'Rich relationships' can be life-changing—here's how to make them, says author who studies millionaires

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You are a product of who you associate with, says Tom Corley.

Corley, an accountant, financial planner and author of "Rich Kids: How to Raise Our Children to Be Happy and Successful in Life," spent five years studying . He surveyed 233 wealthy individuals on their daily habits and compared them with the habits of 128 lower earners. Then, he documented 334 key aspects that separate the rich from the poor.

Rich people have "rich relationships," he says in the book. Poor people have "poor relationships," and they can be damaging.

"We are only as successful as the people we spend the most time with. Wealthy, successful people associate primarily with other wealthy, successful people," he says. "Poor people associate primarily with other poor people."

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In rich relationships, by Corley's definition, the people involved aren't, or aren't merely, wealthy. They "are happy. They are successful," Corley explains. And they have their right attitude. "They are positive, upbeat and optimistic. They don't gossip, and "they inspire others by encouraging and motivating them to pursue their goals and dreams."

In poor relationships, though, people are unhappy. "They are negative, down and pessimistic. They have a 'poor, poor me' victim attitude," Corley adds. "They don't take personal responsibility for their circumstances in life."

If you want to stay out of poverty, you need to change who you associate with, Corley says. And there are five specific steps you can take to get there:

Make a list

List all of your relationships. On a notepad, list all of your relationships in one column, i.e., mom, brother, best friend, co-worker.

Pick out the "influence relationships"

In the next column, identify how much time you spend with each person. Those you spend more than an hour a week with are what's known as "influence relationships." These can have either a positive or negative influence on you.

Score your relationships

In a third column, put a plus sign next to each name that you consider a rich relationship and put a minus sign next to the poor relationships.

Tip the seesaw

Make a plan to limit time you spend with your poverty relationships to less than one hour a week, if you can, and increase the time you spend with your rich relationships to more than an hour a week.

Find even more rich relationships

Make a list of individuals you may or may not know, who are not on your list, but who fall into the rich relationship category. Join a networking, civic or nonprofit group, Corley says.

Reach out to people to grab a coffee or a drink. "These casual get-togethers are actually the most effective way to grow your relationships," he says.

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More than half of your relationships should be rich ones, Corley says.

"Think about each relationship as a tree. Every time you communicate and interact with your relationships, you grow the roots to your relationship tree deeper. You want each tree to be the size of a redwood at the end of your life."

Billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett agree. They for a quarter century and they say that, by choosing the right group of friends, you can push yourself to achieve bigger professional goals.

"You will move in the direction of the people that you associate with," Buffett says.

"Some friends do bring out the best in you," Gates adds, "and it's good to invest in those friendships."

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