I love that. The rational optimism takes a realistic assessment of the present first but maintains the belief my behavior matters. It’s linked to the people around me. And that, I think, is where we want to go with this. I get people after my talks who say, I’m not an optimist or a pessimist.
I’m just a realist right now, which usually means they’re a pessimist. But what they’re saying is actually nonsensical, because both optimists and pessimists can both be realists. Realism’s seeing the problems in this world and in our work and in our lives. Optimism and pessimism is what happens after the problem. So you have to see reality.
You know that reality has an impact. But do I believe that that problem is permanent and pervasive, it affects everything, or it’s local, it’s one part of your reality, and that it’s temporary? This too will pass. That’s where we want people to get to, not to ignore the reality but to realize that they can change it. So I love that quote that you were talking about that you grew up with, because it really is about, how do you take the world that you have and move forward? So thank you.
AUDIENCE: I’ve heard the saying you are the average of the five people you associate with the most.
SHAWN ACHOR: Wow.
AUDIENCE: And whether it’s five or six, I don’t think the quantity really matters. And the intent of the question is you grow with the people around you. And so I started to really question my relationships from high school to college and now Google and moving forward. Were these relationships based– they’ve changed so much, and people that I used to care about I haven’t talked to in so long. And I’m progressing forward in my career, and I’m really only associating with people– I try to have genuine conversations with everyone. But then I realized two years later that, oh, I ‘t even talk to this person I cadonred about so much, just because he’s not a part of my career anymore. Because it’s such a huge part in my life.
SHAWN ACHOR: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: And so it’s really tough to see are all my relationships that superficial to the point of helping me just kind of be a more powerful force in the world? Because I think we all care about changing the world and having an impact, and that’s really hard when you try to really build relationships. And when you say cut people out of your life that are bringing you down, it may be that they’re in a stage in which they need the most, and you’ve just cut them out. Sometimes I reflect on this, and I go into a very dark place very quickly.
SHAWN ACHOR: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: I’m pretty happy guy, more or less than not. But I think about this stuff a lot, and I was wondering what your opinions are.
SHAWN ACHOR: Yeah.Thank you for sharing that, because I think about this lot too because I find the same thing. It’s less about my career. It’s more about who’s in my immediate vicinity.
I even saw it with my freshmen then when I was a Proctor. I’d be so close and tight with my freshmen. And then as soon as they got moved off to the River Houses or the Quad, I was like, OK, I’ve got my new friends, the new freshmen that came in this year. And what I found was it was so frustrating because I cared so much about my family members, these friends that I had had in the past, but they were outside of my sphere, because we’re so used to interacting with the people that are in your sphere, which at work, if you’re focused on work, that entire sphere might be here. So of course the people closest to you might be the people that are directly related to that career.
And I make a little bit of fun of cutting the negative people out of our life, because I actually don’t want people to do that. I think it misses out on how powerful we can actually be in these relationships, even if they’re short-term. Because at Yale they found that if you have three strangers come into the room, all with different emotions– I get asked a lot, who’s more powerful, the positive people in your life and the negative people? You might have a positive team, but there’s this one negative guy on the team that’s dragging the whole team down, or one positive person that you’re talking about that’s very calm that gets everyone else to be calm. We can’t answer that question, because it’s different every time we test it. Sometimes it’s the positive person.
Sometimes it’s the negative person. What we found is it was a different variable. They found that the other two people in the room leave with an increased likelihood of experiencing the emotions of the most verbally and non-verbally expressive person in the room. So what that means is verbally or non-verbally, if I’m very expressive of my pessimism or my negativity, I’m changing that social script. And what we found is social influence in our lives is defined by three things, the strength of our message, the immediacy, how important that message is to people, and the number of sources that are giving that same message.
What we found is that if you’re wanting to try and create a positive effect upon other people, you want to increase the strength of that message, to be more positive verbally and non-verbally in those relationships to try and change those five or six people that might be in our average circle. But also, you’re trying to increase the end. Oftentimes when we think about those negative people, we should actually not be going straight for the negative person. We should be increasing the positivity of the people in the middle that we could tip towards positive that help make that person actually see a social script that’s more positive. But what’s interesting, the other part about your question, is these strong ties versus weak ties, which I actually do a lot of research on.