Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships. What makes them last, how we can enjoy more fulfilling connections, how to repair broken ones, taking responsibility for getting our emotional needs met, how to adjust expectations and thoughts about another’s behaviour to avoid conflict and stress, self-care in times of difficulty, ways to build trust and respect etc. Aargh…so much to think about!
It’s important to prioritise human connection to develop healthy relationships for many reasons. Not least because as human beings we are inherently social animals and feeling isolated and lonely is a stress factor that poses a health risk that’s apparently comparable to smoking or obesity. Also, the stress from toxic relationships can contribute to chronic disease when it persists over time.
Extensive studies show that social support is critical for long term health and psychological wellbeing. When we are connected and supported, we tend to perform better and enjoy life more.
You may have heard about people who live in The Blue Zones. Five specific places in the world where people are living considerably longer, healthier and happier lives. Okinawa, an island southwest of Japan, has more centenarians than most. One of the lifestyle characteristics they claim is key to their longevity and vitality is having a secure, social network, (traditionally known as a Moai). It’s a group of people who commit to providing mutual support and respect. In all five blue zones social connectedness is an integral part of the culture.
Closer to home, a study commissioned by BBC experts ‘The Surprising Benefits of Talking to Strangers’, suggests that extremely happy individuals have strong social relationships and support. Nicholas Epley, Professor of Behavioural Science at the University of Chicago conducted various experiments asking people (introverts and extroverts) to strike up conversations with strangers. The findings revealed that, despite peoples’ misgivings, when we reach out, with good intentions, it has a positive impact on our wellbeing as both parties feel happier.
So…assuming you would like to enjoy more than the average 30k days in a lifetime, and that your health and happiness is important to you, there are some very worthwhile benefits to making relationship building a priority.
What kind of relationships do you have in different areas of your life? What is the quality of these relationships? Do you have lots of contacts but few connections? Are there any relationships that would benefit from some additional care and attention? Are you overdrawn in your ‘goodwill account’ with anyone?
Here’s a few questions that may provoke some further thought on the topic. Some will be more relevant than others, depending upon whether it’s a personal or professional relationship that you have in mind.
- What are you doing to foster community and social connection – without screens?
- What part are you playing in creating or maintaining dysfunctional relationships, be they between partners, colleagues, parents and children, siblings or other family members?
- What action can you take to resolve the challenges?
- What assumptions are you making about another person that stops you from connecting? (e.g. they won’t like me, they won’t want to engage/won’t be interested, or they won’t react well). How are you using your imagination to limit yourself in your relationships?
- Are these assumptions true, or (possibly/certainly) untrue? What actual (versus imagined) evidence do you have to support them?
- What are your expectations of other people? Are you expecting them to meet all your needs? Are you expecting/waiting for them to change their behaviour? Are your expectations keeping you disconnected?
- Where’s your focus? Is it expecting success, avoiding failure, or expecting failure? Is it rooted in the past (‘I’ve never been good with people’), the present moment or in the future (‘they probably won’t agree to it’)?
- Are you finding fault, blaming and complaining? Are you wearing the victim T-shirt and using victim language?
- Are you people-pleasing and feeling compromised, resentful or stressed?
- What is your motivation when interacting with others – to give, in order to receive? Are you relying on your status (e.g. as a manager) for co-operation or building your stature?
- Do you have your own sense of purpose, identity and interests outside of the relationship i.e. you are interdependent? Or are you independent or dependent?
There are plenty of tools in the Winning Edge training that can help us become better connected, for personal and professional purposes. At the heart of these tools is an understanding of what motivates others; what values, emotional needs and principles drive their decisions and choices. Asking some great questions and showing genuine interest will help you understand their mental map of the world and enable you to build trust and respect. Without this, there is no meaningful, lasting connection or likelihood of support. By adopting the Winning Edge principles of communication, you will find other people more willing to co-operate and collaborate.
You’ll be building your own Moai and adding years to your life – what’s not to like about that?
By Hazel Morley
About the Author: Hazel has worked as a Trainer, Facilitator and Coach for over 25 years, a number of which were spent as an Associate for Mancroft International. She believes in an inside-out approach to personal development and change and thrives on helping others who are ready to exercise their response-ability for being the best version of themselves. Her mantra is ‘always do what you think you might regret not doing’.
Hazel transformed her lifestyle in 2009, when she relocated to beautiful British Columbia, Canada. She gives credit to the Winning Edge principles for the nudge to move to the mountains. Since living in Canada, Hazel has expanded her portfolio of enabling others to achieve their career goals to include ways to create optimal health and live with vitality. She is fascinated by the power of the mind-body-lifestyle connection and the body’s innate ability to protect and heal us from disease.