We have become really good at being really shallow.
We flit around connecting more electronically from behind screens than we do in person.
We don’t make eye contact. We don’t hold eye contact.
We don’t touch each other. Handshakes are weak and flimsy. We step back to keep our distance.
Whatever the current quota for human touch and hugs that we’re supposed to have to thrive is… most of us are grossly undertouched and under-connected.
And the danger is that we’re getting used to it and social skills are rapidly declining.
This is how we treat strangers and yet it’s how we treat people close to us also.
It’s a defence mechanism. Or it’s laziness.
You pick which one it is for you – but it’s not healthy, and it’s not satisfying.
With strangers, we just avoid. Looking up at the elevator lights, shuffling around and looking at our shoes, mostly standing head down into our phone.
How very interesting we’ve become.
I’ve done it too of course – all the time – look how busy and important I am that I just can’t pull myself away from my phone or laptop. I’m just so busy I can’t even look at you. Or anyone.
How original right?
In fact, the Journal of Experimental Psychology says that when we do engage with strangers, we increase our happiness. In research where they challenged participants to open up conversations with the people beside them on airplanes, the taxi driver, or in random social environments, people reported a higher sense of enjoyment than those that kept to themselves.
Because actually – even though we are making ourselves increasingly unskilled and awkward in this area, people enjoy connecting with others – on any level – even though we often avoid initiating conversation.
Because we think small talk is boring and redundant – and it is when it doesn’t lead to more.
I actually experimented with this. Choosing not to look at my phone and instead cracking jokes with strangers in line ups, commenting on someone’s shoes or some accessory. Not only to people come to life when you make eye contact and smile at them, they pink up when you create light conversation.
If we’re not creating light conversation for its own benefits, it’s even worse that we’re not creating depth.
When was the last time you held a conversation into the wee hours of the night with someone where your brain lit up, where time flew by, where you dug into an issue – any issue and stayed engaged with it.
It’s more than just a shot of adrenaline, it’s a deeper sense of knowing another.
We are all craving this kind of connection.
We are wired for it from birth.
We’re too busy or too guarded or full of a list of other excuses why not to take the time to do this even though we all know it will enrich our lives.
You can’t say that because your friends have betrayed you, that someone hurt you, that your relationship ended painfully and that now you don’t trust and are too guarded.
Many people wear the “I’m guarded” badge with honor.
It means you’re afraid.
It means you haven’t done your work to heal and build resilience. It means you’ve given over power to unworthy people in your past to hold you back as damaged. Except that by doing that you have chosen to add on that label as well.
Don’t kid yourself. Just because you’ve been hurt or burned and you’ve chosen to live as closed off to others isn’t protective.
Its a weakness not a strength.
Let’s grow up – none of us are exceptional in this – everyone has been hurt.
We don’t need to compare lists – I’ve got a long one just like you. But I choose to seek depth. And I don’t believe in baggage – it’s an excuse. No one is perfect, everyone has a past – we all have resources and opportunity to work on them. Unless we’re getting too much attention or support for staying where we are and being a victim. Everyone can heal and get better. (Everyone).
So can we stop walking around thinking that our wounds are unique?
Can we start having the courage to do our own personal work and fall deeply in love with ourselves so that we can fall deeply in love with others?
Let’s stop being the walking dead. Uninspired, passionless, afraid to connect, unable to love. It’s boring.
Shallow people are boring.
Random acquaintances, casual sex, guarded and afraid mentalities.
So boring it makes me restless and agitated. And it should for you too.
The easiest way to avoid emotional intimacy is to quickly get physically naked with someone. It’s a distraction technique that allows people to dissociate out of their emotional puddles and bypass that discomfort in their brains so they can feign connection without actually experiencing it.
The same holds true with conversation.
People spend up to 5 hours a day gossiping about others or other meaningless chatter according to a survey out of the UK. When they look at what women talked about the list included cliche’ topics like shopping, diet/exercise, gossip about others, complaining about their partners, complaining about their inlaws, aging and cosmetic surgery and other appearance related concerns, their children… and lunch.
I cringe. And add in a trademark eyeroll.
Beyond that, we actually talk about ourselves 60% of the time.
Because it feels good.
And it feels good because it lights up the dopamine-releasing pleasure centers of our brain to self-disclose says the neuroscience behind this as reported by Scientific American.
Add in someone that is actively listening to you, engaging with you, reciprocal in their self disclosure, AND truly present to the conversation and you’ve got a snowball effect of dopamine for pleasure and oxytocin for bonding and this chemical delight mix leads to increased connection and relationship satisfaction whether it’s between friends or between lovers.
Add in laughter, empathy, and new experiences and you have the recipe for deep, meaningful relationships that are stimulating instead of boring.
Here’s how to start the ball rolling…
1. Be intentional.
This doesn’t happen all by itself just because it’s a good idea (like everything).
You have to make a choice to be more open.
Lift up your damn head.
It feels good to smile at people. And to be smiled at.
It feels good to make eye contact and hold it for a few seconds. There’s a knowing in that. A connection that stirs, inspires, and bonds.
Of course it feels awkward – we’ve stopped doing that.
Do it anyway.
And get rid of that weirdness of smiling at the opposite sex – does every glance have to mean flirtation? Can’t we just be humans for a while?
You will feel better when you do this experiment.
Because someone WILL mirror you and you’ll feel a spark of life by acknowledging another in this way.
Make this top of mind every day.
Look for ways to connect with people, strangers and those you know. Focus on it.
Bring awareness to it and how it makes you feel and dig into it.
2. Compliment others.
Continue to welcome feeling nervous and uncomfortable. Let it make you feel alive. And go forward anyway – with bold words, open emotional expression.
Give random compliments.
Without feeling exposed. Tell people what you value in them.
Tell people that you love them. Stop holding back in this.
Life is unpredictable, too short, not guaranteed. People disappear in a moment.
It’s not going to kill you to share someone’s value to them. It will eliminate regret if they disappear too soon.
And this holding back – is a pattern – and if it’s showing up in the people in your life – whether acquaintances, coworkers, or partners, you’re holding back in other places as well.
People want to feel valued. Not for their physical appearance which we spend so much time focusing on but for who they are (even though I’m a regular complimenter of great footwear!).
I’ll follow up with an email or phone call to someone that gave me customer service. I’ll tell them to their face in the moment or the next time I see them. Total strangers. New acquaintances. People I’ve known for a decade. I regularly and repeatedly give genuine compliments as an intentional practice. Without expectation.
When was the last time you complimented someone on their character?
Think about what you value in others and when you see it speak it out loud.
This will radically change your experience with others.
This will almost immediately create opportunity for depth.
Start being selective about the people you invest and spend time in.
Have layers of people in your life that you start paying forward in this way – from people you just met to people with history in your life.
Appreciation strengthens connection. It shows people that you see them – and in the culture we live in there are many walking around feeling disconnected, misunderstood, invisible, and lonely whether they show it or not.
Warm up another human this way.
3. Have meaningful conversations.
This is intentional depth-seeking here.
This is your tribe and circle of influence as it exists right now – and you being proactive in starting the change the dynamics.
There’s potential for rejection and shaming or just an ability to respond in kind.
Be ok with being misunderstood, and even rejected.
You’ll survive rejection – we all have. Take it and allow it to make acceptance super sweet from the worthy people in your life.
If you can be fallibly vulnerable with others, they will start to be the same with you.
At least the right ones will.
No games. No guessing.
If you’ve recently been dating you know this is epic and rare. Like rainbow unicorns that speak English and poop out gold coins.
So when you start to experience it – you might freak out just a little.
In everything, but mostly in this.
We actually know how to do all this without this handy dandy list – we just need a reminder to chill out, and go do it.
Bonus features… you will begin to develop relationships where you can be 100% your authentic self.
Isn’t that what you want?
I’ll answer for you – yes- it’s what we all want.
Others will cherish that in you because they will be able to do the same.
Your relationships will be 100% revolutionized as a result because we will be allowed to feel safe in the presence of others.
This level of authentic vulnerability is scary but essential to be fulfilled in any relationship.
4. Let go of expectation.
Here’s the tripwire in all this.
You cannot go forward and make changes and be intentional and blissfully optimistic (or completely awkward as the case may be) and expect that everyone will know how to respond, or feel the same way.
Don’t expect everyone to be where you are in any area of growth in your life, at any time.
Expectation leads to disappointment, and frequently whining, and chatter or gossip in one of those cliche’d categories listed above.
No one is perfect. Accept that in others and in yourself.
Stop holding grudging and expecting people to serve you or cater to you or never disappoint or hurt you.
Stop being so fragile that you can’t seek improvement and growth and challenge yourself to stretch yourself in your relationships.
You have survived much greater disappointments than a lack of reciprocity. You can survive simple misattunement or rejection – let’s keep this in perspective.
In the ones that will go into deeper authentic relationships with you – remember that no one is a perfect human and no one will accurately be responsive in perfect ways to all your interactions along the way.
Read that again – set a high bar for depth and a low bar for expectation.
People at every level of communication WILL make mistakes. They will disappoint you. They will say the wrong thing. They will offend you. You WILL have disagreements.
Don’t measure your friendships and relationships on everything being the same and everyone agreeing and no one getting their shirt in a knot.
This is unrealistic and immature. Widen your lens on this one.
People will fail you. Look less at the failed interaction, check your own propensity for taking things personally and losing perspective, and focus on the intent.
If people never made mistakes and hurt each other we would never need to grow and stretch in humility, empathy, and forgiveness.
And in truth, many haven’t. The expectation is on perfect responses, 100% of the time, because as much as we want to be given grace for being imperfect, we still expect perfect responses from the people in our lives.
Allow people to make mistakes and be human so that you can too.
If you have people in your life that require you to always have a perfect response, you need to cut them out.
You want to choose people that have understanding of imperfection but always good intentions and ones that always seek resolution and are not reactive judgmental lightening bolts that add drama.
These are the people you choose for your journey.
Stop placing unrealistic expectations on other people and on relationships in general.
People are not in your life to be a custom fit for what you need. Or even what you think you want.
Our relationships are supposed to provide comfort and warmth, but they are also supposed to challenge us and encourage growth.
Stop being so afraid or resistant to people challenging you, disagreeing with you, not fitting into your perfect idea of what a friendship or relationships should look like.
Good people are rare. Healthy relationships are sadly, also rare. But both can be exquisite on our journey.
Success is nothing without the development of your character and the enriching of your own and others experiences in this life.
Your relationships are a huge component of your legacy here on earth. How you treat others is what people will remember most about you Start challenging yourself daily to connect in deeper ways. Feel the fear of vulnerability and dive into it anyway. Toughen up to hurt and disappointment so that you can experience the depth of authentic connections and real love.
Instead of letting old wounds make you hard, be brave enough to find your softness.
Exploring this kind of depth gives you a soft place to land while you go out and be fierce and conquer your world in the rest of your ambitions.
Learn more about how to increase the resilience in your relationships in my free e-book: The Resilient Mind.