May I continue to acknowledge what is true: that relationships are my way into health and happiness, even as I walk in a world that is no longer oriented to this knowing. Money, productivity, and appearances often tempt me to think they point to my happiness, but I will remember that they are but empty promises-- ladders leaning against walls pretending to be paths. Instead of chasing other things with only hopes of someday using those things to feel loved, I choose to remember that I can simply go straight to the love I desire to create. I don't have to do more to impress, earn more to woo, or become more to be lovable. I am enough. May I be patient with myself and others as we continue to awaken to this truth. We forgot. We fell asleep. We got distracted. We lifted our gaze off our tribes, our communities, our families, and our friends-- we got caught up in the chase, the busy-ness, the pursuing, the grabbing, the climbing, and the achieving. May I be gentle with myself as I practice prioritizing people and may I be forgiving with others who don't yet remember.
Do you feel like you barely have enough energy for your spouse and kids, let alone your friendships? Do you feel guilty leaving your kids to go spend time with friends?
Do you struggle with the difference between friendships with moms vs. non-moms?
Do your kids not like the kids of your friends; or do you not like the moms of your kids' friends?
When it comes to combining motherhood and friendship there is a lot of new territory to navigate!
I get asked these questions so frequently that I decided to turn the camera on and let it run while I gave in-depth answers to these questions. I hope that this video helps you prioritize your friendships in a way that feels good and meaningful to you!
p.s. Please feel free to share other tips and/or questions in the comments!
I love few things as much as gathering women together. There's often more laughter in groups and more diverse sharing and feedback. Plus, it also saves time being able to connect with a handful of friends at once, and it's more of a sure thing even if 1-2 people end up not being able to come. But there are so many kinds of groups to start! Your first question to answer is: What do I want the focus of the group?
- Our Lives: This is one of my favorites-- basically we know that we are getting together in order to stay in touch, support each other, and invest in our relationships. We are the subject and ideally each person has time to share with everyone else what matters most in her life right now. These groups should be started when you primarily want to bond by sharing your lives with each other.
- A Theme/Subject: This category is one of the most popular types of groups because it includes such things as book clubs, support groups, entrepreneurs circles, mom's groups, Bible study groups, and political gatherings. These groups should be started when you primarily want mental stimulation, resonance in shared interests, and advice or support in a specific area.
- An Activity: This category of group is primarily for gatherings where an activity is the focus whether it be a cooking club, a dining out group, a hiking group, or a group dedicated to training for an event. These groups should be started when you primarily want support/accountability in doing an activity, to experience new things, meet people with similar activity interests, desire more fun and socializing in your life, or to expand our horizons.
Of course there can be some cross-over, but it's important to be clear what desire is prompting your group. If the focus is on hiking then one is less likely to leave feeling disappointed if no one asked her about her life, or if the focus is a mom's support group then we can put less attention to coming up with new activities and changing locations and devote more planning to conversations that matter to mothers. Knowing the priority serves as a filter for planning!
Another question that must be answered: Who is this group for?
- Is there an ideal size? A minimum? A cap? If it's conversation-based it may help to be small enough to give time to everyone to share. If it's meal-based, do you want everyone to fit around a table? If it's networking based then maybe the more the merrier?
- Is there something that everyone has to have in common in order to attend? Do they need to live in the neighborhood, have kids, or attend a certain church?
- Is this an open or closed group? Can attendees invite others to come with them? Do you want to keep meeting people or go deeper with the same people?
- What level of commitment is needed? Can attendees simply come when they want or is the intention that they come regularly?
I'll make a note to write more specific blog posts addressing some of the different types of groups since they will each have different needs. But here are some of my overall tips:
- If you already have a few specific people in mind that you want participating-- then invite them to give input to such questions as 1) What type of group interests you the most? 2) Do you have others you'd like to invite? 3) Knowing we'll feel closer the more often we meet-- how frequently would you be willing to commit?
- Unless the focus is specifically to "try new restaurants in the city" or "explore new hiking trails" then keep the location as consistent and easy as possible. Every time you "switch" places it takes more brainstorming, planning, and communicating; plus attendees will be more likely to cancel if it feels like it will take a lot of energy.
- Similarly, come up with a "routine" and repeat it as often as possible. People want to know what is expected of them and what to expect. My girls group "routine" is to chit-chat and catch-up while everyone arrives and before we put dinner on the table, but once we all have food on our plates then we switch gears to "going around the circle and each person sharing their highlight/lowlight." Maybe your book club talks about the book and then ends with mingling? Or is it the other way around? Aim for consistency.
- Keep the dates set even if someone can't attend. Groups turn into a logistical mess when we start trying to change dates to accommodate different people. In general, it's best when the group can set their dates ahead of time (either the same day/time every week/month OR set their dates far enough out as a group so that everyone can plan around them) and then stick to them. Every time you change for one, you risk messing it up for another, plus add to the communication weariness.
- Make sure everyone is given time to "be seen." I'm a big fan of "going around the circle" so that each person has a chance to share--whether it's as small as an introduction before an activity or as big as giving each person 15 minutes to share on the topic of the evening.
What other tips do you have that you think would be helpful to others who are planning group gatherings?
Or, what other questions about group events do you have that I might be able to answer in a future post?
We all know how important empathy--the ability to understand and share the feelings of another--is to a friendship, but sometimes it's easier said than done!
Do you ever hear a friends complain about her finances and think, "I'd give anything to have as much money as she has! Why is she so worried?!?"
Or, hear a friend complain about gaining five pounds and just roll your eyes and think, "She's so skinny-- she has no right to complain!"
Or, listen to a single friend vent about how busy and exhausted she is, and feel like screaming, "Are you crazy? Try working full time and raising 5 kids at the same time!"
While we want our friendships to be safe places to complain and vent about our lives, the truth is that we often feel more frustrated or annoyed with our friends if we don't feel like their circumstances warrant their feelings.
Since it's impossible to be both empathetic and judgmental, watch this 3 minute video about how to show up with more of the former, even when tempted to feel the latter.
Unfortunately, many, if not most, of the people we claim as our best friends don't live near us. I haven't seen statistics to back up that claim, but since we're moving, on average, every 5 years, I think it's safe to say that chances are high that we have moved away from friends we've loved dearly. And all too often, it doesn't matter how many monthly lunches with local friends we schedule, it's hard to feel as close to them as we do with those long-distance friends with whom we once logged massive hours getting to know every day in school, at that job, or when we lived as roommates.
For those of you familiar with my 5 Circles of Friends-- I call these dear friends our "Con
firmed Friends" and they frequently reside in the middle circle because we are too intimate with them to warrant them being on the more casual left-side, but we often aren't as consistent with them as we'd need to be to feel as close to them as we do with our right-side friends. This post is about how to move them to the right, into greater frientimacy.
How to Deepen the Friendship
So what if you actually want to develop a closer relationship with these long-distance friends? What if you want to keep building the friendship, rather than just do the minimum to maintain it? What it you want to feel like you know what's going on in each others lives more often than your infrequent phone calls or more deeply than what you can read on social media?
There are three requirements to all healthy relationships, as I teach in Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness:
- Positivity: The relationship, to be meaningful and healthy, must bring more joy and satisfaction than exhaustion or stress, in fact research suggests we need to keep the ratio above 5:1.
- Consistency: The relationship, to be meaningful and healthy, must be repetitive and have some regularity to it because this developing history is what fosters our trust in each other.
- Vulnerability: The relationship, to be meaningful and healthy, must incrementally and appropriately increase in sharing as our consistency increases with each other. It is through vulnerability that we feel seen and known.
And they are just as true for long-distance friends as they are for local friends. (Bonus: They also are the same three requirements for starting friendship as they are for deepening it!)
Specific Ideas for Applying the 3 Requirements to Our Long-Distance Friendships
I can guarantee that any relationship that isn’t feeling as meaningful as we want is because at least one of these three requirements is lacking.
So how we can practice these three requirements from a distance?
- Send an encouraging card: Take 5 minutes to send a little tangible love through the postal system telling your friend why you admire her.
- Recall a good memory: Find an old photo of you and your friend that will bring a smile to your faces, and text it to her with a little note of gratitude for the history you two share.
- Refrain from giving advice: Most of the time, when we’re sharing, we just want validation and affirmation. Advice can leave us feeling judged or defensive. When you do have time to share, make a point to respond to her in a way that leaves her feeling better about who she is and how she’s navigating her life.
- Embrace texting: Even the shortest text exchange in between get-togethers reminds us gives us the sense of the other person being close. When you think of her— text her and tell her.
- Schedule a regular time to catch-up: We feel far away from long-distance friends when so much time has passed in between conversations that we’re convinced it would take hours to catch-up. Instead, see if she’s up for scheduling a reoccurring 30 minute call every 1st Monday evening of the month, or every Sunday afternoon.
- Prioritize the Slumber Parties: We don’t need as much consistency to maintain friendships as when we are building them, but it is still in time together that we can create new memories; so no matter how broke we are, or how busy we feel, we have to visit each other to protect and deepen the love we've already developed. These overnighters can be a game-changer for deepening that relationship.
- Get to the heart of the matter quickly: We may not talk to, or see, our long-distance friends as often so let’s not waste our time by asking all the typical update questions and risk us not sharing what really matters. Instead, suggest, “I know we don’t have a ton of time, but maybe we can each share one highlight and one lowlight since we’ve each see each other?” By leaving it open-ended, we give each person the chance to share in the life areas they want to, while inviting honesty.
- Risk being an "inconvenience": We so often talk ourselves out of calling each other when we feel down because we don’t want to be a burden or intrude on their busy lives, but it’s only by calling and saying “I just needed a friend” that we will feel the benefit of having a good friend, give her the permission to call when she needs, and help bond the relationship deeper by letting her help.
- Invite her "bragging": Part of vulnerability is sharing what we're proud of... this can be hard because none of us want to be seen as bragging. So make it easier and ask her: "Share with me something you're really proud of these days?"
Just because there are miles between us doesn't mean that we can't keep developing these friendships. In fact, because we've invested so much in each other at one time-- and have the benefit of already feeling close to each other-- we're smart to do everything we can to protect those investments!
What other ideas have you tried? What sounds meaningful to you?
By: Katrina Emery Katrina Emery, a freelance writer from Portland, OR, occasionally interviews a member of GirlFriendCircles and writes a guest post about their friend-making journey so we can all learn from, inspire, and encourage each other in our own quests for better friendships.
It was while she was volunteering at her local hospital that retiree Kris Trainor knew she needed to focus on friendship more. Her role was to talk and sit with people before they go into the Cath Lab, sometimes helping them fill out forms. “Many of them didn’t have anyone reliable to put as a contact on the form. This is Prescott, Arizona--we’re friendly. People know their neighbors,” she recalls. “but then I thought,
‘Who would I put down?’ And I had to admit that I needed somebody.”
After 10 years of living in Prescott Kris had plenty of acquaintances, but not many close friends. Spurred on by GirlFriendCircles, she started a group dedicated to forming new friendships for older women. They meet at her local Starbucks for an hour every single week. Consistency, one of the three requirements of friendship, is the most important thing for them, since it's hard to get to know each other or built up trust without it. And as Kris says, “consistency can be the hardest to establish with new friends” so the commitment to meet weekly has helped her group connect.
The ladies chat and share every week, using GirlFriendCircles Sharing Questions to dig deeper. Kris laughs that she often has to bring the topic back. “People want to have meaningful conversations, but they’ll drift.” To make everyone more comfortable and ease them in, she’ll often read a list of values and goals she wrote down when she started the group. “I wrote what I wanted to get out of this. It includes 1) don’t take anything personally, 2) practice being open and transparent, 3) learn to express my love and appreciation of others, and 4) be madly in love with yourself. Part of what we’re doing here is learning to be good friends with ourselves.” The first time she read it the group responded better than she thought they would, and now it’s a common way she starts. “They love it!”
It hasn’t all been easy for Kris. The group has been meeting since August, but she’s not sure she can claim any of the ladies in her Committed friends yet. “I didn’t expect it to stay this hard. I didn’t realize I’d have to be kind of like a mom, in a leadership role.” To help, she reminds herself of the natural ebbs and flows of groups, rather than take it personally. “It’s been winter lately--bad weather, sickness, holidays, and the group naturally shrinks.” Going back to her list of what she wants to gain from the group helps, too. “I figured out that I had to go back to my sheet to know what I want.” Even on her end, consistency is a must.
One of the reasons she’s committed to the group is a memory of when she moved to Prescott and was looking at other ladies’ groups. “When I asked to join, they said no!” She was shocked. Her group has committed to staying open for anyone interested in joining. “I’m serious about always remaining open to new people. We’ve got to continue to widen our personal circles.”
Because they’ve all committed to meeting every single week, they’re rapidly getting to know one another. Consistency is key, knowing that they’ll continue to see each other without having to match up schedules. Outside of their weekly meetup, the group has taken classes together at the community college. One makeup class, Kris recalls, ended up to be a thinly veiled sales pitch, but the ladies all had fun anyway and they now laugh at the experience. They’ve started planning other events amongst themselves. Kris loves that, since she doesn’t feel she has the capacity to plan more. “I couldn’t do a bigger event every month," she says, “but I know that it’s easy to get a friend to meet you for coffee.”
And that’s what she’s done, every week, consistently.
Let's cheer for Kris and encourage her as she continues this commitment! And let's take inspiration from her: What is one way you could increase the consistency (regularity/repetition/frequency) in one of your friendships?
Dear Shasta, I'm completely overwhelmed when I look at my schedule. Most of my scheduled events, in and of themselves, aren't things I would typically dread: coffee with a possible client, a call with someone who wants some advice, dinner with some friends from my husbands work, a lunch with a friend who's in town, dinner with my brother, date night, a quick happy hour with some girls I work with, weekly Sunday call with my parents, meeting a good friend for a walk; but collectively it is TOO much!
Honestly, after working with people all day, trying to stay in intermittent touch with my family members, scheduling the people in my inbox who "want to connect," and keeping up with all the networking... I don't even have the energy or time to call the people I actually want to feel the closest to.
How do I shorten the list? How do I say no?
Too Many Friends
Dearest Too Many Friends,
Let's start with the reminder that "people we're friendly with" and "people we've developed friendships with" are two different categories of people. This might actually be a case not necessarily of too many friends, but perhaps of too much socializing?
In fact, you even said it: the biggest problem is that you don't have the time for your close friends.
We have to figure out a way to say no even to people we care about, like, and consider to be friends, in some way or another, so that we have the energy to say yes to the relationships that we know sustain us,
So here's what I think we need to do:
- List the relationships you want to prioritize. Who are the friends you want to talk to often so that you really feel supported and not just scheduled with intermittent "catch-ups." Who are the relationships (including kids, spouses, parents, siblings) that are important to you to stay in touch with?
- Group them together by ideal consistency. In other words, who are the names on the list that you want to connect with daily? Weekly? Bi-weekly? Monthly? Keep in mind that the more consistent we are, the more "intimate" those relationships will feel as those are the people who will really know what's going on in your life.
- Schedule them in first. If you can find the consistent blocks of time--driving home from work, happy hour after work, lunch-- to give those people, do it! Or at least block that time off with "Call one of my closest friends."
- Then comes the really tricky part: figuring out what relationships/types of relationships you have time or energy to add in. For me, I have a second list of friends who I love and want to stay in touch with but with whom I haven't developed the intimacy/consistency that I have with my first list. I also want to leave a few slots a month for networking contacts, and a few slots for doing favors for others (i.e. a phone call for a friend of a friend). What other groups/types of relationships do you need to pay attention to? I think for us to actually look at our calendar/life and see how limited those spots are can help us be more strategic with who we give them to and how frequently we give someone one of those slots. The truth of the matter is that whether we end up feeling like we have 1 extra slot a day to give, or only one each week: we need to know it and offer it strategically and thoughtfully.
- Think through your strategy for how to decide with whom you give your extra space/time. If you don't decide then it will end up being the squeaky wheel (i.e. whoever asks the most or will be the most upset if you say no) or simply first-come, first-served. Which puts other people in charge of our schedule instead of us. Some possible questions could be: Does this person interest me? Am I clear what the objective is of why we're getting together? Do I think I can be helpful to them? Do I think they can be helpful to me? Can this be scheduled with ease (i.e. without me having to travel far?) Is this the best way to connect with this person (or can I meet them at some event I need to go? Or can it be an email instead of a get-together?)
And then comes the hard part of learning to kindly say no to everyone else. Which we simply have to do. (Here's a blog post I wrote last year about How to Say 'Not Interested' Nicely)
Our time is finite with only so many slots and its our job to make sure that the relationships that matter most to us are the ones with whom we are making time.
The most important other piece I can say is a reminder that you can't use whether it feels "good" to determine whether or not to be honest with them. For most of us, saying no to someone, or disappointing them, won't feel good. But neither will it feel good to be overwhelmed, exhausted, or unavailable for the people who fill us up the most!
This is maturity at it's best: women learning that they aren't victims of their calendar, but are in fact, in charge of them. So we if we don't like how it looks then we have the power to do life differently. But the calendar won't look any different until our behaviors reflect what we say matters most.
We all want friendships, but most of us don't even know what that means. How Do You Define Friendship?
When I ask audiences to define the word I get things like:
- "Someone you like."
- "Someone who makes you laugh."
- "Someone who's always there for you."
- "Someone who knows the worst of you and still loves you."
- "Someone you trust."
Those all sound warm-and-fuzzy, but none of those are a definition by which we can measure a relationship with another person:
- There are a lot of people I like but who haven't become my friends.
- Plenty of people make me laugh-- some I only know via TV, does that mean we're friends?
- No one is always there for me... nor am I for them... does that mean we aren't friends?
- Yes, we want to be accepted by being loved by people who know us, but if this is our litmus test then does that mean we all have to confess our worst sins before we can be friends with someone?
- Trust? Trust them to do what??? I trust the Starbucks barista not to spit in my drink-- does that make us friends?
And the dictionary doesn't help much by basically just stating that a friendship is a "relationship between friends." ha! SO helpful!
A Definition of Friendship
I've taken the liberty to create a working definition of friendship (based on compiling/summarizing the research of many sociologists and psychologists) so we can all better identify and evaluate the qualities and actions of a friendship.
"A friendship is a mutual relationship between two people that is satisfying, safe, and where both people feel seen."
- In order for a relationship to be satisfying, it must have a foundation of positivity: While positive feelings are necessary in all healthy relationships; they are paramount to our friendships because these are the relationships we are entering by choice. We all want our friendships to add more joy, peace, and support to our lives.
- In order for a relationship to be safe, it must develop consistency: Consistency is the action of repeating our time together which in turn develops our trust as we begin to create and modify expectations of each other. The more consistency we have, the more we feel like we can anticipate how a person will behave in different situations. Consistency is what gives our new friendships momentum to get to know each other and, over time, it's what builds a shared history and increases our commitment and feeling of support in each other.
- In order for a relationship where both people feel seen, it must develop vulnerability: As we spend more consistent time together, we are also incrementally revealing and sharing more of who we are with each other. The more we let someone see us (always increasing our positivity with responses such as affirmation, acceptance, and empathy) then the more loved we'll feel for who we are.
If you don't have all three: then you don't have a healthy friendship.
And the flip side of that is equally true: if you have any friendship that isn't feeling meaningful or healthy, I can guarantee it's because at least one of these three requirements is in lack in that relationship.
In other words, if you just have positivity and consistency (fun times that are repeated often) but lack vulnerability then it's just a social group that lacks you feeling really known and supported. Or, if you have positivity and vulnerability (a meaningful time where you felt seen and appreciated) but lack consistency so that it's not ever repeated, then it was just a really special moment with someone, but not a friendship. Or if you have consistency and vulnerability (deep sharing happening all the time) but lack positivity, then it's just a draining relationship that leaves you feeling weary. We have to have all three.
To that point, consider this quote I recently came across from The Atlantic:
"I’ve listened to someone as young as 14 and someone as old as 100 talk about their close friends, and [there are] three expectations of a close friend that I hear people describing and valuing across the entire life course,” says William Rawlins, the Stocker Professor of Interpersonal Communication at Ohio University. “Somebody to talk to, someone to depend on, and someone to enjoy. These expectations remain the same, but the circumstances under which they’re accomplished change.”
Did you catch the three?
- Someone to talk to (vulnerability),
- someone to depend on (consistency), and
- someone to enjoy (positivity).
Now that we have a definition we know what actions can start, build, repair, or end any friendships in our lives.
Want to know which of the 3 Requirements would make the biggest difference in your relationships? Take this quick Frientimacy Quiz!
Note: These Three Requirements are unpacked, at length, in my book Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness.
I am fascinated by the similarities, and differences, of romantic and platonic relationships. This Valentines Day, I thought it would be fun to inspire our friendships a bit by interviewing a professional Matchmaker to see how we can improve all our relationships.
Joy Nordenstrom is the Founder of Joy of Romance, Inc. and Chemistry of Connection. She’s a relationship coach, certified matchmaker, love story preservationist and romantic event planner.
Shasta: We often treat romantic and platonic relationships as filling two different needs, but in some ways they can speak to the same human need, right?
Joy: Yes, all relationships speak to our need to belong.
Positive Psychologist Christopher Peterson’s research found having healthy relationships with family, friends, and coworkers turns out to be the strongest predictor of happiness, and often health, in most studies on human wellbeing. In a study detailed in an article titled “To Belong is to Matter: Sense of Belonging Enhances Meaning in Life,” the authors found:
“... correlational, longitudinal, and experimental evidence that a sense of belonging predicts how meaningful life is perceived to be.”
So in short, to belong equates in our mind to having meaning in life: If I matter to others, my life matters.
That sense of belonging can be found both in our intimate partnership and in our purely friendship driven relationships.
We've been studying and prioritizing romantic relationships for longer than friendships so I am always fascinated by the idea of what we can learn from those relationships that might be helpful to our friendships.
Anything that jumps out to you about how we attract others?
Absolutely. Whether it's for romance or friendship, we still have to attract each other and connect. So when I work with my single clients to help them get ready for finding a partner, there is an exercise I have created to help them get into the right mental and emotional mindset to exude an air of self-confidence, positivity and receptivity.
It is inspired by my favorite quote:
“Do one thing every day that scares you.” – Eleanor Roosevelt.
Taking action in the direction of what pushes you a little, or a lot, out of your comfort zone helps create in your brain a chemistry similar to being in lust or the early stages of falling in love.
With the Scary Things’ Exercise, I ask an individual to work with the process for a minimum of 21 days in a row, in order to begin establishing a habit. The essence of the exercise is to be mindful and challenge yourself to do something a little out of your comfort zone every day.
All that we know about facial gestures and body language combined with neurosciences, shows us that what’s happening in our minds is being broadcast to others through our face and body. Once someone looks at us our spindle cells and mirror neurons wire us to connect and for them to “feel” to some extent what is internally happening for us.
Note that as humans, we gravitate towards individuals who are fascinating, curious and have a zest for life. In short, whether for romance or friendship, we want to be in relationships with those who are interesting and happy.
Love that! That philosophy of staying engaged with life so that we're "more interesting and more interested in others" leads to a mindset that opens us to more connection.
And then, when we're with someone we are open to connecting with, what is one behavior we can be mindful to practice that can help our interaction?
Well, one easy tip is to know the impact of left eye gazing because our success in bonding resides in our ability to put others at ease.
You mean looking at their left eye?
Well if you gaze from right eye to right eye, it activates the left side of the brain, the side that analyzes, picks things apart, and looks for ways to get something out of the person or situation. Your facial expressions harden and become more intense. I call this the used car salesman gaze. Subconsciously, it makes the other person uncomfortable. This may be good as a tactic for hardcore negotiation but not for the art of connecting.
But when you engage in a gaze with someone utilizing your left eye you are tapping into the right side of your brain allowing you to access your full emotive self. With a left eye to left eye gaze, your mind will concentrate on where there is synergy and how you can work together. By gradually turning your face to the right, even by 5-10 percent, your left eye becomes more dominant. When you gaze at someone with your left eye, the corners of your mouth and the wrinkles around your eyes soften making the person you are looking at feel more at ease.
Again, the more someone is at ease, the easier it is for two people to feel safe, accepted, and be receptive to bonding.
Joy, thank you for sharing this wisdom about how we can attract others by paying attention to our own growth and exploration and connect with others by something as simple as left eye gazing.
May we all continue to pursue our human need of belonging in the healthiest and most intentional ways possible!
This month, in GirlFriendCircles we're teaching "How to Plan a Meaningful Gathering" because we all know that there is a BIG difference between entertaining vs. engaging.
Why We Need Sharing Questions
What we don't want are more stressful or small-talk filled nights with people. What we do want are more gatherings where we feel seen, loved, and connected. But, unfortunately, those are too far and few between these days for the vast majority of us. So this month we're all committing to plan one meaningful night with friends we want to know better! (You can join us-- a class, supportive community, free advice, etc.)
A really important part of helping women connect is giving them the time and space to do it in a meaningful and structured way. For that reason we love Sharing Questions—they allow everyone to share, provide a focus of what to talk about (otherwise we end up talking about politics, TV shows, or the weather, instead of about us!), and help ensure that women start to feel like they know each other (as well as allowing each woman to be heard and feel seen).
Answering these questions is fun! They not only ensure that each of us has the opportunity to share, but they also focus our conversations on us rather than about celebrity gossip, news, movies, or our jobs and families.
How to Facilitate Group Sharing
Our sharing is shaped by so many things: how well we already know each other, the size of our group, the purpose of our gathering, and how much time is available, but here are a few fun ways to add Sharing Questions into your gatherings:
- Pick one question and go around the circle for everyone to answer.
- If your group is small and there’s plenty of time to share, have each person pick one question that everyone answers (so you’re answering as many questions as there are attendees, with everyone picking one question and answering all of them).
- Print and cut apart the questions and put them in a hat that is passed around the circle with each person drawing out a different question to answer.
- If the group is large, invite women to get into groups of 3 and give them 20 minutes to answer as many of the questions together as possible.
(Here are other tips for facilitating a group discussion.)
Sample Sharing Questions
If you're with people who know each other fairly well, here are some of my favorites:
• What is the one thing you want less of in your life right now? And one thing you want more of?
• What title would you give to the current chapter of your life? Why?
• What is one thing you love about your current job/role and one thing you would change if you could?
• In what way(s) are you similar to and/or different from one of your parents (or other family member)?
• What were you like in high school? And if you could go back and tell yourself one thing-- what would it be?
• What is one thing coming up in your life that matters?
• And, of course, my all time favorite question: What is a highlight and low light in the last week/month?
If you're with people who don't know each, here are some of my favorites (best ones are loosely connected to why the group is getting together):
• Share with us your name and how you know _______ (i.e. me--the host, the birthday girl, the bride-to-be) --where we met/how we've become friends.
• Share with us your name and one thing you did this last summer (or over the holidays/fall/spring) that stood out.
• Share with us your name, and tell us what you do for work, but more importantly, tell us what part of your work/job energizes you the most these days.
• Share with us your name, and because we're here celebrating x holiday, share with us one memory you have of a previous one. (St. Patrick's Day, Valentines, etc.)
•Share with us your name, and because we're gathering to meet new friends, share with us how one of your closest friends would introduce you-- how would they describe you?
• Share with us your name , and because we are all ____ (i.e. on this sports team, on PTA, part of this association) tell us what inspired you to join this group and why it feels important to you.
The real value of a Sharing Question is less about the exact question and more about letting everyone share and be seen-- it helps us feel closer to each other even if we don't end up having a 1:1 conversation with each person. Plus, it gives us the beginning of a conversation thread that we can pick up and continue when we run into that person later.
If you're not practiced at leading Sharing Questions it might feel uncomfortable at first. But remember: feeling awkward doesn't mean it's "bad" to do it-- it just means we're not very practiced yet. So let's practice! :)
What have been your experiences in groups that initiate group sharing vs. just mingling or letting only a few share? And please share other questions you've used and loved-- let's compile a list!
We learn so much through sharing our stories! Thanks to Katrina Emery for interviewing a GirlFriendCircles.com member, Jan Link, about what she's experiencing in her friend-making process that can inspire all of us! When Jan retired three years ago and moved back to the Midwest, she was going home. After 40 years away, though, home didn’t come with many friends anymore. Three years after she came back to her small town in Wisconsin, near the Minnesota border, she still hadn’t met many people to call for a fun day out or lunch date.
“I felt like I should go stand on a street corner with a sign that said, ‘I need friends,’ ” she laughs. When she joined GirlfriendCircles she hoped that would change everything. She signed up and met a few new people, but found herself right back to where she started. Nothing seemed to stick.
She wasn’t sure what was wrong. “I knew I didn’t have any trouble with vulnerability,” she says, pointing out that, “Who I am is what you get!” So she participated in some of the GirlFriendCircles classes and when she listened to "The 3 Requirements to Starting Friendships" she had an ah-ha moment: she needed more consistency with her new friendships.
“I wasn’t being as consistent as I needed to be. I’d meet friendly acquaintances, but I couldn’t get it to blossom from there by just getting together occasionally.” Knowing she needed to give more regular time to new friendships in order to create the momentum that leads to bonding, she decided to commit to growing a group of local friends, using the GirlFriendCircles site and also going beyond. “I made posters and flyers inviting women to join in fun activities, and stuck them everywhere: grocery store, health store, church, the next few towns over, gyms, even gas stations (everyone needs gas!). Every month I put out 15 posters, and I change them up.”
Now, a group of 15 ladies consistently get together several times a month, and it’s still growing. “The girls love it so much,” Jan says. Most of the group is ladies around her own age, retired, some widowed. “With exits and losses, we all need more friends through life changes,” Jan says. “Having someone nearby to go shopping with is so important.”
The group started out once a month, but Jan quickly realized that even that wasn’t enough consistency to really feel close to each other. Now they meet 2-3 times a month, and often without her needing to organize it. They host craft groups, go shopping or out to lunch, and have a regular Bunco game night. Once a month Jan makes breakfast and has everyone over. She’s proud of the fact that they consistently show up, given the distance at times: “In Wisconsin, if someone has to travel over 9 miles, they really have to think about it!”
Jan’s learned a lot about the value of consistency over the course of the group. She had joined a few committees at her church, but since they meet only once every three months, it just wasn’t enough. She plans on urging for more, and volunteering to be a contact and advocate for people who have just moved to the area. From being a new transplant herself, she know what’s it’s like.
Her advice to anyone trying to make friends is to keep getting in touch: “I hear a lot that I reached out and didn’t get any replies. I don’t take it personally if that happens to me,” she says. “Try again. Be consistent. Plenty of people are more than willing to talk.”
Her group of ladies is strong and growing, and they often express appreciation for Jan’s part. “It’s so rewarding, every time they thank me. But it’s all of them: I’m so inspired by them.”
Want to lose weight? Want to make more money?
Want to get married?
Want to write that book?
We have beautiful goals and hopes outlined for the New Year, but in this video blog today I invite you to look and see if this one sneaky, but common, motivation isn't the thing behind your goal?
And if it is... what can you do to invest more in what you actually want instead of investing in the path you hope will eventually end there?
Leave a comment to encourage each other what we've learned from our own past-- Have you ever accomplished something only to be disappointed that it didn't lead to the feeling that you had hoped? Or, have you ever invested in really pursuing the actual connection you most wanted? What did you learn?
Because what I want for all of us is that we accomplish our very best FROM a place of knowing we're loved and supported, rather than from an unrecognized attempt to prove we're good enough to be loved and supported.
2017: THE YEAR OF COURAGEOUS CONNECTING. And if you're interested in joining hundreds of women this year as we invest our energy in creating more belonging in our life-- now's the time to commit because we're giving you over $180 worth of savings and bonuses ON TOP of everything you receive in our community! YAY! Join GirlFriendCircles.com by Jan 28 to commit to a year of meeting friends and making better friendships!
This is the time of year when we are increasingly motivated to stop smoking, cut back on alcohol, try that 30-day-no-sugar diet, commit to some form of a detox, join a gym, or buy a pair of running shoes. If that's you.... if you want greater health in the year to come, then keep reading.
Q. Do you really know what impacts your health more than any other factor?
A. The most significant issue to your health is your experience of love and support in your life.
Did you read that right? Yes.
As someone who has been following relationship studies for over a decade, I can you assure that study after study continues to showcase that our social connections increase our longevity, decrease our stress levels, boost our immune systems, recover us from surgery and sickness faster, protect our brain health, and protect us from disease and death.
Consider some of these statements from world-renowned Dr. Dean Ornish in his book Love and Survival:
"I am not aware of any other factor [than social connection]--not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery--that has a greater impact on our quality of life, incidence of illness, and premature death from all causes."
Amazing, isn't it?? "Quality of life, incidence of illness, and premature death from all causes" doesn't come down to genetics or healthy behaviors as much as it does to how well we can answer the question, "How loved and supported do you feel?"
Illustrating that point, one of the many studies he highlights followed over 7,000 people over the span of nearly 2 decades; and found that while those with healthy lifestyles and strong social ties were the least likely to die, it may surprise many to know that those with close social ties and unhealthy lifestyles outlived those with healthy lifestyles but poor social ties!
Let that sink in... you're better off cultivating stronger relationships than you are in joining a gym, eating more kale, or cutting out sugar. He says,
"This association between social and community ties and premature death was found to be independent of and a more powerful predictor of health and longevity than age, gender, race, socioeconomic status, self-reported physical health status, and health practices such as smoking, alcoholic beverage consumption, overeating, physical activity, and utilization of preventative health services...."
And when we say "better off," let's be clear what we mean: you are 3-5 times more likely to die if you don't feel loved and supported.
One famous study from Brigham Young University I quote all the time reminds us that feeling disconnected is as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, twice as damaging as being obese, and has an impact on our health equivalent to being a lifelong alcoholic.
Those who feel disconnected have an increased risk of premature death and disease from all causes! That includes dying or suffering from coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, respiratory diseases, gastrointestinal diseases, infectious diseases, allergies, autoimmune diseases, many types of cancer, alcoholism, suicide, and the list goes on and on. And we're not just talking about preventing disease or maintaining health, but also for recovery and life-lengthening:
"Smoking, diet, and exercise affect a wide variety of illnesses, but no one has shown that quitting smoking, exercising, or changing diet can double the length of survival in women with metastatic breast cancer, whereas the enhanced love and intimacy provided by weekly group support session has been shown to do just that."
Across the board, whether you're merely trying to prevent or recover from the common cold, lower your cholesterol levels, or prevent a heart attack--moving away from loneliness and building your support network is crucial to your survival.
Are You At Risk?
I believe we're living in an epidemic of unacknowledged loneliness.
Which is incredibly dangerous because we assume that since we're not hermits, recluses, or socially isolated that we're safe; when in fact, most of us don't feel the level of intimacy and support that actually creates that safety.
How true are these statements in your life? How many times can you answer "yes?"
- If I needed a ride to the hospital, I have a friend who doesn't live with me whom I could call instead of relying on a taxi or ambulance.
- If my current closest confidante was physically or emotionally "unavailable" for a season of life (super sick, intensive caring for an aging parent, extra travel for work, wrapped up in planning a wedding), I have at least two other close friends who could be "present."
- If I experienced a financial need, I have a friend that could loan me the money I needed.
- If I were excited and wanted to share my big dream or ambitious goal with someone, I have a friend who would be thrilled to hear from me.
- If I needed to list a local emergency contact, other than a spouse, parent, or child, I have at least two options I feel comfortable listing.
- If my closest friend and I had a big fight, I am completely confident that we could work it out because we've talked through many difficult things before.
- If I had a big celebration in my life-- a birthday, a job promotion, a wedding, a baby shower-- I can think of a couple of friends who would be happy to host and plan the event.
- If I needed to be completely raw, messy, unguarded, and vulnerable with a friend who I know loves me completely, I know who to call.
- If I won a paid vacation for me and 3 friends-- my biggest problem would be picking which of my friends to come with me.
For the vast majority of us, we are immensely networked, but will struggle to answer yes to most of these questions. And of those who can answer yes, even fewer will be able to say that they aren't dependent on only 1-2 friends for all those needs.
A safety net of love and support must be developed, it never just happens.
Unfortunately, most of us will read this data and still pour more time into our diet and exercise than we will in developing deeper relationships.
Why? Partly because our doctors are trained more in surgery and medicine than they are in relationships so their well-meant advice will lean that way; partly because our culture is addicted to weight-loss and appearance over health and longevity so our tendency will be to focus on the things that change our looks more than improve our body function; and partly because diet and exercise is so much more tangible, immediate, and controllable than relationship building can feel.
The role of relationships in our health won't get as much press as diets and fads to help you lose the proverbial ten pounds, but let's not let magazine headlines dictate what we know to be true.
Please, please, listen to the science and align your life-- your time, your energy, your resources-- to that which proves to not only bring MUCH greater health but also greater happiness.
2017: To a Year of Courageous Connecting!
p.s. If you are willing to commit to making 2017: The Year of Courageous Connecting then I extend a warm and genuine invitation to you to join GirlFriendCircles.com this year so you can:
- Focus on a new relationship theme every month for 12 months (i.e. how to increase vulnerability, how to make time for friends, how to meet new friends)
- Learn from relationship experts in a fun monthly 1-hr class, including a worksheet to apply the teaching in your own relationships.
- Choose a Courageous Practice each month to build up your relationship muscles to meet new friends and make your friendships better!
- Receive lots of sisterhood support throughout each month, including live advice calls with me, local events to meet others who live nearby, awesome online interaction in our community of women who are committed to relationship growth, and virtual groups with deepening conversations!
You can join anytime, but we have special New Year deal available right now to those who are willing to put the stake in the ground and say "This matters. I'm going to align my life for more meaningful connections this year!" JOIN US! xoxo
Every year I round-up my top ten most popular friendship articles and share them once more. Many of you joined us half-way through the year, missed a post here-or-there or just want to re-read some of the best ones to see how they resonate with you now. 1. In Sickness and in Health: 5 Things I Wish My Friends Knew About Friendship and Illness
With nearly 1 in 2 of us suffering from some form of chronic (often invisible) illness, we all want to become more sensitive and thoughtful in how we interact with one another. This blog talks about how to make and keep friends when energy and health often feels limited, challenged or uncertain.
What price tag is friendship worth to you? Unfortunately, the actual process of making friends includes activities and feelings most of us would rather avoid. This blog challenges us to ask ourselves how much we value friendships and what we are willing to invest for the outcome we desire.
The acclaimed “sex therapist”, Dr. Esther Perel, offers 7 verbs for healthier relationships and these apply to platonic friendships too! This is the perfect blog post for reflection on the year 2016. Ask yourself how comfortable you are at practicing these verbs, how hard or easy these actions are for you, and what you want to work on in 2017.
This amazing video blog talks about how to respond to frustrating friendship experiences and taking steps to build upon what you have rather than giving up and walking away when your needs are not met. While these steps won’t fix every situation, they are certainly the first two steps we should practice in our attempts to repair or enhance a friendship that isn’t feeling super meaningful.
Your friendships are at risk of not reaching “frientimacy” when your friends aren’t practicing speaking up or when you’re not listening as much as you’re sharing. This blog post helps us identify if we are giving our friends the space they need to be seen and provides over-talkers with 5 practices to pave the way for deeper and more meaningful friendships.
I think it is safe to say we have all had moments where we feel our inner mean girl come out and our self-doubt, fear, personal gaps and a general feeling of failure takes over our brains. In this blog post, Shasta shares how her friend responded when she felt under-attack by herself so we can all feel inspired to show up for each other.
Lack of time for friendships is one of the most common complaints when it comes to doing what we know would develop our friendships toward greater fulfillment. We know that time together bonds us, but where does one find that time? This blog post talks about an ancient practice called Sabbath and invites you to re-orient your life. Cease and desist for one day to focus on you!
Are your friendships caught in a vicious cycle of not spending enough time together to feel really meaningful? This blog post helps us understand the price of the Constant Catch-Up Cycle and invites us to move beyond just catching up and achieve the frientimacy we crave.
These 3 words can open up repairing conversations with a friend where we might feel some tension, distance, or frustration. Therapist, Tricia Andor, reminds us how simple and easy it can be for all of us to take on an awkward or uncomfortable conversation that may help deepen the friendship and grow our emotional muscles.
Our lives can be enhanced from all types of relationships. The goal isn’t to limit what type of love and community we can create in our lives, but rather to do so in ways that are healthy and honest. This blog post challenges us to reflect on your cross-gender friendships and take a deeper look into how meaningful and supportive they are in your life.
A huge thanks to all my GirlFriendCircles.com members and readers of my blog!
May we continue in 2017 to honor all that is right with friendship, committing ourselves regularly to the practices of healthy personal development and relationship joy.
p.s. As always, I welcome your comments! Share with me which one is your favorite!
p.s.s Want more popular articles?
Can you articulate what experiences you need to have with others to feel closer to them? And did you know that while there are the 3 main requirements of all healthy relationships (consistency, positivity, and vulnerability, taught in Frientimacy), how we each judge our closeness to someone else will look different based, in part, on our temperament? With the December holidays often gathering us with friends and family, and the soon-following New Year that inspires us to prioritize our relationships in the year ahead; let's take a moment to look at how our temperaments can inform the bonding process.
By reminding ourselves how we're each wired differently we can better understand 1) how to increase our chances of feeling connected in our interactions 2) and hopefully also to feel more aware that others might need something different.
How Myers-Briggs Informs the Bonding Process
There are so many nuanced and amazing ways to better understand ourselves but since Myers-Briggs Temperament Inventory (MBTI) is one of the most popular, I thought I'd use that one today to illustrate how we are each looking for something different in our interactions and relationships.
While there are 16 different types of people identified within the Myers-Briggs sorter, we all tend to fall under one of 4 major groups: the Artisans, the Guardians, the Idealists, and the Rationals. With that said, we are all incredibly unique and might have elements of many, or all, of them. What's most important is simply reminding ourselves to take a moment to assess what it takes for us to feel close to someone else AND to not assume that everyone else feels the same. :)
(It's not imperative for you to know your type to identify with one the following four explanations, but if you'd like to take the inventory, I know there are multiple free assessments you can search for, and if you want to purchase from the official Myers-Briggs Foundation you can do so here.)
- The Artisans, or SP's: Our fun-loving, optimistic, spontaneous, and creative Artisans (roughly 40% of the population) feel most close to people when they play together. They tend to look back on a family/friend gathering and judge it a success if there were fun things-to-do, game-playing, and lots of activity. In general, it will be more difficult for them to feel close to someone they deem boring, or who doesn't share their interests or hobbies. The more they can play with someone or engage in a shared activity together-- the more they will enjoy that relationship.
- The Guardians, or SJ's: Our loyal, responsible, hard-working, thoughtful, and organized Guardians (roughly 40% of the population) feel most close to people when they support each other. They tend to look back on a family/friend gathering and judge it a success if they feel everyone participated in a tradition, followed social or family etiquette by getting along, helped prepare for or plan the events, and basically showed priority to the value of being together. In general, it will be more difficult for them to feel close to someone if they feel that person isn't "carrying their weight," or "living up to expectations." The more they feel needed and feel that others are playing their roles and contributing-- the more they will enjoy that relationship.
- The Idealists, or NF's: Our idealistic, romantic, deep-feeling, and passionate Idealists (roughly 10% of the population) feel most close to people when they feel seen and understood. They tend to look back on a family/friend gathering and judge it a success if they feel they had meaningful conversations, which included people expressing an interest in their lives, ideas, and feelings; and trusting them to share the same. In general, it will be more difficult for them to feel close to someone if they feel like the conversations were "shallow" which happens if the conversations stayed on "updating" and "concrete" topics instead of on the sharing of lives and feelings. The more they feel expressed, seen for who they are, and affirmed-- the more they will enjoy that relationship.
- The Rationals, or NT's: Our pragmatic, skeptical, strategic, utilitarian, and autonomous Rationals (roughly 5-10% of the population) feel most close to people when they feel intellectually stimulated. They tend to look back on a family/friend gathering and judge it a success if they helped solve a problem, were asked for their opinion on something they deemed important, or participated in a rousing conversation that challenged them to think. In general, it will be more difficult for them to feel close to someone if they don't feel like that person values, or is capable of, thinking for themselves, examining abstract subjects such as politics, economics, technology, or the exploration of how things work. The more they feel respected for their intellectual processing and the willingness of others to engage with them in their areas of interest-- the more they will enjoy that relationship.
Maximizing the Bonding Process
It is imperative that I understand what I most need in order to leave a gathering feeling more connected to those I love. When I can articulate what I need-- be it activities, traditions/support, heartfelt conversation, or sharing stimulating ideas-- I can be more thoughtful about how I might foster those moments.
But just as powerful as realizing that I need to take the initiative of getting my needs met is the realization that I will want to also be purposeful in engaging in the actions that will feel bonding to those I love and cherish. That might mean:
- Playing games or lacing up ice-skates with my Artisan... even if I am tempted to go clean the kitchen or don't feel very skilled at the activity, remembering that they will feel closer to me by building that memory.
- Attending the family meal, dropping off a thoughtful gift, or showing up at the religious event with my Guardian... even if I don't find the event "meaningful" or would rather be playing than helping show support or giving in service, remembering I can love them by supporting the people, institutions, and ideals that they love.
- Staying focused and asking follow-up questions with my Idealist... even if it feels awkward, remembering they feel valued by the interest that I show.
- Asking what book my Rational is reading these days and exploring what they think about it.... even if the topic is "boring" to me, remembering that they feel respected when we share opinions and thoughts.
Our temptation might be to judge each others way of bonding as "shallow," "boring," "exhausting," or simply as "not me." But being in relationship with others calls us to be intentional about our needs and theirs.
May you end December feeling ever closer, and more connected, to those in your tribe.
p.s. Does this resonate? Is this helpful? In what ways might you apply this information to benefit your relationships? :)
When we think of vulnerability, we all too often think of sharing our insecurities, anxiety, and stories of shame. But that type of sharing is only one out of the 5 ways to be vulnerable with others. It's certainly important to deepening relationships to know we can reveal what we fear is our worst and be reminded we're still loved and accepted; but it is such a limited definition of vulnerability.
Relational vulnerability, in general, is anything that exposes more of who we are to others; and specifically, the actions we take to share life more widely and deeply with others.
Perhaps the Scariest Act of Vulnerability?
And while I teach 5 different pathways, or acts, of vulnerability in my book Frientimacy; there's one of the acts, in particular, that I think could drastically improve our friendships, our self-esteem, our contributions in the world, and our joy, if we practiced it more regularly. But not only do we not engage in it often enough with our friends, the truth is that most of us don't even know we should be!
What is this secret act of vulnerability, if it's not bringing our skeletons out from our proverbial closets?
It's the act of Shining in Front of Each Other.
One of the most undervalued acts of vulnerability is supporting each other’s success in this world. Being willing to shine in front of our friends by sharing what is going well, why we are proud of ourselves this week, and what we do like about ourselves. It takes courage to be willing to shine fully in front of our friends, and take in their affirmation, cheers, and love.
And it takes just as much vulnerability to encourage our friends to shine in front of us! Why? Because often their shining may trigger our own feelings of insecurity or envy. It can be hard to cheer for her pay raise if we're barely paying the bills, and painful to celebrate her new boyfriend in the midst of our break-up.
But we're called to feel that vulnerability--both of sharing and cheering--and rise the occasion of being women who can shine in front of each other.
When we talk about feeling safe and loved by others we often say, we want to be accepted for "the good, the bad, and the ugly," but most of us actually feel more practiced and comfortable whining about the bad and the ugly, and not being as forthcoming with the good.
5 Ideas to Practice Shining With Our Friends
- CHERISH YOUR LIFE: While we want to be honest about the fact that some areas of life aren’t ideal, we also want to actively identify the areas that are good—and be honest about them. Practice saying, “I’m really fortunate that I don’t struggle with X, but I’m sensitive to those who do. And while I certainly struggle in other life areas, in this one I want to appreciate what I do have.”
- AFFIRM HER LIFE: Whenever you think of it, affirm everything you can think of about your friend. The number one value of friendship is to boost positivity by communicating acceptance—so cheer for her parenting style, her work ambitions, her beauty, her big heart. Everything.
- INVITE HER BRAGGING: We need to practice owning our strengths and joys, but we’re all scared to do it, afraid people will think we’re arrogant. So help encourage it in her by asking her questions that invite her to share what she’s proud of. (“When do you feel most powerful at work?” “What makes you feel the most beautiful?”) Encourage her to really feel her successes!
- INVOKE HER GRATITUDE: Women are known for brushing off compliments or dismissing praise. So, when our friend deflects affirmation, we can gift our friendship with positivity by playfully making her say “thank you” or by saying, “Wait, that was a huge thing you just accomplished; are you taking it in and really feeling it? Because you deserve it!”
- REVEAL YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Our friends should be those with whom we feel the safest celebrating our successes, so we need to practice sharing those successes—without being asked. Text her, “Just wanted to share: X just happened!” Or tell her, “I’m feeling more scared than excited that I just bought a house. Any chance you’re free to help me step into celebration mode? Takeout at my place?”
Why We Have To Shine
The biggest reason of all is that this vulnerability leads to greater intimacy and feelings of love with people because we'll feel more expressed, more seen, and more celebrated. Sharing our woes, bruises, and disappointing circumstances can only take us so far-- it's when we start whispering out loud our biggest dreams, the difference we want to make in the world, and the personal growth we see happening in our lives that we become more of our best selves.
But honestly, another motivation for me is because our world desperately needs more people willing to shine! And if we can't practice it with our friends, then what chance do we have of feeling more comfortable doing it in this world that desperately needs the best of all of us? If I can't admit where I think I'm amazing, to the people who claim to love me, then chances are high that I won't be able to fully own that amazing-ness and shine it to a world of strangers and doubters.
This holiday season when you see twinkling lights and shiny stars-- I hope it'll remind you to think of something good in your life that you can share with someone!
P.s. I'm also teaching a 1-hr class called "Vulnerability: The 5 Pathways to Deeper Connection" (complete with a bundle of resources, such as a personal application worksheet and monthly challenge) for all members of GirlFriendCircles.com this month so feel free to join us (for only $20!) and access the class with your membership! In a month where we can feel inundated with busy-ness and people, it's ever more important to practice adding Meaningful Moments to our interactions!
For as many of my friends who have confided angst at the idea of sitting around a holiday table with family who voted opposite of them in the recent election, there are also those who have just shrugged and said, "I can only wish my family talked about something that actually mattered!"
Two Ways to Go Deeper
Whether you're gathering with those who you are struggling to love and understand or those who tend to stick to small talk, here are two of my favorite ways to invite more sharing and love:
1) Feature Affirmation:
With a tendency for family members to feel judged, misunderstood, or left out-- let's make sure that no one leaves our tables not feeling valued!
My favorite way is to put table-tent name cards at each place and ask every family member to write one quality they admire and love about each person inside their name card. During the meal, leave time to go around the table and have each person read their words out loud.
2) Go Past the Updates:
Whether you're gathering with family and friends you see often, or people you haven't seen in ages, ask a sharing question that allows everyone to go around and share a bit about their lives.
My favorite open-ended questions are those that invite vulnerability while allowing the person sharing to pick specifically what they feel comfortable sharing.
- What has been a highlight (something you're proud of, something that felt good) and a lowlight (a stress, a loss, a disappointment) in your life in the last year?
- What is one big thing that has happened in your life recently, and how did you feel about it? And one thing coming up in your life, and how do you feel about it?
- What is one thing that has changed in your life this last year, and in what way(s) are you grateful for it?
I always suggest that after each person shares, the best response from everyone else is simply, "Thanks for sharing!" so that we can acknowledge each other without risking advice-giving or getting off track from our sharing.
And bonus for doing this activity as soon as everyone has gathered so it helps set the tone for the whole day/weekend! Maybe gather everyone around in the living room for an hour during morning coffee or appetizers?
What If It Feels Forced or Awkward?
But it's usually not for lack of actual ideas that we don't facilitate these conversations as much as it because we feel stupid, silly, or awkward leading them.
Chances are high that if your family doesn't typically gather and connect in these ways that you'll get eye-rolls from those who think it's "cheesy" or sarcasm from those who are uncomfortable. But I'm of the mind that just because something is awkward doesn't make it bad.
I really do believe that everyone wants to be seen. Sometimes we're afraid of it if it doesn't feel safe or if we fear rejection for who we expose ourselves to be. But that doesn't take away the need and hunger to belong, it simply reminds us that one of the requirements of healthy relationships: "being seen" (vulnerability) has to be in tandem to another of the requirements: positivity. (You can order my book here for more about all 3 of the relational requirements and how they work together.)
Our family can trigger us like no other because we have a lot more "consistency" with them-- meaning we have history. That history can lead us to assume more about each other, take things more personally, or not show up with as an open of a mind about how people might be different. We have expectations and patterns and norms.
Therefore, the only way to get a different outcome after our time together is to change those patterns and norms, a bit.
So, yes, it will feel weird, awkward, or uncomfortable. But that's only because it's not normal. Yet. And just as we go to the gym and expect to sweat and be out of breath because we value the outcome of being physically healthy; so, too, do we show up at the emotional gyms and push ourselves a bit because we value deeper relationships.
It is my hope, that one week out, you will make a decision to be someone at your holiday gathering who helps everyone share deeper, learn more about each other, and affirm each other in meaningful ways. Whether you're in charge and can set the tone, or perhaps talk to the host/hostess ahead of time and see if they're open to you helping facilitate something, but either way, you can be someone who shows people that they are seen and valued. It's simply a muscle to be strengthened-- you can do it.
May your presence at any gatherings this holiday season help foster more love, depth, and gratitude.
"I can only get along with people who have a similar worldview as I have," I've heard a thousand times. Or other variations have included statements similar to "I could never be friends with someone who votes for ________." Because we're on the eve of one of the most divisive presidential elections in history, it seems a good time to remind us what does and doesn't bond us to each other.
What Do We Have to Have in Common with Friends?
Not only are we increasingly convinced what we need to have in common with someone in order to like them-- be it age, life stage, or political party preference; but we're also sounding more likely to have devaluing and disrespectful feelings toward those who aren't like us.
But what does the research say about what we need to have in common in order to bond with another human being?
In fact, hard data tell us that it doesn’t matter which particular parts of our lives are similar to those of our friends, only that we end up finding those similarities. The Brafman brothers, who co-wrote the book Click, share research that reveals people bond more deeply over the quantity of perceived similarities than over the quality—the number of similarities matters more than their content.
They wrote, “Sharing a strong dislike of fast food, for example, was just as powerful a predictor of attraction as favoring the same political party.”
In other words, what we consider as the “big” thing we think we need to have in common isn’t as effective at bonding us as having two or three “small” things in common.
The Brafmans further explained, “You’d think that people who share the same religious convictions and political views, for example, would be more likely to hit it off than those who share only similar tastes in films and music . . . but it didn’t matter at all which topics underlay the similarity—it was the degree of similarity that was important.”
What might that mean to those of us who are at risk of thinking half the population is disqualified as being someone we might like? It reminds us that we need to engage in more conversation with people who don't share our political views so that we can eventually bond with them because we took the time to find out that we have both traveled to Japan, both love green smoothies, and both enjoy reading sci-fi.
Why It's Important to Find Those Commonalities
Understandably, similarity matters. We not only feel closer to the people with whom we can find commonalities--be it fans of the same sports team or voting for the same presidential candidate; but experiments actually show us rating those who we're told agree with us (even if they don't!) as more attractive and better people than if we have to rate those same people but are told they disagree with us. Indeed, we have a bias toward commonality.
In fact, in one study at Santa Clara University, participants were more likely to double their small financial donation if the person asking them for money shared their same name. In another study, people were twice as likely more likely to sacrifice a couple of hours to help a stranger with a task if they discovered that they shared the same birth date with them; and 80% of them agreed to help if they were told they shared a rare fingerprint pattern!
The truth is that once we accept certain people as "like us", we start to see them differently. And when we see them as similar to us in some way, we treat them better: we are more kind, more generous, more accepting, and more loyal.
I, for one, don't want to live in a world where we focus more on how we're different and unlike each other if we know from research and personal experience that our inability to find commonalities tends to put up walls, create defensiveness, increase paranoia, and decrease our kindness and generosity. The answer to feeling safer isn't pushing "others" way, but rather the peace comes when we step close enough to see what we do have in common. (And there is ALWAYS a lot to be found if we're willing to explore!)
Examining Why Some Commonalities Feel More Important
I will not minimize how bonding it can be to any two people to find commonalities and feel closer and more trusting of those individuals. But just as few of us would insist that we can only bond with others who share our names, our birth dates, or our finger print patterns; as hard as it is to believe, who we are voting for is no more important to whether we can bond or not. I find it hard to remember that truth when I'm scanning my Facebook news feed, but just reminding myself that simply finding out someone is voting for the other candidate doesn't prove we couldn't be friends.
And note that in all these studies the bond wasn't actually because of the similarity, but because of how we felt about the similarity. In other words, participants gave bigger donations not because that person's name was really the same as theirs, but because they were told it was the same as theirs. They rated their classmates as more attractive or not, not based on real agreement that impacted real people, but because the psychologists simply told them they had more in common, or not. It was all in their heads. Their kinder actions were based on the belief that they had something in common, even if they really didn't.
When I am reminded of the research, I feel a genuine humility. I am reminding myself how easy it is for me to create an entire narrative or story about people (and how attractive or good they are) based largely on my perceptions of whether they're like me or not. I am reminding myself of all the people I love whose vote I don't understand and am refusing to view them in any way that diminishes them down to just this one difference. And I am reminding myself that while I can't control how someone else votes, I can control whether I'm willing to look for something I have in common with them.
A presidential candidate is going to win and about half our country is prone to feel dismay, disappointment, fear, anger, and/or paranoia. The only way to heal is to practice connecting with each other. We can do that one relationship at a time. One conversation at a time. One commonality at a time.
Any tips you've tried that has brought your stress levels down when conversing with others who are voting differently than you are? Anyone willing to try to be someone who repairs and connects people together after the election? Anyone else up for the challenge of reminding yourself that you could still bond with someone even if they are voting for the other side?
When we want to make new friendships, we're often dismayed at how challenging it can feel. Katrina Emery, a GFC member who lives in Portland OR, recently interviewed Maggie Chang about how she ended up seeing a move as the best excuse to start over with greater intention!
by Katrina Emery
Maggie Chang had lived in New York City all her life. Her big move had been from Queens to Brooklyn, and that was far enough. But moving to California? Terrifying.
“My husband made me do it!” she laughs. At first she had scoffed at his suggestion. She was perfectly fine, had family and friends nearby, and California was so far away!
Gradually she warmed up to it, though, and two years ago she, her husband, and her then-9-year-old son found themselves new residents of San Bruno, right outside San Francisco.
She tackled the move by pursuing new interests and passions, which was also a way to make new friends. After adopting a dog, she started volunteering at SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). She’s gotten outside more: hiking, beaches, dog parks, camping, exercise, yoga.
Her yoga passion actually led her to a deep friendship journey, in a roundabout way. In researching a yoga retreat, she ended up at Shasta’s New Year Retreat (“Reveal: A weekend where good friends dream up a great year.”). “It definitely wasn’t yoga!” she laughs, but she ended up loving the chance to delve thoughtfully into her own wisdom and intuition. The retreat offers women a beautiful place for guided personal reflection and facilitated group connection designed to reveal the themes and feelings that will best lead each person in the year ahead.
Maggie used the intention created at the retreat to focus on her relationships, and it was there that some realizations about her life in Brooklyn came up. “I was not actually happy in NYC,” she says, “not very connected to the friends and family I had there.” She hadn’t realized it at the time, but there was a distance growing in her old friendships that wasn’t being addressed or augmented with new ones. She discovered she had been suffering from a lack of meaningful healthy friendships for a while, even before moving. The research that shows we replace our friends every 7 years was especially striking to her. “Nobody teaches us these things!” She had been stuck in past versions of friendships that had changed. “There was some shame connected to it,” she admits, noting that since she claimed she had current friends (even though the dynamics had changed), she felt uncomfortable searching for “new” ones.
It wasn’t until the move forced her into new relationships that she suddenly felt ok pursuing them. Now, she was new to an area and had practical reasons for making new friends. The need to reach out made it ok to try. She joined GFC as a GFConnector last December, and committed to facilitating events for a period. “That’s helped. Not that it’s been easy or I’ve made a lot of friends, but it’s like I’m strengthening that muscle.”
Since moving to California, Maggie describes herself as being more intentional and more mindful of friendships. Her son, now 11, has his own friendships at school. “I’m now encouraging him, making it an actual goal.” she notes. “I want him to know that it’s important enough to work on.” She hasn’t found the perfect way to be vulnerable to him about her own friendship struggles, but hopes she can keep working on that. “One new struggle that has popped up is: Should I be making friends with moms of kids his age?” she wonders. More requirements for hopeful friendships (that they live close, that the kids get along, etc.), though, just ends up adding extra layers of complications.
Two years in, and Maggie still feels she’s in the middle of the transition. Her advice is to embrace the uncomfortable: “You’re going to learn and grow from change, so let it happen.” With the freedom of a new location, the pursuit and opportunity of new relationships is an important part of her life. “I’m not saying it’s easy or doesn’t take work, but I’m starting to meet new people and start new relationships.” She sounds hopeful. And proud of herself.
And she did find an actual yoga retreat to go on recently. An intense camping-and-yoga experience, the women there naturally bonded, and Maggie is hoping they can continue to form some meaningful friendships. She’s also already signed up for Reveal Retreat again this January, looking forward to connecting with other personal-growth minded women!
**By the way, if you’re interested in more information on the next Reveal Retreat, January 20-22, 2017, in wine country, CA, check it out here! http://www.shastanelson.com/retreat/ There are still a few spaces left!
I'm often asked "What do I do if someone wants more of a friendship with me than I want with them?" Or, "How can I tell someone, without hurting their feelings, that I'm not interested in spending more time with them?" Most of us need more community in our lives, but some of us need to say no to some people in order to say yes to others.
I'm not gonna act like this is an easy question to answer... I still struggle with it and sometimes find myself sitting on a coffee date simply because I found myself agreeing before I could figure out how to decline the invitation.
In romance, we tend to eventually find a way to say, "Thanks, but no," but rarely do we give that gift to other women.Most of us just play nice or just go MIA. There has to be another way.
Simply ignoring women or continuing to act interested even when we're not isn't being honest with them, isn't leaving us feeling aligned, and it's contributing to our collective fear that if someone isn't reaching out to us that it means they don't like us, which isn't always the case.
Principles for Saying No to Others
Our goal in life is to live as aligned as possible: having our insides (feelings) match our outsides (situation/circumstance). Which leaves us with the options of either saying yes and truly being open to it, or saying no instead of just ignoring someone.
Here are my guidelines to practice saying no:
- Always affirm. Affirm how much it means that they invited us; acknowledge how much you admire them.
- Then say no. Then check in with yourself so you can clarify your no. "Is it not now?" Or "Not as often?" Or "Not ever."
- End with thanks. Thank them for having thought of us, for reaching out, and encourage them in any way that feels kind.
In most areas of life I encourage women to simply practice saying "no" more often as a complete sentence without needing to explain or justify. But because in these situations it feels like we're often saying "no" to a specific person and because everyone's greatest fear is rejection, I think we can err on the side of showing as much value to the other person as possible, while also gifting them with our honesty so they aren't left wondering in uncertainty.
Of course this is a hard question to answer because there are so many levels of friendships and varied reasons why we're saying no, but hopefully if I can give a couple of examples of how I'd say it, that might help get the ball rolling.....
- To someone we don't know well, but we don't feel like we have time for more friends. "That is so sweet of you to ask me and typically I'd be quick to say yes as you are definitely someone I'd love to get to know; but unfortunately I feel like I am barely making the time to give to my current friends so I've been having to say no to other fun people in order to love those people well. But tell me what kinds of relationships you're trying to build and maybe I can help introduce you to people?"
- To someone we'd consider a casual friend but we're not convinced we want to invest more time than we already are making. "I'm always so impressed with you for reaching out and inviting me to things-- I know that's hard to do and I really respect that gift you've given. And I feel like I've had to say no a bit, and while I don't see that changing anytime soon, I wanted to make sure you knew that I appreciate the friendship we do have when we see each other at x (church, work, MOPS). I used to think every friendship was supposed to become a best friend as though it had to be all or nothing, but I'm learning to really value that while I can't be close and intimate with everyone I like, I can still be happy they're in my life. Thanks for being such a positive person when we do see each other."
- To someone we'd consider a casual/close friend but we don't really want to connect with much anymore. Basically if you're thinking about "breaking up" then I invite you to read these posts about The Five Questions to Ask Before Ending a Friendship, this post about how we can decrease the frientimacy in a friendship by decreasing consistency and vulnerability without having to break up, or this post helping identify if this is a friendship rift or a drift might help, too. Because ultimately, we have to ask ourselves: is this a relationship I want to completely end (in which case I am a strong believer that we owe it to them to explain why) or is this simply a relationship I don't want to keep investing in a ton but am more than happy to still see her at parties or at the places we both frequent and keep up with her here and there? Knowing our desired outcome will help us shape that conversation where we can communicate the value of what we have shared and hopefully help establish expectations for both parties.
I often compare these conversations to going to the gym. We don't get physically healthier by avoiding sweat, exertion, and stretching; and neither do we practice being our best selves (which includes honest communication and expressing value to others) without it feeling awkward, unfamiliar, or uncomfortable.
Let's become women who value each other so much that we'll line up our words to match our actions rather than just keep saying no or avoiding phone calls....
Have you been on the receiving end? Do you prefer them just neglecting you or do you prefer their honesty? Have you had a conversation with someone you consider a success? Share with us!