Tampering With Our Environment to Reach Our Potential

Tampering With Our Environment to Reach Our Potential

“You are a product of your environment. So choose the environment that will best develop you toward your objective. Analyze your life in terms of its environment. Are the things around you helping you toward success – or are they holding you back?”
~W. Clement Stone

The premise of my argument is that our ability to reach our full potential is either enhanced, or limited, by our environment. Therefore, it is in our best interest to find an environment that is best suited for us to thrive in. I define environment not merely as an area, but as the sum of our life experiences, the friends that we have, and the books that we read. In essence, environment is the nurture component of the nature versus nurture argument.

Our potential is our fixed-capacity for personal growth; meaning you cannot get more potential than you’ve got, but you can certainly strive to reach, or fall short of reaching it. A great environment is a very crucial component that can propel us toward this potential, but at the same time, an environment that is not conducive for growth will restrain us from reaching our full potential.


“Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.”
~Ayn Rand

Our experiences serve as a foundation from which we make future decisions. Experiences can be either positive or negative, and they can also be falsely-positive or falsely-negative if the proper level of insight isn’t reached.

A false negative experience can be a failure that creates an unwarranted fear. This would be like falling off a bicycle, and never getting back on, or having a heart break, and avoiding future relationships. A false positive experience is an unwarranted sense of courage. This would be like winning a fight based on sheer luck, and then continuing to pursue fights and deeming yourself unconquerable, or having unprotected sex without the consequence of disease or pregnancy, and continuing to pursue this dangerous lifestyle.

When an experience is truly positive or negative, it’s smart to use it toward future decision making, because the experience is a good representation of what will occur the next time you may have this experience. For example, if you go to class, listen proactively, and study well, you’re going to see a good grade again, just like you did last semester. This is a clear positive. Another example is, if you try penicillin, and have an adverse allergic reaction, then it’s safe to assume that you are allergic, and you should never take this family of medicines again. This is a clear negative. These are both examples of smart assumptions, otherwise known as learning, that keep us doing more beneficial things, and avoiding detrimental ones.

It’s important for us to be able to distinguish between true and false experiences. Looking at life in retrospect and doing a lot of thinking introspectively will greatly reduce the amount of false assumptions that we allow to govern our decisions in life.

If there are no contradictions, we will quickly uncover the veil of falsehood that surrounds our experience. We’ll recognize fact as fact, and falsehood as falsehood, and our future decisions will reflect truth. The key is to stop and think about our experiences, instead of letting them govern our lives. After all, we’re humans, not hamsters that are meant to be stuck in a spinning wheel of ignorance.


“Be careful the environment you choose for it will shape you; be careful the friends you choose for you will become like them.”
~W. Clement Stone

Many years of my life have been spent with people whose philosophy on life has been nothing short of a vast deviation from truth. Some were timid, while others were steadfast in their ideals, in spite of the falsity of those ideals and the harm that having those ideals may cause to them and to the people around them. Don’t worry, I’m not the only one that’s been exposed to these people. Some of them are still in my life, and I’m sure that you’ve got one or two of your own.

I’m not saying that it’s impossible to transcend the philosophy of your friends, and the people that you speak with most often. I’m saying that if you’re with people who are spewing falsehood, you’re going to have a hard time getting upstream without a paddle and arriving at truth.

I’m making the assumption that arriving at truth will give you a better life and will improve life for all of us as a collective as well. Otherwise, you might as well throw out the notion that you should be striving for truth, and stop worrying about who your friends are.

If you’re with me, and you understand that you can choose a better life, through the means of a better philosophy, then it’s time to take an honest look at who you associate with. We begin this exercise by taking a close look at the five people with whom you spend the most time with (technology permits this to be any type of communication, not exclusive to face-to-face conversation).

What if your top-five consists of a drug dealer, a rapist, a murderer, an alcoholic, and a convict? You speak with these people daily, maybe you even try to discourage them from their ideas and practices, but how long can you maintain integrity to your vision of truth before their philosophy seeps into your mind? How long before your mind becomes a melting pot of negativity, which you begin to spread into the world?

Yes, this is very extreme, but I’m sure there are people out there whose top-5 looks like this. Your type might not be this bad, but it could still be bringing you down, and keeping you from reaching your full potential. You might be the proud associate of a complainer, a pessimist, a TV-junkie, a binge eater, and a shopaholic. Not as bad, but still not a group of people that will get your operating on all cylinders toward your potential.

What if we take away the people that we’re bound to based on emotional holds, geographical location, and family orientation, and design our very own mastermind group of friends. If we can pick and choose anyone, we could pick fun, friendly, motivational, intelligent, respectful, compassionate, successful, controlled, powerful, and courageous people to associate with. Their philosophies will become our philosophy, and this will be reflected in our choices, habits, and goals.


“A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.”
~Henry David Thoreau

“When you sell a man a book, you don’t sell him 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life.”
~Christopher Morley

Books are like a cheat sheet to life. By reading great books, you are saving yourself from making years worth of mistakes, and learning to do things faster and better. By becoming more efficient at life, you’re freeing up more time for the enjoyment of life. By getting closer to the truth, you’re enabling yourself to use your time more wisely.

As with friends, you run the risk of reading bad philosophy, and thus getting further from the truth. The good thing is that by becoming an avid reader, and seeing an onslaught of various ideas, your mind becomes capable of deciphering which philosophies will actually serve you well. You’ll have enough depth of knowledge so that you won’t be easily swayed by bad ideas, while at the same time being open to experiencing those ideas that can bring you closer to truth.

Fifty years of someone’s life experience is yours for the taking within several hours worth of reading. You can effectively gain tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of hours full of people’s life experiences. Your environment, the one that decides how quickly you’ll achieve your potential will thus evolve internally, despite your geographic location, and the people you are predisposed to.

Putting It All Together

By combining constant introspection into the reality of your experiences, a solid base of friends that serve to better your philosophy, and an arsenal of books that you’ve not only read, but applied to your life, you are effectively shaping your own destiny. You’re not only tampering with, but beating your environment, and creating a new one that will serve whatever purposes you can dream of.

Posted by in Featured, Thinking | January 26, 2009 | Digg | Del.icio.us | Stumble | Print | 10 comments

  • http://alexshalman.com Marina Tsipenyuk

    I love how you used Ayn Rand’s quote about contradictions not existing. Great Article!

  • http://www.successprofessor.ca Success Professor


    I love your thoughts on the environment you are in. The way that your experiences, friends, and books influence your environment and ability to achieve is very well explained.

    I also find that my physical environment plays a big role. If I surround myself with distractions, I’m much more likely to take advantage of those distractions. If remove distractions from my physical environment I’ll likely stay focused longer.

  • http://SourcesOfInsight.com J.D. Meier

    Some containers enable you and some limit you.

    The Dip is one lens for analyzing containers.

    You can’t be a preacher in your hometown 😉

  • http://www.alexshalman.com Alex Shalman

    Thanks for commenting guys.

    @Success Professor: You’re right. Physical environment can play an important role. A less cluttered environment will allow you to be more focused.

    @J.D. Meier: The phrase “you can’t be a preacher in your hometown” peaked my curiosity. I was watching the movie Lakeview Terrace the other day and one cop said to the other “you can’t be living in the same town where you’re arresting people.” That makes sense, since they may not have the most benevolent feelings towards you, but you would think a preacher would be a respected member of their town. What do you think?

  • http://tomaszgorecki.com/blog tom

    Great article Alex.

    I have myself been only making good friends with people that i feel are adjusted to my liking. Sure it may seem like I am selfish but I don;t see it that way.

    Sure its great having friends but I have come to a point where i got to ask myself.

    Am i going to serve my friends full time? If so, when will it be my time to serve myself?

  • http://www.healthmoneysuccess.com/677/how-to-have-good-sleeping-habits/ Vincent

    Our friends definitely have a certain amount of influence over us. If we are always hanging out with negative people, it is just a matter of time that we will absorb their thinking. Great points listed Alex.

    Personal Development Blogger

  • http://SourcesOfInsight.com J.D. Meier

    @ Alex

    On the logic level, that’s true, but there’s more to it.

    Here’s the why behind the saying … It’s meant to point out how although you may change yourself and you may be an entirely different person than your younger years, people you grew up with may have you labeled a certain way. That’s where the Pygmalion effect comes in.

    The Pygmalion effect is where, “you get what you expect.”

    In other words, you may act completely different, but people see you through their filter. So no matter what you say or do, in their eyes, you can do no right. Of course, the positive side of the Pygmalion effect is the Halo Effect, where you can do no wrong. In this case, people see you through Rose Colored Glasses.

    What it boils down to is distinguishing between your situation and you. If the container is limiting you, it might make more sense to test another container. It’s very difficult to change people’s perception, so it’s really an ROI call. Is it worth trying to change the perception or is it better to start fresh without baggage? Just asking this is a good start because it’s a sanity check. If you’re making all the right moves, but you aren’t making progress, it might not be you … it might be the container. I’ve seen some people fail in one situation, but massively succeed in another. Some people that ignore the impact of their container, don’t get to unleash their full potential because the environment just doesn’t support them. I used to make the assumption that you can turn around any perception. Regardless of whether that’s true, it still comes down to ROI and many people massively succeed by taking their game to the right forum.

  • http://tomaszgorecki.com/blog tom

    @J.D. All I gotta say is go with your gut feeling and if it doesn’t feel right, find someone else. Don’t be afraid to take chances.

    You are the fool for not trying and assuming things after.
    Remember ASSUME…making an ASS of U and ME

  • http://SourcesOfInsight.com J.D. Meier

    @ Tom

    I’m not sure why you’re assuming relationship advice, but it’s about analyzing your container.

    I suppose you could think of your relationship as a container, but other containers would be your work, where you live, your tribes, or your even your metaphors or labels (is life a dance, an epic, a comedy, a tragedy … etc.) I’m using the “where you live” example when I use the saying “you can’t be a preacher in your home town,” for obvious reasons.

    A gut check is good, but limited. Round out your thinking with Six Thinking Hats.

    I don’t follow why your fear or chances or making assumptions points, unless it’s simply your chance for cliche, or it’s a demo of imprecision and inaccuracy. Either way, you’ll improve your mental model for life’s challenges by reading The Dip. You can’t beat Seth’s model for when to lean in versus when to find a new Dip.

    As an ancillary point (and I won’t add the cliche that you should take the bull by the horns), but if you read de Bono’s Tactics, you’ll build a better foundation for success based on more than 50 reference examples, and you’ll realize why it’s a numbers game, but a “success mindset” is a differentiating factor. All the more reason to choose your Dips wisely.

    Hope that helps!

  • http://tomaszgorecki.com/blog tom

    I used relationships as an example because that is what came to mind and was easiest to relate to.

    I got a little lost in what you were saying there, is that all geared to me?