You call up a friend to get together. They sound like a foghorn and can hardly talk because they’re coughing so much. Do you go out of your way to hurry and get together right then so you can expose yourself to their crud? Probably not.
Similarly, did you know that just like you can catch a germ from someone, you can also “catch” emotions and behavioral attitudes, a phenomenon known as social or emotional contagion? The people with which you surround yourself can heavily influence your outlook, values, emotions, and behaviors which can work for or against you.
People who are peaceful, positive, or motivated help you to feel similarly. I’ll bet you can think of a special person who makes you feel as if you can do anything and the possibilities are endless whenever you talk to them. On the other hand, there are those people who are negative, reactive, or low energy which rubs off on you as well. These emotional vampires seem to have a cloud follow them wherever they go, and they suck the energy right out of a room and zap yours.
In situations where you can choose, you will benefit greatly by consciously deciding what kind of people with which you surround yourself. This simple act can change your world. You can immerse yourself in a group of people who lift you up, give you energy, support you, help you see a more positive perspective, encourage you to be a better person, and aid you in achieving your dreams. Conversely, you can hang around people who complain, gossip, worry, bring you down, and encourage you to waste your time and resources.
Now, obviously in some situations, like work or family, you aren’t able to pick and choose, but even in these environments you can limit your interaction with negative people to no more than is necessary or consciously refuse to take on their negativity.
By adopting a more positive crowd and perspective, you can actually train and mold your brain over time because of neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to physically change in response to experiences, social and emotional interactions, and even thoughts. A study in 2010 at the University of Michigan showed that simply talking pleasantly with people had short-term mental benefits to executive functioning similar to playing brain games. However, when participants engaged in conversations having a competitive tone, they showed no cognitive benefits.
Being one of those emotional vampires, I used to have a sour attitude, had perfected the victim role, and surrounded myself with people who reinforced my views of the world. When I whined about how unfair my life was, they chimed right in sympathizing with my troubles. In fact, I didn’t like people who challenged my perspective, encouraged me to see things differently, or didn’t sympathize with me because I thought they were callous and uncaring. Since, I’ve learned that there’s a difference between sympathy and empathy.
As the new me began to take shape after a brain injury, I left these negative nellies behind. It’s not that they were bad people, but I just couldn’t afford to have anyone in my life who wasn’t a positive, encouraging influence. I needed all the hope and support I could get.
I’m diligent and serious about surrounding myself with positive people today. My time, energy, and attitude are my most valuable resources and the tools with which I create my life. If someone cannot add to my life in a positive way, they aren’t in my life any more than absolutely necessary.
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