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Five ways to wellbeing, part 1: Connect

Written by Koen Smets (2 Dec 2014)

When we are feeling low or stressed, it can be a great help to have someone to talk to.

But relationships with others can provide more than a sympathetic shoulder to lean on: having an active network of people with whom we are connected, and with whom we interact often, is strongly correlated with a positive mental wellbeing.

Unfortunately, life can get in the way and stop us regularly engaging directly with others. Like so many, I have lots of contacts on social media like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and so on, and that gives the impression of being well-connected. But how frequently do I have real contact with the people in those networks? Some of them may be just superficial acquaintances, but there are quite a few people that I was once pretty close to, and with whom I’ve somehow lost touch. Out of sight, out of mind - there’s a lot of truth in that.

Step 1: Make a list

So, the first thing I thought I'd do was to bring these people back "in sight". On a quiet Sunday morning, I set aside some time to go through my Facebook friends and LinkedIn connections, and every time I came across someone of whom I thought, "ooh, I wonder how things are with Stephen!", or "Goodness, Chris - that’s been a while, should really catch up with her", I noted down their name and their email address or phone number.

Step 2: Commit

So far, so good: I now had a list of about a dozen people I hadn’t spoken to in a long time, and would love to reconnect with. But I still needed something to actually get me to make that contact! What I had to do was to establish a specific pledge: just telling myself I’ll call Stephen or Chris sometime, or putting it in my long to do list was not going to do it. At that moment, my phone bleeped - a 24-hour reminder for a business meeting on the Monday. Aha! I don’t normally ignore appointments in my diary, so maybe that would provide the necessary persuasion? I began to pick random dates, and made entries to call Stephen, Chris and the others.

Step 3: Connect

So here I was, with a dozen or so firm appointments in my diary at arbitrary moments, to reconnect with old friends. Was it going to work? To me, an appointment in my diary looks and feels like a formal commitment, and I don’t find it easy to dismiss or postpone, unlike a vague intention to call someone. And it did work: because I had put these appointments out at least two months into the future, the first one was actually a surprise, and that gave me just the trigger I needed. I rang Stephen, and got his voice mail, but he called me back the same day, and it was really great to catch up with him. Had I not put a formal slot in my diary, I am sure 'call Stephen' would have remained a low priority on my to do list, perpetually put off...

Step 4: Form a habit

I actually told Stephen how I’d come to call him, and he thought it was hilarious – at first at least.Then he thought it was an excellent idea: "Why don’t we put an appointment in the diary to speak again in June?" That first call with Stephen gave me the energy I needed to make the next call, 10 days later, and his suggestion to immediately make a new appointment turned out to be an excellent way for me to keep on using the nudge.

I used to think people who put "spend quality time with children, 6:15-7:30" in their diary were sad or crazy. I now know a diary entry can be a really good nudge: these regular calls have become - not a routine, but a habit. They syncopate my life, add serendipity, and most importantly they make me feel connected.