You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time around. How does that statement make you feel? Valuable? Inspirational? Intelligent? Or are you probing your mind for reasons why it can’t be true?

It’s natural to look for justifications — that is what I first found myself doing. But accepting this statement is important because it is true, whether or not you believe in it. Birds of a feather flock together. People who think the same tend to attract each other’s attention, and people who spend time together naturally merge their wisdom and their intelligence (or lack thereof).

Your success and growth in life is largely determined by the people you choose to surround yourself with.

Surround yourself with intelligent people and you will naturally absorb their knowledge and wisdom, and conversely surrounding yourself with plebs causes your knowledge and wisdom to diffuse down the concentration gradient. Also realise that it is inevitable that you will find yourself surrounded by mediocrity most of your life (by definition), and so it is your responsibility to protect your mind from their toxic habits and replace them with positive influence.

Their negative qualities gain traction on you through your subconscious mind and are therefore difficult to detect. You need to pay active attention to this fact and shut out those who depress and discourage you. In addition to that you should also deliberately seek the company of those who know more than you do, and who press you to act and take responsibility. You must find these people at all costs and actively absorb their wisdom and power.

What would be the profound impact on your life if you were to start collaborating on a project tomorrow with the biggest name in your field?

What if you had weekly meetings in which you discussed your recent work and planned what you were going to do next? Would this change the way you acted on a day to day basis? Of course it would. Not only would you work harder under their expectation, but simply being around them and surrendering to their guidance will cause you to subconsciously adopt their habits and work ethic.

Another huge benefit of these relationships is that you also gain access to their reservoir of knowledge and technical skill. Build up several of these relationships with people of broad disciplines and suddenly you have a huge database of knowledge you can turn to whenever you run into a technical issue. In the age of information your success is dependent on your ability to find specialised knowledge when you need it. Having a group of contacts with expertise that exceeds your own can get you the information you want without you learning it all yourself.

As an exercise, I want you to think of four or five of the most influential people in your life who are either dead, or far out of your reach.

If they are a hero figure in your life you’ll probably already know a fair bit about them, but I encourage you to do some further research to understand the way they think and how they approach problems. Then what I want you to do every night for the next couple of days is to visualise yourself sitting with these people and imagine a conversation in which you discuss your future endeavours and the problems you’re facing.

This exercise can be a brutal wake up call. All of a sudden, in the face of these giant figures, all your issues often seem trivial and insignificant. While in this discussion, think about the advice they will give you.

How would they tackle your problem? How would they respond to your questions? Would you be ashamed to ask?

Have you even thought through the issue yourself? What would they recommend you do next? It is good food for thought and will set you in the right direction to follow their footsteps.

Obviously you can’t access the pool of specialised knowledge from this round table exercise, but that isn’t the point. What you are aiming for here is to inherit their qualities and work ethic. You want to do this repeatedly so you don’t just understand their way of thinking on a surface level, but you can feel their wisdom in your bones. Eventually, you’ll end up effortlessly thinking the way they do.

On my round table from left to right I’ve got Elon Musk, Nikola Tesla, Leo Gura, and Leonardo da Vinci. Elon for his fucking ruthless work ethic and ambition. Tesla for his utter insanity and his deep obsession with his field and inventions. Leo for his wisdom and understanding of human psychology. And Leonardo for his unrestrained (and unconventional) mental flow and his ability to see the world as it was without rigid categories and labels. Strange mix you might say and that is a fair call, but they all have qualities which I value and want to internalise.

I don’t want to become any of these people in their entirety because they each lack something that I want. I want to become me, and likewise you should want to become you. This doesn’t change even if you find yourself a mentor who can teach you here in real-time. Take their knowledge, make it your own, and be prepared to leave them and move on once they have served their purpose.

You should never restrict yourself by aiming to match somebody else. Simply use them to supplement your growth towards becoming the best version of yourself.

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This is a chapter from my book Misguided: Counterintuitive Principals For Mastering Life. There are more free chapters on my Medium profile.

If you really liked this and want to help me out by buying my book — I love you and I will thank you personally. Here is the link: http://hypercapable.com/misguided/