What’s one of the best ways to get healthy, stay healthy and live longer? Cope with stress? Reach a cherished goal? Accelerate performance? And just plain be happier?
There’s a ready resource right at your fingertips – just look around you. I’m talking about the power of a personal support network. Research shows that making the effort to build a social support network is of benefit in countless ways – mental, emotional, and physical – for you and those around you.
When we’re going through a tough time, dealing with illness, or other stressors, having the support of those around you – family and close friends – can offer relief, wisdom and perspective when we are struggling to access these things for ourselves. A personal support network is made up of those people you know you can depend upon, and who can depend upon you. It’s also about sharing in the positives – the joys and successes that come our way.
One of the early pioneers in positive psychology, Christopher Peterson, Ph.D., made it a point in every talk he gave to say this: “Other people matter.” It became his mantra, and has always stuck with me. Other people matter and we – you and I – matter to other people.
There’s a reason why addiction recovery groups emphasize the importance of building a support system – it’s a crucial component of gaining and maintaining freedom from their addiction. Developing and maintaining close connections to others who understand can make all the difference in maintaining sobriety. Having people who truly care about you and your wellbeing – and are walking the same path – can be a huge advantage when one is attempting to create a new lifestyle.
Many of us have been brought up with the cultural notion of “not depending on anyone,” or “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.” The fact is that no one gets through this life alone. Who hasn’t benefitted at some time from the listening ear of a friend at just the right time? A teacher or mentor? That parent or parent figure that accepts you no matter what? A colleague who put in a good word for you? Relationships like this are part of the fabric of life.
Something I heard years ago has always stuck with me: “Asking for help when you need it isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s what makes you stronger.” And it works both ways – helping others by being available to them during challenging times strengthens our own sense of character and self-confidence.
You may already have a strong network of family and friends or not. Here are some ways to strengthen what you already have and grow your base.
- Make time for the people that are important to you. We all have busy lives and it can sometimes seem difficult to get together, but the old adage – “To have a friend, be a friend” – still stands. It’s easier than ever these days to keep in touch by phone, text or email – even a short note or call lets someone know you are thinking about them. One of my dearest friends has not lived on the same continent, let alone city or state, for over 20 years and we still email, message and call via Skype every month or two. As a result, we’ve maintained a strong bond that continues to today.
- Remember special occasions – birthdays, holidays and the like. If someone’s going through a tough time, send a thoughtful card or call them to see how they’re doing. We let people know they are important to us by our actions.
- I grew up as an only child without the benefit of a family network close by. Something I learned to do early on was reach out to others who I wanted to make part of my life. As a result, many years later, many of those relationships have become family to me. We’ve shared holidays, special occasions, births and deaths, graduations – you name it – and I truly do consider them family.
- Be trustworthy. Trust and loyalty are basic to friendship. Be dependable, keep confidences, and keep your word.
- On the other hand, you want to bring people into your sphere that add to your life, not detract from it. You may want to examine your relationships with people who are chronically negative or complaining. Everyone has a bad day – or week – here and there but you might want to limit your time with a friend or relative who is consistently difficult to be around.
- Finally, make an effort to show appreciation and gratitude to those who are there for you. When someone goes out of their way for you, it’s important to say thank you, to let them know both they and their efforts are valued.
We’ll talk specifically about business networking next time. In the meantime, if you feel like it, please leave a comment below. I love to read your thoughts and I’ll be sure to respond.