“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.”
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.”
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.