How Well Do You Connect to Your World?

Deep human connection is…the purpose and the result of a meaningful life—and it will inspire the most amazing acts of love, generosity, and humanity. — Melinda Gates

We are living in a world which spends a lot of time and energy focused on “connecting”. When you think of “connecting,” what comes to your mind first? Number in order of what you do most often:

___”connecting to phone, texts or emails”
___”connecting with news media”
___”connecting” to work”?
___”connecting to favorite social media sites?”
___”connecting to one or more family members?”
___”connecting to a friend?”
___”connecting with a pet?”
___”connecting with nature?”
___”connecting with literature/books?”
__ “connecting with yourself?”
___ other _____________________________________________

Now describe what “connecting” means to you in order of importance:
___a way of staying in touch with people in your life
___a way of keeping current with local and/or national news
___a way of getting information that will help in your work
___a way of getting information that will help in taking control at home
___a way of building friendships
___a way of improving relationships you value
___a way of having an active social life
___a way of learning more about yourself
___a way of bringing more personal satisfaction and meaning to your life

“Connections” are a basic function of human existence. Without them, in whatever form they take, we feel isolated, unfulfilled, and invisible.

How do you define what a “healthy” connection is?

Whether it is a friend or relative, when you just feel good being with that person, you feel accepted for who you are, each of you feels valued, interesting, and interested in each other, you look forward to spending time together, and you would really miss them if you were no longer in each other’s lives. You feel you are a better person for having a relationship with them.

I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” ― Brené Brown

There are many ways we make connections with others in addition to what is described above:

1. Think about your role models, your heroes, people who Inspire you. You may not have ever met them or had any personal contact, but you feel connected to them. You may feel that connection because they represent traits or actions that you aspire to—they are at least in part, who you would like to be, or are doing things in which you find value, meaning and purpose.

2. There are also the people you feel connected to because you relate to their struggles, life circumstance, or challenges. They make you feel you are not alone in your experience.

3.Then there are the people you feel connected to because you see yourself in them—they have similar values, attitudes, perspectives, and approaches to life.

4. Finally, there are the people with whom you share a common interest. It might be a love of reading, music, poetry, sports, or any other favorite activity of yours. Your common interest provides you with conversation, perspectives and perhaps even values.

Examples 2, 3, and 4 are in effect, a validation of yourself. If someone else experiences life in a similar way to you, then you’re not all bad/crazy/off base. It’s an antidote to the loneliness and isolation you may feel mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. Also, when you can share things you find exciting, interesting, or meaningful, it enhances those feelings and increases the bond between you and the other person.

As connected as we are with technology, it’s also removed us from having to have human connection, made it more convenient to not be intimate. –Sandra Bullock

We need connections to both our outer world and our inner world. When you look at your responses to the above, how much attention do you pay to your outer world: everything outside of your private thoughts and feelings, and how much attention do you pay to your inner world—getting to know yourself better?

For most people, it is far more comfortable to focus on the outer world. It is easier, a quicker path to feeling a sense of satisfaction and control over your life.

The question is, how well is it working? Do you find yourself feeling fulfilled and content? Or is that somewhat elusive, so you keep doing more of what you do, in hopes of achieving more reward or satisfaction? And the more you do it, the more you avoid and neglect using and/or developing your other social skills. Then it becomes increasingly more difficult to connect with others on an in-person basis, which only reinforces your dependence on your devices, because you are losing your interpersonal skills and certainly not developing any new skills. It becomes a vicious cycle. And, like any dependency, the more often and longer you engage in the activity, the harder it is to break the chain.

There are of course, benefits to social media—it can give you the ability to connect with people you might not have any other access to. It can also help you have some interaction when you are confined to your home, or have other limitations to contact with others.

The question is, how do you use your social media? Do you use it mainly for the above reasons, or for other reasons, such as avoidance of social interaction due to feeling insecure, because you are bored, or to avoid attending to other situations that may be uncomfortable or unpleasant?

So where do you go from here? Do you read this article and dismiss it because you tell yourself this isn’t you? Does it make you feel uncomfortable? If so, what about it is unsettling to you? Do you recognize at least parts of yourself and find ways to get too busy to think about it or even contemplate doing something about it? Do you simply disconnect yourself from your own reality?

What else can you do to create better and more rewarding connections with others? Would you like to have more meaningful relationships, become a role model for others—your family members, your friends, or even people you don’t know? If so, what do you need to do to make that happen?

In case you are interested: here some ways you can improve and develop more meaningful connections—with others and yourself and to find ways to get more comfortable connecting with others:

1. Gradually start to spend less time on your tech devices—once a day, pick up the phone instead of sending a text or email. Or send a written note instead of an email, especially if it’s to thank someone. Also, wait—20 minutes, an hour, or even a day, to respond to texts or emails unless it is truly in need of immediate attention.

2. Once a day, leave your phone in another room or otherwise not easily inaccessible (with ringer silenced) when you are with family, friends or other people. Do that for an hour or more, if you can tolerate it.

3. Notice when you start to feel anxious or nervous about not having your phone with you, and ease your anxiety by writing something down that you might be wanting to text, and what is making you feel anxious. Or at the very least, engage in another activity—even doing jumping jacks!

4. When you are at the market, say hello or strike up a conversation with the person In front of you or in back of you in line, and/or the check-out person.

5. Every day, express appreciation to someone for something they have said or done.

6. If you are out for a run or walk, say hello to everyone who passes you.

7. If you notice someone having difficulty with packages or crossing the street, offer to help.

8. If you notice someone reading a book or engaging in an activity, ask them how they enjoy what they are doing—without interrupting or interfering.

9. In conversations, practice asking open-ended questions, that can’t be answered yes or no. And avoid asking “why” and instead say something like: “I’m curious how you became interested in that subject.” Or, “Can you tell me more about your project, interest, etc.”

10. Practice acknowledging others’ feelings: “That must have been challenging for you.” “I can see that you’re sad/upset/frustrate/excited, I’d like to hear more so I can understand better.” Avoid saying, “I know just how you feel.” Better to say, this must be so difficult I can’t imagine how you must feel.” “If you’re willing please tell me more.”

11. If you feel the other person is receptive and trustworthy, share something personal with them—but not too personal, that is appropriate to the situation. Express a time when you were scared, embarrassed, or made a mistake.

12. If appropriate, offer to accompany a friend or relative to any activity they are interested in—unless you would know you would hate it! And give yourself a chance to be exposed to something new that you might even enjoy!

Pay attention to how you feel when you are doing any of the above activities. Some discomfort is likely if you haven’t done any of these things for a while, if ever! Notice what other feelings you have—of feeling good, more engaged, less depressed, less anxious, etc.

Only through our connectedness to others can we really know and enhance the self.
And only through working on the self can we begin to enhance our connectedness to others.
Harriet Lerner

I’d very much like to hear your reactions and/or comments on this topic.

Feel free to share this with anyone you think might be interested—perhaps someone you’d like to get more connected to!