Improving Your Important Connections

How important to you is your relationship with your family and with your community? One of the key premises of the “Distraction” podcast is that all the chaos in our 24/7, over-connected, crazy-busy world is blocking your ability to make the true types of connections that are really important to you. Sometimes the solutions are right in front of you, and appear pretty simple when you see them. Trouble is you don’t stop to take a look enough of the time.

Here are some ideas from “Distraction” podcast host Dr. Ned Hallowell on fostering important connections in your life:

Family. Make sure you see everyone in your family of origin at least once a year and speak to everyone at least once a month, or use email or snail mail. Try to make up with family members from whom you are estranged. Don’t take “no” for an answer, either from them or from yourself! Discuss with family members how they feel about the family. Then, try to change whatever is wrong, if possible. Just naming the problem can set in motion a process of repair.

Immediate Family. Eat family dinner as often as possible. Read aloud to children every day, if you can. Have family meetings from time to time to discuss plans, problems, solutions, and goals. Limit TV, video, and computer time so that you still have time to talk to each other in person and do things together.

Friends and Community. Make a regular date to see a friend once a week. Put it in your calendar, and never cancel unless you absolutely must. Try to get to know one neighbor you don’t already know. Volunteer for some community organization, even it only means doing something once or twice a year. Call one friend you have “been meaning to” get in touch with.

Work, Mission, Activity. Resolve to make your workplace more connected. Then, do what seems appropriate. Speak to your boss if that seems right, speak to co-workers, or simply take steps—like asking how things are going, or putting up pictures of the last staff party—that can create a more connected atmosphere. Take trivial contact seriously. Smile in the elevator, don’t just stare up at the floor numbers. Say hello at the water cooler. Make eye contact and give a nod as you pass someone in the corridor. Be pleasant even to those people you don’t know. Make time, even only a half-hour a week, for a non-work activity you love but neglect—like playing an instrument, growing a garden, reading a novel, or cooking a new recipe. Go speak to people in person, rather than using email, now and then. Human moments, though less efficient, create much for positive feelings than electronic ones.

Ideas and Information. Recognize that fear is the worst problem when it comes to developing a solid connection to ideas and information. Work within yourself, or with a friend, teacher, or counselor to put aside fear. Remember, the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask. Limit how much information you try to digest each week. If you try to take in everything, you will get overwhelmed. Consult with experts in areas you feel unqualified. Let yourself play with ideas. Important ideas often start off as impractical notions or even whims.

Institutions and Organizations.Join one volunteer organization you believe in and attend its meetings regularly. The MacArthur Foundation study showed that this is one of the main factors that is associated with a long life. Find out the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of your elected representatives, both local, state, and national. If you call the reference desk of your local library, the person there can help you in finding this information. Once you have the names of these people, get in the habit of contacting them when you have a concern. If you have children in school, get to know their teacher or teachers. Take your children down to city hall. Explain to them how your town or city works. On different outings, take them to the fire department, the police station, the local library, the hospital, and maybe on a tour of a large business if there is one in your area. Speak up in the institutions and organizations that matter to you. Try to encourage others to do the same. Apathy and disengagement are the great enemies of connection.

The Connection to Yourself. Practice being good to yourself. This starts with giving yourself permission to do so. Remember, being good to yourself is not the same thing as being selfish. Indeed, if you are good to yourself, you will be better equipped to help others. If there is a part of yourself you would like to change, make a plan to do so. Try to keep in touch with your creative side. And be real. You are not the same person with everyone, but you can always be genuine in a given context. Being fake is a sure way to disconnect from yourself. Pretty soon, you don’t know who you are. On the other hand, genuine connection may be the greatest pleasure life has to offer.

Listen to the “Distraction” podcast on iTunes.

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