During a recent breakthrough with friends, I came to the realization that life is all about relationships. And even more recently, I found out that this has been more or less confirmed by the literature.
Research supports that our adult psychosocial development, which includes successfully participating in our community and building quality relationships, has tangible effects on our emotional, cognitive, and physical health¹. Keep in mind that this 75-year longitudinal study was done only in men (le sigh), but it's worth starting a conversation over.
As an introvert (93% over here 🙋♀️), I initially wasn't too thrilled about this realization. After all, relationships are hard work. I'd much rather be at home inside my own head, tinkering away on my many hobbies.
Indeed, a year ago I went to great lengths to avoid seeing people outside of work (and even at work), because it made me anxious. But it turns out I was just out of practice with how to build meaningful relationships in today's world. If you don't warm up before the game, you're going to have a bad time. Like anything else, relationships are a practice, and building them effectively takes mindfulness and skill.
By the way, I'm not talking about romantic relationships. That's just one type of relationship and not the focus of this post. I'm talking about friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers, rivals, waitstaff, customers and clients, mentors and mentees. 👯♀️ Even strangers! Our relationships surround us on a daily basis, and they all count.
It may not be feasible us to have deep relationships with many people, but I believe it is possible to have good relationships with many people — if not most.
For the past few years, I’ve strived to cultivate three broad types of relationships:
- My relationship with self
- My relationship with others
- My relationship with something greater
So why are these relationships important?
...and how do they apply to the climate fight? 🤨
Well, in order to properly care for the Earth, we need to have a relationship with the Earth. Before we are ready to have a relationship with the Earth, we need to learn to love and appreciate all the Earth has to offer, including the incredible humans, animals, and other forms of life that share her with us. And in order to truly love others and build meaningful relationships, we need to first learn to love ourselves².
What's more, if we want to defeat climate change and make the world a better place, we're going to need to come together as a species. Humanity moves forward faster when humans work together³.
As the requirements for defeating the climate crisis loom over us and our deadlines to meet those requirements get shorter, we're going to need to seriously innovate. And we know that at least some amount of collaboration is key to successful and timely innovation⁴. Long story short, we're going to need each other’s support in the difficult days to come.
Developing a relationship with Self
I believe that the most important relationship you can have is with yourself. Connecting with our authentic Self is a journey, and one that I ignored for most of my life.
Realistically, because we handle so many relationships throughout our lives, we often ignore our relationship with self. Maybe we believe that working on ourselves is selfish — I did. Even if you don’t find it to be selfish, you may have convinced yourself that you simply don’t have the time.
Please consider these words: You deserve to spend time on yourself. You are a worthy investment, and the time you choose to put into your personal growth is justified. You are allowed to choose yourself.
Here are some activities you can do to connect with yourself:
- Write in a journal. You can try different prompts for self-growth and authenticity, such as this: “My authentic self is happiest and most at peace when _____.”
- Practice creativity! Art, music, and creative movement are all amazing options. Grab some craft supplies from the thrift store or fold origami. Create something and try your best not to judge your creation. If you find yourself saying “This looks bad” or “I’m no good at this,” reflect on why your inner voice is critical when it could be encouraging. Practice speaking to yourself in a kind and supportive voice, like this: “It’s great that I’m experimenting with something new,” or “I’m proud of myself for exploring my creative side.”
- For those who want to get really deep: check out books and resources about unlearning childhood conditioning. I really enjoyed Dr. Nicole LePera’s How to Do the Work. You might consider learning about attachment style, boundaries, and the effects of low-grade emotional trauma (known as “little T” trauma).
Developing a relationship with others
Just as we often ignore our relationship with ourselves, we sometimes don't put enough effort into our relationships with others.
And why would we, in this busy and detached world? I'll be the first to admit that a few months ago, I was the type of person who happily would give my Uber driver 5 stars if only he didn't talk to me. I was quick to dislike people or write them off as annoying after one awkward interaction.
That changed when a previous therapist of mine challenged me to ask myself what exactly I didn't like about people. Was it their qualities, or my perception of their qualities? Was it how they made me feel, or how I allowed their opinions to make me feel?
This mindset shift has not been a quick journey by any means. Not too long ago I was highly anxious and caught in painful, emotionally addictive cycles — and therefore kept most people at an arms’ length. I could rarely stay at a social event for more than an hour, and if I did, it was usually thanks to self-medication. Now, I’m able to feel comfortable in a group of strangers, which is a huge, HUGE accomplishment!
My relationships with others continue to improve as I improve my relationship with myself. I’ve started to see how my own conditioning is triggered, and how my own behavior and speech might trigger others. Through this new awareness, I’ve been able to improve many existing relationships and develop new, fulfilling ones.
Not everyone is for everyone, and that's okay. That's a tough realization, but let that sit for a minute. Don’t expect to be everyone’s best friend, but practice kindness at every opportunity so we can build the safe, united world that we and our children deserve.
Here are some ways to develop strong relationships with others:
- Actively listen to people’s stories and experiences, if you have the energy. People want to be heard and understood, to which I’m sure we can all relate. Nowadays, I’m usually quite happy to chat with my Uber driver if they’re eager to share something. Listening costs me nothing, and you never know if you’ll be the friendly ear that makes a difference in someone’s life.
- Express gratitude for time spent with others. We rarely articulate what people mean to us until it’s too late. Seize ample opportunities to tell people you enjoy spending time with them and that you’re happy to know them.
- Show empathy and provide emotional support when you are able to. I’m not saying sign up to be someone’s pro-bono therapist (a position I tend to find myself in) — find the balance between holding space for others and honoring your own boundaries.
Developing a relationship with something greater
For many, "something greater" is religion. I'm not religious, although I used to attended youth group on Friday nights with friends in middle and high school (my mom bribed me to go). I didn't like all the structure when I was young.
These days I believe that God is a metaphor for the universe, and that religions were born as a way to communicate the incomprehensible within specific cultural groups, then passed down throughout the years. I don't necessarily think that I'm right; it's just my belief. We can all have different beliefs but still have similar goals; there is often more common ground than you think.
Connecting to something greater connects us to other people. It connects us with something bigger than ourselves and our immediate circle. It offers us community, which has been linked to better health outcomes⁵. More importantly, it gives us purpose.
The truth is, I don't think it really matters what your "something greater" is. Religion and spirituality are wonderful vehicles for connection in my opinion. But even if you're not interested in any of that, find something to belong to. The important thing is that you have something that connects you to others. Why not choose the earth? 🌍
- Malone, JC. 2016 Mar. "Midlife Eriksonian Psychosocial Development: Setting the Stage for Cognitive and Emotional Health in Late Life." Developmental Psychology. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5398200/
- McNulty, JK. et al. 2014 Jun 23. "Implicit Self-Evaluations Predict Changes in Implicit Partner Evaluations." Psychological Science. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4275414/
- Schmutz, JB et al. 2019 Sep 12. "How effective is teamwork really? The relationship between teamwork and performance in healthcare teams: a systematic review and meta-analysis." BMJ Open. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6747874/
- Inoue, H et al. 2015 Mar 23. "Revealing the Intricate Effect of Collaboration on Innovation." PLOS One. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4370822/
- Holt-Lunstad, J et al. 2017 Sep. "Advancing Social Connection as a Public Health Priority in the United States." American Psychologist. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5598785/
© if you know you grow 2023.