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Sarah Dorchak/the Gauntlet

Show me your friends, I'll show you yourself

How your social circle influences who you are

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"Come on, dude! For real. You should come out tonight."

The phone conversation with your best friend leaves you contemplating your night. The chemistry exam is tomorrow and before the phone call, you had made the mental decision that you were going to stay in and study.

How often have your friends had an influence on the decision that you made? How much of your time is spent with other people? Are you thinking about the effect those people have on your thoughts? You are responsible for your actions but your actions are created by your thoughts, and the people who you hang out with influence your thoughts. Every conversation that you have has the power to expand your mind and help you find ideas you never would have come up with on your own.

When I graduated high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I believe a lot of people have that same issue, pondering the outcome of the rest of their lives at such a young age. I didn't want to study something that I didn't love doing. I wanted to wait and see if I would come up with the answer in my year off. I was flung into a world of freedom with the chance to do anything that I wanted. I started my year off by moving out with some friends.

I can remember the feeling that came with moving into my first house. I was excited for the freedom. I only thought of the good things that could happen, and I was convinced that nothing could go wrong. At this point in my life I was a firm believer in being sober. I never went out of my way to be under the influence of anything that took away my sober state of mind -- the people that I moved into my first house with were of different opinion. They smoked marijuana on a regular basis, but this was fine with me. I saw my roommates and myself as separate individuals who were responsible for making our own decisions. In this new house of mine, marijuana was everywhere. There were symbolic flags on my wall, grinded particles on my coffee table and the aroma leaked from the air into my nostrils.

I couldn't resist the temptation.

I smoked it for the first time with my roommates three months after moving in. As the high settled in I felt my internal principles weaken. It wasn't long before I was smoking it twice a week. From there it turned into a daily habit. I peaked at three times per day and did this for six months straight. I couldn't wake up and not be high -- I was addicted.

Smoking marijuana was never a self-developed habit. It wasn't until I moved in with my roommates that I began this habit that encouraged procrastination and laziness. I made the decision to smoke marijuana -- a direct result of my thought patterns shifting in line with my roommates'.

You are a result of your social environment. Because of the position I put myself in, I began to think short-term rather than long-term. My thought patterns shifted and I felt my life direction spiralling into nothingness -- I had to get out.

Just over a year ago I met Cam Adair. Adair works to create an inspiring social environment for people to come and grow together. Through our friendship, I was introduced into a social dynamic created by people who dreamed and were working towards a vision. It was a social environment where anyone could be inspired, not by the dreams of others but by their work ethic towards the dreams they wanted to achieve. I immersed myself with my newfound friends, and these uplifting people caused a shift in my thinking patterns. I've never been happier or more successful in my life, all because of a conscious decision I made to change the people I spent my time with. This experience solidified my belief that your social environment affects who you are -- something that people aren't usually aware of. People know their friends affect them, but to what extent?

Professor Harry Hillar of the Sociology department added some fuel to this idea of social groups. "We don't usually hang out with people who don't have a similar perspective to ourselves. There has to be something to which you have similarity of approach or perspective," Hillar explained, labeling this social activity "ideological congruence."

"What you become depends on who you are with," Hillar continued. "In some ways this is a natural gravitation. On the other hand it's something that can be very conscious. If you're struggling in school, who do you hang out with? Other people who are struggling, so you can share perspective on your struggles."

Cherie Tutt, undergraduate program administrator from the Arts department, agreed that friends influence the individual's perspective. "I think it's extremely important to find people with similiar interests as you. That way you can bounce ideas off each other and gain that other perspective," she said. "You also want to make sure that you're hanging out with people with interests outside of your life direction too. That balance is important."

Tutt and I agree that our social circles should be composed of people who push us in the direction that we want to go in, people who allow us to grow as individuals.

Hillar believes changing your social environment can only happen once you are aware of the subconscious decisions you make to spend time with people to share perspectives. If you're struggling with something and your social dynamic worsens the situation, you can only start fixing the issue after realizing where the problem lies.

Hillar suggested making the first step to join other social groups as a way of changing your social situation. "Instead of gravitating to people who have a similar world view as you, choose to grow from someone who has a different perspective on the world," he said.

The best way, in my opinion, is to keep an open mind and look ahead. You are a result of your social interactions. If you want to know what your life is going to look like in five years, take a look at your five closest friends. What perspectives do they bring to the table? Do they challenge yours and allow you to grow, or do they make situations worse?

Sometimes, like in my experience, the people in your life can cause you to make poor decisions. By joining in my roommates' marijuana habit, I influenced them to stay addicted. This is one reason why addicts of any kind group together. But by my breaking out of that environment, it gave my roommates a chance to change themselves, so the process is cyclical.

I have known Jeremie Carter for a long time and, though our perspectives and environments have changed, we've maintained our friendship. He echoed my beliefs about taking charge of your social environment. "You can't help that certain circumstances happened to you when you were younger that caused you to think in a different way," he explained. "Your present moment perspective, however, is different. You choose which friends you hang out with, which people you spend your time with. The people who you currently spend your time with affect your present moment perspective." Carter explained that, as you have control over your present situation, any benefits or inhibitions you experience are up to you. That is, the final decision is yours, no matter what influences come from your social environment. Most of all, Carter and I agree that you must own up to your decisions.

Giving up that Thursday night at the bar to study for your test tomorrow isn't easy when your friends are encouraging you to come out and party with them. Your mind has decided on an outcome based on your goals. You have to get a good grade and the way that you do that is by studying for this test. Your best friend calls you and adds another perspective to your mind: "We're going to be having such a good time," he says. "You're going to be missing out!" Now your mind has two potential outcomes to ponder. Instead of staying home and studying like you were going to, you're left to contemplate whether or not you actually want to get a good grade.

Take a look at your social environment right now -- in this present moment. Are you spending your time with people who are helping you grow? It's your life. Every decision that you make in this present moment changes the course of the rest of your life. Not just your life though. You are a result of your social environment -- that also means that your social environment is a result of you. You have the power to influence your social environment. You have the power to inspire and change your social environment for the better.

You cannot change the behaviour of others by telling them that they are wrong. You must change the behaviour of others by inspiring them. Once you've made the conscious decision that you want to achieve your dreams then inspire people around you to do the same. Hold each other accountable to pushing in the direction of progress.

Are you being encouraged to follow your dreams or discouraged? Is your social environment helping you grow or helping you fail?

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