Jun 23, 2009
The 5 People Who Secretly Control Your Life
When you realize how many of your personal preferences are based on nothing more than other people’s views of “acceptable,” it becomes a scary wake up call for setting your own standards. You don’t want to reach the end of your life realizing that you let somebody else program you to be a “good dog.”
But what you may not realize is just how many people influence your life, feeding you ideas about what is “right,” “wrong,” “good,” “bad,” and practically every other subjective decision making criteria that guides your life. Some of these ideas are good for you , while others are bad. (See what I did there? Hopefully you’re not taking my word for that! )
Whether someone’s influence on you is bad or good isn’t up to me to decide – you’ve got to make the call for yourself. But chances are you’re not aware of how much external programming you’re soaking in. In fact, there are more people than you’d like to admit secretly controlling your life by influencing how you make your most important, life-guiding choices. I say “secretly” because we generally don’t even acknowledge that it’s going on.
Let’s look at seven types of people who contribute ingredients to your daily decision making processes, and let awareness do its work in you.
#1 – Your Heroes
The Good: I’m all for having heroes – those powerful people (real or fictional) who you want to emulate so you can become the person you want to be (if indeed, that’s who you have consciously chosen to become). Focusing on how a hero would handle your situation can help you detach from unnecessary emotional baggage and focus on doing what needs to be done (despite how small you feel sometimes).
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been able to cut through the emotional clutter and make a good decision simply by asking myself, “How would (name) handle this?” or “What would (name) think was most important?” Taking on some of your heroes’ attitudes and views can be a powerful way to overcome emotional resistance.
The Bad: Heroes are often one-dimensional – whether they’re real or fictional. We tend to put people on a pedestal and think because they are amazing in one sense that all their other capacities are flawless. But they’re people just like we are, and they have their own failings. When you emulate heroes, you have to be very careful not to absorb the bad with the good.
Case in point: When I was a teenager I found a very strong role model who was a shining example of hard work, being positive, doing things that supported others in the community and expressing gratitude for life and family. I made sure to emulate a great deal from him.
But on the flip side, I was acutely aware that as a result of his upbringing, his attitudes towards other races were not as they should have been. I winced at racially tinged comments and made a mental note not to absorb this part of his personality. I took the good, and resisted the bad.
Bottom line: You have heroes. They influence you. Make sure that you are consciously selective in how they influence you.
#2 – Your Nemesis
Chances are you may have a nemesis, even if you’re not a superhero with a secret identity. Your nemesis can be someone who you want to be like (but whom you’re jealous toward) or someone you’re feeling directly pitted against (such as a neighbor or relative who constantly one-ups you).
We all like to feel like we’re above such things, but we’re not. There’s always someone you’re just a little bit jealous of or whom you’re consistently badgered by in regards to your progress or status. This influences your focus and choices, whether you want it to or not.
The Good: Sometimes a nemesis is good for you – constantly keeping you on your toes and staying one step ahead of you, making you hungry to be, do, and have the things they are having. Maybe they’re closer to the weight/income/whatever you want to be and you’re jealous – so you commit to taking focused action in order to catch up. You may be accessing a petty emotion (jealousy), but it’s driving you to do something constructive.
One positive “nemesis” to have is someone on the same side as you are – such as a teammate or co-worker, where the healthy competition creates a positive net result for your side. Each success of theirs triggers your own sense of drive to equal or surpass them. You may both be battling for first place, but there’s no real shame in coming in second because your side wins.
The Bad: It’s easy to play the sucker to a nemesis. Often, you’ll generate huge amounts of stress trying to have what they have, and you can make same pretty stupid decisions in the name of keeping up with them. You can become extremely petty, burn bridges and actually have a negative impact on the people around you in your quest to never let your nemesis get the best of you. You become reactive (to their decisions) instead of proactive (making your own choices).
Worse yet, it’s all too common to let a fierce competitive drive push you to expend a huge amount of personal energy and focus into winning, without ever asking yourself if the prize itself is worth it. You may devote years of your life trying to climb one rung higher on a ladder that’s leaning against the wrong wall.
Bottom line: Be very careful when it comes to being jealous – or feeling a personal sense of threat – when it comes to the success of someone else. It’s a slippery slope that can leave you chasing after a set of standards that aren’t truly your own, simply because you want to be “like them.”
#3 – Your Parents
There’s no denying that your parents are a major source of your attitudes and beliefs, even if that idea makes your skin crawl. From a very early age, you were spoon-fed the foundations of what you were to consider right and wrong, and you either accepted it or rebelled against it (or in rare cases, actually reasoned out your own beliefs).
There’s nothing accusatory in that statement – it just is. Our parents’ job is to mold us into people who can function independently, and we take a lot of that conditioning without questioning it.
The Good: Hopefully your parents established positive, uplifting standards in your life. If they were absent for whatever reason, hopefully you found a positive role model. Parents can be a powerful force in helping you mature, guiding you around some of the foolish pitfalls you might otherwise have to experience on your own.
You should definitely look at your parents (or parent figures) as guides who can teach you the wisdom they learned through painful trial and error. Most of the time they (hopefully) will genuinely look out for you and keep your best interests at heart, and that’s worth modeling.
The Bad: Since our parents are the first authority figures we come to know, we tend to put them on a pedestal early in life, thinking they know absolutely everything about life. That means some of our basic beliefs, opinions and life direction are stamped from their mold. But their mold may not even be remotely right for our lives, because it carries the baggage of their individual lives (and that of their parents).
Sometimes this means you’re conditioned to believe in scarcity. Sometimes it’s cynicism, or racism, or sexism, or whatever kind of -ism dominated their formative years. It’s hard to stomach, but in some cases we may have had parents who just plain indifferent to creating a fulfilling life or sadder yet, wanted to be better role models but just didn’t know how. Their limiting beliefs may – when transferred to you – be what’s holding you back.
Bottom line: A lot of who you are is shaped by who your parents were, so it’s critically important that you ask yourself if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. If it’s good and lends you strength, keep it. If it’s bad and transmits weakness to you, break the habit.
#4 – Your Partner
Your partner is someone you spend an extraordinary amount of time with, and from an emotional standpoint is likely one of the strongest influences on your life. And because our fear of being rejected by (or disappointing) our partners is such a powerful force, it can easily make us adjust our personal standards in ways we would never have done on our own.
The Good: In many cases, opposites attract (because hell, wouldn’t being around someone just like us make us bored – or crazy?). This means that your partner likely has many strengths you don’t, which can be a catalyst in making us want to raise our standards to match them – especially if they are particularly demanding of them.
For example, I’ve always been a very logically-oriented, “rugged individual” kind of person, which has served me extraordinarily well in personal development, engineering and business. On the other hand, that means I’ve spent the bulk of my life around other “rugged individuals,” so I’ve have a much harder time relating with people who operate from a more empathetic, feelings/relationship standpoint.
But that’s exactly how my wife Alison operates – she’s highly tuned to “get” what other people are feeling and thinking, and what’s on their mind emotionally. What this means is her standards – which involve understanding what people need rather than just what they are doing – influence me to do the same.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been struggling with some parenting issue, trying for an hour to make my 5 year old “do” something he’s supposed to, and she’s swept in and taken care of the issue within 60 seconds. I watch her connect empathetically with our kid, and it teaches me a new (and better) way of handling the situation in the future. I could give a hundred examples of how she does this, but this blog is called Rock Your Day, not My Wife Rocks, so I’ll leave it at this one.
A good partner complements you, opening your eyes to new ways of thinking, behaving and just being. Witnessing their standards can positively mold your own.
The Bad: Because we spend so much time around our partners, and we want to be on good terms with them, we can begin to experience entrainment - we are likely fall into the same patterns they have. If their standards are not as strong as ours, that can bring us down to their level. (And it works both ways – you might be the negative force on them!)
This can create a strong negative pattern that’s hard to break, because once the two of you have relaxed your standards, it’s more difficult to generate the desire to snap out of it and break free. Your new, lowered standards become “normal.” The two of you may not even realize that you’re drifting downward.
And it may not even be intentional. Your partner (or you, if you’re a negative influence on them) may not even be consciously choosing to lower their standards. They may have simply become sidetracked by life, as we all are, and let one standard slide so that they could focus on what’s more important in the moment. God knows we’ve all done the same thing.
The challenge there is once the standard is relaxed, it often doesn’t ever get strengthened again. So you need to be vigilant and proactive in keeping the standards you want in place (or raising them back to where they were if you’ve let them slide). It’s not easy, but it’s tragic when it doesn’t get done.
A quick note on this: I’ve heard a lot of people talk about having to distance themselves from “negative people,” and they take that to mean they ditch their partners and family members. There’s a fine line there. While I’m 100% behind separating yourself from someone who is dead-set on being consciously abusive to you or who is invincibly poisonous to your well-being, I think that some people use this as a crutch to justify giving up on people who are simply difficult to deal with.
Some people say that their partners are “always negative” or “a pain” or even “unwilling to change.” If you’re thinking along the same lines, I challenge you get brutally honest and ask yourself if the real problem is that they’re simply mirroring your standards? I know that in my life, I tend to get most frustrated with people who – wait for it – demonstrate my own weaknesses. It’s crazy. It’s also human nature, because I see it in others all the time.
If you have a partner who you feel has lower standards than yours, may I suggest that you entertain the possibility that you’re in the position to be a positive influence? It’s not the easy way out, I know, but it may just be the challenge they’re secretly waiting for you to take up, but are too shy to ask.
Bottom line: Your partner and you control each other’s lives more than you probably acknowledge. Use that power over their standards for good, and not evil (or worse yet, indifference). And if your partner’s standards are dragging you down, don’t make ditching them your first option – instead, lock in a core group of friends who have higher standards so you can keep yours up, and raise your partner up in the process.
#5 – The Man (Or Woman) In The Mirror
This may be the hardest person to fight back against you’ll ever meet – the person who you imagine is looking at you from the other side of the mirror. We are our own worst critics – constantly sizing ourselves up in ways that we’d never judge other people while at the same time resisting the acceptance of positive messages as “not a big deal.” Many of us can’t stand to face the person staring at us in the bathroom mirror (and some people even remove mirrors from their house entirely because their self-loathing is so strong).
This is a tough one. This is all about looking at our self image, our identity, the mish-mash of opinions, feelings, and baggage we carry and really asking ourselves how it all comes together. The truly frightening thing is that for so many of us our self-image is a prison, yet it’s the single thing we have total control of in our life.
The Good: That morning mirror check can be a mini-accountability session that you experience every day, if you focus on who you want that person in the mirror to be. When you consciously decide to raise your standards – or simply stick to the ones you have – you get to look yourself straight in the eye and ask if you’re holding up your end of the bargain.
If you’re focusing on your successes – the things you’ve done right in your life, the good decisions you’ve made and the lives you’ve impacted (even if it is only one life) – then looking into the mirror will strengthen you. It will become an exercise in celebrating your victories and steeling yourself for even greater challenges in the future.
And if you’re shuddering at that notion because you view congratulating yourself as narcissistic, or egotistical, or self-centered, get over it. Your playing small does not serve the world. If you build yourself up on a daily basis, you will be in a better position to be a positive influence on others. I give this example a lot, but it’s like the safety cards on airplanes show – when you take the oxygen mask and put it over your face first, then you can help take care of other people.
This isn’t about saying, “I’m the greatest, people should be impressed by me” – it’s about saying “I have a lot going for me and I should feel really uplifted by it.”
The Bad: The mirror can be the scariest thing in the world if you’ve been conditioned to look down on yourself (whether by parental criticism, bad experience, or those damned beauty magazines). You look in the mirror and you judge yourself – you’re not pretty/thin/attractive enough, you’re a loser/fraud/sham, you’re not anywhere close to where you wanted to be at this point in your life. Every failure you’ve experienced (or imagined!), every harsh word or insult you’ve received, it all comes back to you in a rush of depression as you see that tired face in the mirror.
Now it may be just me, but that sounds like the height of self-centeredness. To hold on to every negative impression about ourselves as tightly as possible and refuse to let go, because we are so convinced that we are terrible people … it’s borderline insanity, and yet it’s what every single one of us does on a daily basis, to one degree or another.
And if you think “successful” people are above that sort of thing, think again. If anything, it’s more acute, because they’re generally exposed to even more people who judge them (sometimes fairly, sometimes just out of spite, and sometimes very publicly). No matter what your position in life, you’re going to have ample “reasons” to beat yourself up.
But holding on to these “reasons” is not in your best self interest (or in the interest of those who you can influence positively). It locks you into a downward spiral of resentment that some people never pull their way out of.
If that describes you, then you need to start pulling yourself out of that spiral, because no one can do it for you. And while that may seem like an impossible task, it starts with a simple act of self-defense:
The next time you pass a mirror, look straight into it and no matter how you feel about yourself in the moment, say these words: “I refuse to give up on you. That’s my standard.”
You probably won’t feel anything different the first time you do this – or the second, or even the tenth. But if you stick with it, you’ll begin conditioning yourself to pull out of the emotional hole you’ve dug, and start making the changes in standards and behavior that will improve your self-image. When you tell yourself you’re worth fighting for, eventually you will fight – and you’ll ultimately win. Just don’t give up. You are worth it.
Bottom line: Nobody is going to fight your inner battles for you, so you have to do it yourself. You have the power to set a new standard where you actively build yourself up on a daily basis and stop beating yourself up – but only if you choose to.
The Choice Is Yours – Program Yourself Or Be Programmed By Others
Other people wield an enormous influence on your standards on a daily basis. If you’re not consciously deciding to filter that influence, you’re setting yourself up to become a puppet pulled by strings you can’t even see.
Increase your awareness, and increase your personal power over your life – and when you look in the mirror, you’ll like what you see more, day after day.