After my interview on Fabriq’s Wellness 3.0 podcast series I got to thinking about how to frame what’s ailing me… and all of us. And hone in on the big missing gap of Social Connection.
Today, we have found many ways to fill our time and distract our brain to fill the void of Social Connection.
Academic Research is shows that the lack of healthy social connection, some might call social isolation or loneliness, is on par with the health risks of smoking, high blood pressure, obesity and lack of exercise. In other words, being alone without meaningful connection in your life leads to depression, disease and an early death.
That’s a lot to take in. And in many ways we can sense the truth behind the data. But Why? And more importantly How to get back on track for good social connections.
The most pronounced come in three forms: unexamined values, capital markets, and our consumption choices. For this article, I will focus on values.
Societal values rewards outcomes like individual achievement (think reverence for the successful athlete or entrepreneur), status (car, home, retirement fund). None of which lead to greater connection. Furthermore, the ubiquitous acceptance of brain degrading poor social habits in the form of time spent on entertainment, phone and social media are all causing us to be less connected, less socially oriented and using our time in areas that have no redeeming value. Time that then leads us further away from seeking and being in, connection with each other. We come home tired and turn on the TV or Netflix v. calling or having tea with a friend. We wait in line at the airport scrolling through instagram v. saying hello to a fellow traveler. We dive into a video game v. spending quality time connecting with our spouse or roommates. We go deeper and deeper into isolation. And miss out on the most regenerative energy source, ever. The energy of connection.
From there we can then think about the importance placed on “hard work” from our Puritanic ancestors. Think about the phrases we use every day “I work hard to have nice things for this family” or “Man, did you see the game last night or the latest episode of GOT…” or how about “work hard, play hard” being the motto for so many in my neck of the woods, Silicon Valley. We spend our time doing these things, working hard at the cost of our own mental and physical health and miss entirely the deepest human need of socializing. We prioritize our accomplishments and hard work, as a replacement community identity. Where we gain our sense of identity and social worth from how successful we are at participating in these hard work efforts and outcomes.
The key is to simply spend time to examine our values. And how we are living intentionally against those newly adjusted values. And ask questions like ‘just why do I place such importance on these areas I spend my time and what I consume?”. For most that means, creating a new set of values and really thinking about what matters most, now, in their life. Then orienting our daily activities to create new habits and routines. One’s that will create more easy, joy and fulfillment. Alas, easier said than done.
To that end, let me close with 3 tips on how to get back on track to connection:
Choose One Thing Aligned with Your Revised Values
Instead of trying to get everything right in your life, try choosing just one thing. For me it was cutting out nearly all processed sugar. That alone, at meals, made me more ground and allowed me to be more easy to connect to for my wife, friends and colleagues. Others may try to meditate (see below) or maybe make an effort to join a new group or meet up. but keep it simple, and work on that one. Then once that become a routine, move on to the next.
Change Routine to Allow for New Ideas and Habits to Form
Mixing it up creates new neural pathways in your brain. Those new pathways let you tap into unused areas that can stimulate creative thinking, feelings of higher energy and curiosity and help break you from old bad habits. For example take a longer more scenic way to work. Find a new genre of music to listen to and give it time to find appreciation for it. Even small acts like saying “hello” to folks as a new way to show up when walking down the hall, street etc… this alone can be life changing.
ReConnect with Friend or Group of Friends
Seems so simple and obvious, but how many times do you (like I) say “Damn, I’ve been meaning to connect with Matt, …” and then forget once again. Making a friend, let alone a group of friends, a priority on a regular (daily/weekly) basis can help you feel more connected, grounded and really serve a need of spending quality time integrating the journey of life with another. Even if you have a spouse and kids, and time seems fleeting… creating space for these meaningful connections has proven to make the difference between feeling disenchanted or depressed about life, and feeling good about your place in the world. That simple.
Bonus Tip: Meditate
This one is a little more tricky. But to simply sit still and focus on your breath for 5 minutes in a day can ground your energy in ways that seem unfathomable to the non-meditator. Personally, I know when a day feels off or not going the way I hoped, 9 times out of ten is because I did not meditate in the morning. so, you can use headspace, calm, insight timer or other apps to help you or just breath and continuously, gently bringing your mind off the “thinking” and on to the breath (aka not thinking). Clarity and calmness shall ensue.