The old classic mid-20th century stereotype of male behavior is the husband and father who comes home from work and barely grunts out a few words before plopping down in his recliner to watch TV or bury his nose in a newspaper.
Even now, after a few decades of men breaking from this cliché, there is a male tendency for more introversion, or at least a predilection toward keeping their thoughts and feelings to themselves.
A generalization? Sure. I can already hear the “not all men!” arguments as I type this.
But there are more than enough cases of this to make it a truism. And what exactly is wrong with the above anyway? Some men aren’t as gregarious in their relationships–what of it?
Well, as it turns out, it’s bad for your health.
In a fascinating article that was widely shared on social media some months ago, the author was aghast to discover that he was a prime example of his editor’s story suggestion that “middle aged men have no friends.”
And this epidemic of loneliness (as described by the US Surgeon General) has proven to have drastic health consequences. Significant increases in cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and a reduced life expectancy are all associated with social isolation.
Further strong evidence comes from a seven-decades-long study whose overwhelming data analyses were succinctly summed up by its director as follows:
“Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”
Those are some strong words from a scientist, to which we should all pay heed.
3 Strategies for Building Meaningful Social Connections
There is a universal truth that affects us all, regardless of our own personal inclinations and interests, and that is the need for a strong social support system.
Who do you spend the most time with?
Family, friends, and co-workers all combine as a constant in our lives and so, whether we realize it or not, they affect everything we do. Just as we form expectations of the people we see everyday, so do they of us.
As the saying goes, humans are social animals. We naturally seek friendships and relationships to engage with other people for our own sake and for theirs. Those that are estranged from their families still feel a tug toward that most ancient of bonds.
Even the most independent of us are still connected to our social relationships and are affected by those who mean the most in our lives.
As the findings shared above show, good relationships can mean the difference between good and poor health.
1. Foster Good Relationships through Shared Goals
Finding like-minded people is important for cultivating quality relationships. And in our case of physical fitness, we often see that the shared goals of improving health and our bodies’ performance brings people closer together.
I teach and train at a martial arts gym several times a week, and one of the common statements among members is that it is very much a “gym family.”
Changing and transforming ourselves requires motivation, good instruction, and consistent, hard work. And experiencing all of these things with regular training partners seems to automatically bring a closeness. Working together towards shared goals does that.
Whether it’s fighting, training for a marathon, or simply trying to build a stronger, more capable body, we form a bond with those sharing in our experiences.
Listen to champion athletes, successful entrepreneurs, or anyone accepting an award, and if they are at all truthful, they’ll tell you of how vital other people were in their achievements. An encouraging voice calling you on the phone amid an extraordinarily crappy day can make the difference between falling backward and moving forward.
So, look at what’s important to you, and find ways to build meaningful connections with others working toward those same goals. You’ll find that the process and experience are far more enjoyable, and you’ll form bonds that are hard to mimic in other ways.
2. Learn to Navigate Negative Relationships
Negativity, especially when it comes from the people closest to you, drains you and siphons away energy that could be used toward your goals. We obviously need our relationships, and pessimism and naysaying may not wholly deter you from improving, but it makes it that much harder to keep on track and do what you need to do.
But cutting negative people out of your life isn’t a simple thing, especially with regards to family. After all, we can choose our friends, but we can’t choose our family.
Remember that, as hard as it is to work on improving yourself, it’s also hard for the people around you to acclimate to the “new you.” They’re used to certain behaviors from you, and we are all conditioned to view our friends and family in a particular way.
Any departure from that view is going to meet resistance, even if unconsciously and unintentional.
So, I’d caution you to be wary of advice to cut ties with close connections at the first sign of negativity–after all, people are not black and white, and having close relationships is essential to your health.
However, there’s a big difference between a family member or close friend who is initially resistant to positive changes within you, and those relationships that are negative in the long term. Less-than-supportive people may continue to be passive-aggressive (or aggressive-aggressive!) for a long while, and you’ll know if you need to let go of some of these people relatively quickly.
The time and effort to deal with them will sap your energy and you’ll feel worn out. Follow your instincts and remove yourself from those “energy vampires.”
3. Be Open to Connections
You may find you “luck” into a good environment, whether it’s a gym or a circle of friends, or even a good online community. But it’s likely less about “luck” and more a combination of vetting the right people to be with, and a concerted effort to connect with people over shared values.
Sometimes you can make your own luck, and you can certainly make a better environment by filling it with people who get along.
Using our company as an example, from the beginning, GMB has always prioritized business (and personal) relationships with like-minded people. We’re not interested in just promoting “good buddies” that offer a commission on their products, but rather those who share similar philosophies and outlooks on training and life in general.
It simply makes sense to connect with compatible people, especially those seeking positive change and with values that you support.
If you look at your life right now and realize you don’t have many close connections, you may need to open yourself up to forming bonds with people, and actively seek out and build a support system for yourself. It’s crucial both for self development and for your health.
You Can’t Do It Alone–and Why Should You?
We can’t underestimate the value of social support in every aspect of our lives, especially when it comes to personal transformation. It can be hard enough to get ourselves motivated for change, and adding the stress of a negative environment can stop us right in our tracks.
The path to good health and success has to involve more than just ourselves.
Align yourself with good people as much as possible, minimize your interaction with negative nellies, and open yourself to help and support.
If you’re not part of the GMB Posse yet, click below to join. It’s free, and we’re always here to lend support when you need it. Plus, you’ll get an introductory program to help you take the next step in your training journey.