

Your Profound Influence on Others

Friendship is a two‐way street—it's not just their influence on you; it's your influence on them. There's a lot of potential power and responsibility going both ways on that, so it's valuable to start thinking of your friendships in much larger terms and what you are bringing to the table for others.

Bill Carmody, founder and CEO of Trepoint, had a lot to say about personal influence in an article he wrote in 2016 for Inc. entitled “You Are an Influencer: Here's How to Become an Even More Powerful Influencer.” He compares the environment of everyone with whom you interact as an ecosystem—an inherently interconnected little universe:

Carmody makes an excellent point—your energy and attitude project an influence at all times. Your mood and behavior can influence the weather of the entire room. Have you ever experienced a whole group of people perking up their energy when a positive person comes in? The expression “they light up a room” is perfect because that's what it feels like. Conversely, sometimes everyone is having a great time until a certain someone with a bad mood or toxic attitude enters the room, dragging down or diminishing the energy of others. It can feel like a storm or a hurricane, and the very air feels different.

Now, I want to clarify that I think it's okay to have a bad day and feel any number of unpleasant feelings ranging from anger to sadness and everything in between. However, I think it's important not to let those feelings set your default attitude and expectations over the long term. It hurts yourself, and it negatively influences others.

Doug Marrone came to the Bills in 2013 as our head coach. When I would get beat out on the football field, whether in practice or actual games, I had this tendency to rip off my chin strap and throw my helmet on the ground in anger. I honestly wasn't looking for attention. It was just the only thing I had on me that I could possibly throw and try to break.

One time, I remember I was so upset, and I had just thrown my helmet again, and Doug Marrone came up to me after practice and grabbed me. He said, “Hey, I can't have you throwing your helmet anymore like that.” And I said, “I know, I know, but I'm able to kind of snap back into it and regroup before the next play.”

I'll never forget what he said next.

He said, “I know, but your energy is affecting everybody else. You got to be careful because you're one of the leaders of our football team. You're one of our captains. We can't have our captain doing that kind of stuff, especially during a game, but even in practice.”

And that's when I finally got it. It wasn't just about me or how I was feeling. I had to worry about the team around me and what impact these little storms would have on the rest of them.

Eventually, I began to have more confidence as a person. That confidence was a combination of maturity and devotion to my faith. Leslie commented on it first. She said that since I was on my faith journey, she noticed that my temper had almost completely subsided, especially at home.

I was also proactive and wanted to be more mindful of how my actions affected others. I took it even further when I started meditating and focusing on developing more patience. Eventually, those split‐second decisions were affected by what I was filling my mind with in the morning. My patient thoughts became my behaviors, which then became my actions. My actions resulted in a better relationship with my wife and better energy to share with my team.

It's always good to check in and ask yourself these questions:

  • How are my thoughts affecting my behavior?
  • How is my behavior affecting my actions?
  • How are my actions affecting those around me?

Spend Time with People You Can Learn From

While I was still playing for the Bills, the five people I spent the most time with (outside of Leslie) were all members of my team. So if you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with, I was the average of five professional football players. Now, everyone was different. Some guys were partiers, and others took it more seriously. There were Christians and non‐Christians, and every type of person under the sun. There are so many different sects within a football team.

I've always tried to gravitate toward people who are one step ahead of me regarding where I'm trying to get to in life. No one ever told me that the best advice for a rookie is to find a veteran player and model what they do because they're the veteran. That just seemed like common sense to me. Find a Pro Bowl player or guy who's won the Super Bowl, and see how that person operates. Look at what they're modeling for you, and follow suit. I've ingrained that in myself because I always wanted to reach the top of my profession.

While I was still in college and highly focused on being NFL‐bound, my biggest influences were already in the NFL. Some guys had a massive impact on me when I got to college. There was a guy named Jason Spitz who ended up playing for the Packers. There was another guy named Travis Leffew. They were older offensive linemen, and I tried to act, play, and train as they did.

One of the mentors I learned from early on was a guy who played center, my eventual position, when I first joined the Bills. His name was Geoff Hangartner. He was a custom‐made mentor for me because he had already played for four years in the NFL, and he had just signed his second contract. So those were both things that I envisioned for myself. I watched him very closely and tried to absorb how he worked.

I had the opportunity to see his day‐to‐day process and how he spent time outside of the facility. I saw how he prepared for games, which was rigorous. We were polar opposites in our demeanor on the football field, which worked out well early in my career. As I said, I was a hothead and pretty wild on the football field. By contrast, Geoff was cerebral and exceptionally calm. I've never quite approached Geoff Hangartner's advanced level of calmness, but I found myself having more and more of his kind of demeanor as my career went on. Geoff always treated me like a buddy, even as a rookie, which I'll appreciate for the rest of my life.

Another guy I learned a lot from on my team was the best player on the Bills throughout my entire career. His name is Kyle Williams, and he's a multitime Pro Bowler. He now has five kids, but he had two when we lived right next door to each other. We shared a wall of a two‐unit townhouse.

I got to observe Kyle on a day‐to‐day basis. He's one of the hardest workers I've ever been around in my life, one of the toughest and smartest football players. He's quick, athletic, smart, strong, mean, and an all‐around excellent football player. And I got to see how he treated his wife (like gold) and how he approached his faith walk. And I got to see him be a devoted and loving dad. So for me, aligning myself with people like Kyle and following his every move, and being able to see how he operated was extremely valuable for me throughout my entire nine‐year NFL career. Kyle entered the league three years before me, and I got to see him the whole way.

Toward the end of my career, I spent the most time with Richie Incognito in the locker room. I never made a Pro Bowl prior to playing with Richie (although I was an alternate a few times), and I believe that being around Richie helped lead me to that. He had been a Pro Bowler in the past, and I got to see his approach to preparing for the game and also recovering after the game—he was an elite at both. Richie had this intense dedication to training and investing in his body through massage therapy, fly‐in special physical trainers, whatever it may be. He also raised my play on the field because a center relies so heavily on his guards playing next to him, and he was as good as it gets on the field. If I were still playing for the Bills and moving forward, Richie would have had a tremendous impact. I would have kept emulating that regimen he brought when he came to the Bills.

There were so many incredible people like Geoff, Kyle, and Richie whom I learned from while playing. Yet, at the end of the day, you're still hanging out with pro‐football players and coaches who are at the top of their profession. My team had a tremendous influence on me. When you have that kind of infrastructure around you, your average is going to be pretty strong—leaving that group when I had to retire presented some loss and challenges in terms of my circle of friends.

I had to leave this bubble of high performers. And I had to ask myself, “Who am I going to be spending the most time around?”

When I transitioned out of football and started on a new personal development journey, I had a lot of conversations with people who were further along on their paths than I was. They all warned me that I would be spending a lot of time around non‐football players, so it was imperative to be intentional about my relationships. I needed to be highly intentional about how I spent my time and who I spent it with.

I spend time with a solid group of buddies of high character in Louisville who round me out well. Most of them attend my Thursday morning men's group each week. A lot of them like to play golf. They are all career‐driven and successful in their own right. All of their incomes are different. And one of the most important things to me is that they're great husbands, exceptional dads, and portray a positive attitude. I like to surround myself with funny, competitive, and intelligent people, and they certainly fit the bill.

I've truly been blessed with a group of friends who add value to Leslie's and my life. When you have that, it's a great find.

Find Groups to Learn from Others at an Advanced Level

My podcast has been an incredible learning experience. Learning the art of conversation at a deeper level and becoming better at my interviewing skills are of value. More important, I've learned so much from all the wisdom I've received from guests. People I admire from all walks of life have shared stories about what makes them tick and how they got to be where they are now. It's been an inspiration to me, and I'm so happy that I've been able to build some meaningful friendships out of this experience as well.

Each year, I put together an advisory board of five or six people to help me with strategic vision and long‐ and short‐term goals. Lately, many of them are people I met through my podcast. I may have considered many of them out of my league in the past because of their incredible influence and reach. They are a bunch of heavy‐hitters in speaking, writing, digital content, financial prowess, and podcasts. I was completely humbled and blown away they were making time to help me.

I didn't think I could get some of these high‐profile guys to volunteer some of their time on my behalf, but I just asked, and they said yes. That's something I think everyone should remember—it never hurts to ask. There are amazing people everywhere with a servant's heart and who are looking for opportunities to help and pay it forward. With a little effort, you can connect with people who believe in your potential.

When I first started using an advisory board after I had retired from the NFL, they helped me narrow my focus on all the things I was trying to do. It's kind of comical how many things I was involved with, far too many to be sustainable. I told them about my foundation boards, charities, various broadcast gigs, a few of my roles in the church, and so forth. They had excellent clarity on this and suggested that when I found the thing I was most passionate about, I would have to cut most of these activities because my schedule was completely crowded.

This year they've been helping me with many things, including most of my next moves in broadcasting and getting into the world of mindset coaching. One of my advisory board members, Ben Newman, already has a fantastic career with mindset coaching. He is the performance coach for Alabama football, Kansas State football, has multiple NFL player clients, and works with a number of NFL teams. One of my other board members, my friend David Nurse, has worked with 150 NBA players as a mindset and performance coach.

They've blazed this trail before and have given me excellent first steps to take and shown me how to get a running start. In addition, they have given me excellent ideas of what kinds of training, seminars, and certifications I might need and a few organizations that were perfect candidates to start working with as a mindset coach. I have no problem doing a deep dive, and it's so helpful to have knowledgeable people act as guides.

Now, if you just look at it as purely hours spent, my advisory board doesn't consist of people I spend the most time with. However, in terms of focused, high‐octane quality time, it's about equal in its influence on me as the people I do spend the most time with. These are the kind of conversations that can change the course of your life in less than an hour.

Case in point, on Thursday mornings, I've been attending a group called “Man Challenge” at our church. It's early, 6 am, so it requires some commitment to go. At one point in my life, I felt like I was wrecking my week to get up for it, but now I'm just used to it. It's a group of men, and they bring in a speaker. We all sit at our individual tables, and then we discuss the message afterward.

We always joke that we're just a bunch of men trying to figure it all out. Yet, since 2012, that group has shaped my life and molded me as much as anybody. That's true even though we're only spending an hour and a half a week together. Over the years, there has been such a draw to join our table because of the impact and the men who have come, that our individual table of up to about 10 has had to be divided about four different times to accommodate everyone. These other Christian men shape you, and our ages at our current table range from the late 20s to mid‐60s—you get so much life experience. It's great that it's a bunch of guys who round each other out. We're all there to encourage each other, and we're all we're service‐oriented.

This group sharpens me constantly to develop into the Christian man I want to become. I encourage anyone out there to find a group of men or women with whom you can have intentional conversations and not just talk sports and careers. We are often talking about the future and who we're becoming and not obsessed with the past. That's a healthy habit for any group to practice.

My point is I know not everyone has access to a formal advisory board—but you do have access to other genuine and helpful groups of people who can help you fill in the gaps and give you much‐needed perspective. You can create groups or join existing groups of people to enhance your learning at a high level.

One of the first questions you can ask yourself is, “What are your goals?” For example, if your goals are to develop yourself spiritually, I would start attending groups in churches or other places of worship, go to services, and get involved with helping the community. If, however, your goals are about physical health and getting into shape, I would join a gym and get involved with a class‐based gym, so you're around the same people at the same time each week. Those people can positively influence you and vice versa. You'll all be on a similar journey together.

Whenever you're mentoring or pouring your energy into someone else, you're rewarded back for that. So remember—if you want to add someone to your group of five or simply need the advice to get to the next step, people are almost always more willing than you think to meet and try to help. It often means more to them to pay it forward than it does to you.

No matter what your goals, you can find a group correlated to those goals, whether it's through social media or any other community resource. You don't have to limit yourself by your recent experience—connecting with others, asking advice, and getting involved with something greater than yourself can help you learn and upgrade yourself at an exponential level.

Moving On and Letting Go

Pastor Keith Craft had a great saying about the length of friendships. He said, “Some friends are in your life for a season, some friends are in your life for a reason, and some friends are with you for a lifetime.” I feel like there's so much wisdom in that sentiment. It's okay that some friends are with you for a short period of time, or others you might share a bond with for a particular reason, and then there are those few that you'll know for the rest of your life.

And sometimes, you just have to let people go. I know that's sometimes easier said than done. I'm a people‐pleaser at heart, and I would rather try and bring others along with me instead of cutting them out of my life. I have a hard time doing that, but there are people that I've purposely separated myself from or I choose to spend less time with. Sometimes it's just because we're both in different stages of life.

Key Takeaways

Here are the key takeaways from this chapter:

  • We are an average of the five people we spend the most time with.
  • It's important to ask ourselves these questions:
    • How are we being guided and influenced by our friends?
    • Are they making us better, the same, or worse?
  • The people we spend the most time with have a profound impact on us. They influence our health, our finances, our mood, our long‐term goals, and overall habits.
  • People we spend the most time with can help round out our weaknesses.
  • However, people we spend the most time with can also reinforce bad habits.
  • We also have a profound influence on people who spend time with us.
  • We must take responsibility for how we influence others. Ask yourself:
    • How are my thoughts affecting my behavior?
    • How is my behavior affecting my actions?
    • How are my actions affecting those around me?
  • Spend time with people that you can learn from and who have a positive impact on you.
  • Seek out groups to supercharge your learning.
  • More people are more willing to help than you might think.
  • Learn to let go of people who have a negative influence on you.
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