One hundred and fifty. Dunbar’s Number. Named after British anthropologist, Robin Dunbar, 150 is the suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person.
Compare the number 150 to how many friends you have on Facebook. Now, compare the number 150 to how many people you actually engage with in real life on a regular basis – whether you visit with each other, or talk on the phone regularly, work together or have some community activity group in common.
Historically, tribes were a critical part of a humans surviving and thriving in the world. If you were banished from your tribe, that was as good as a death sentence. In a tribe, you had support to help you acquire food, build housing, handle safety and protection, and watch the children. Lose your tribe, and you lost all of that – you were a goner in short order.
Tribal identity defines and places an individual within the self and within the larger context of the world. One’s tribe defines identity, social bonds, relationships and commitments, and gives a sense of security, continuance, and well-being. Loss of tribal identity means loss of custom and loss of a consistent value system, which one depends on for stability and a sense of security…
– Grief And Loss Across The Lifespan: A Biopsychosocial Perspective
The modern-day version of a tribe is that group of people you connect with regularly, you see in person, and you look out for to ensure they are okay. Connecting with humans makes you happier. And when you’re happier, you’re more enjoyable to be around. The feedback loop continues: you engage more with the tribe, increase personal happiness, are more fun to engage with, continue to increase personal happiness, engage more, and so on. Even introverts benefit from connecting with other humans out in the world. And yet many adults struggle to make and maintain connections amidst the “go go go” of modern life.
Because, as adults, there are much fewer built-in ‘friendship development opportunities’ (aka ‘school,’ ‘sports,’ ‘the neighborhood’) it’s worth exploring what you can do if you’d like to cultivate connection in your existing tribe – or if you’re keen to branch out and discover a new tribe of friends and relationships.
1. Reach out, not just when it’s a ‘special occasion.’
You have technology at your fingertips. Use it. Message someone to say hello and that you were thinking of them. Use video-chat to actually see the face and hear the voice of your friend who lives far away. As a kid you went to see if your neighbor could come out and play, not because it was a “special occasion” but because any old day was a good day to go play.
As adults, we often start compartmentalizing socializing into “special occasion” territory only. Celebrating someone’s engagement, or a major holiday become the reasons you get together – instead of getting together because it’s a good day to have a casual get-together. Connecting can happen over a big evening out with a bunch of friends all dressed up, but it also can happen for 45 minutes in the middle of a Sunday over a quick coffee at your house.
2. Socialize without an end-game in mind other than “to get to know them better.”
People can sense a true desire to connect. Be genuine with your intentions. Engage with out an agenda, without focusing on how they could help you or your career Along with that comes the important reminder that you shouldn’t default to an assumption that someone else has ulterior motives in starting a conversation with you either. As suggested in The Four Agreements, “make no assumptions.” Part of building your tribe and feeling a sense of community is being open enough to allow others into your world.
3. Ask questions and listen to the answers.
There is an art to good conversation. It begins with a genuine interest to hear the other person. Be curious. Show interest. Ask follow up questions. It’s not about proving how much you know, or being right. Conversation is a dance you enter into where sometimes one partner leads, and in due time, the other partner leads, and at some points no one is leading at all.
Recently, I was riding in a car with a new friend, one whom I’d connected with through a mutual friend of ours. We’d only spent a few random times talking at group social gatherings. The conversation that day was meandering along on all good, interesting, things, but also surface-level things, and I wanted to learn more about this person. So, not being afraid to dive into the deep end, there was a lull in the conversation which I ended by asking, “so what’s the biggest mistake you’ve made this year?”
Did he get upset? Was he offended? Nope! His response was “Woah, you don’t hold back, do you? Okay, good question…” and he proceeded to share his response with me. I wasn’t asking it to be inflammatory. I was asking because any answer he gave was going to be interesting, and would quickly move us past the basics of getting to know each other. And indeed, it fostered several more interesting back-and-forth questions that allowed us to really get to know each other.
4. If you’re connecting in person, put your phone away.
This one needs no explanation. Just do it. Put your phone away, on silent or vibrate. Pay attention to the present moment happening with the person, or people, you are with.
5. Know that it can be exactly what it is, no pretense, no undercurrent of anything else.
Men and women can be friends without it ever turning romantic. Young and old can be friends without it being twinged with “teacher/student” or mentor underpinnings. Women can be friends without it turning into a competition. Men can be friends and have emotional, enriching contact without it being seen as ‘being soft.’ Business acquaintances can connect without it turning into a meeting to discuss buying each other’s product.
You get to decide what the connection will be. And if you’re not interested in the type of connection the other person is interested in with you, you can discuss it like the adult that you are. Or, you can decide that relationship doesn’t need your pursuit anymore.
There are numerous types of friendship you can have. And those friendships may form with the most unlikely of people. Why? Because both parties showed up to that friendship without the pretense of anything beyond “hey, you’re cool, let’s spend time together.”
Socialization is one of the 9 Factors for a reason. You benefit by bringing others into your world, and by being a part of other people’s world. Put as much attention on nourishing your need for human connection as you do on what sort of food nourishment you take in, and you’ll reap even more benefits on your journey to good health and well being.
Kate Galliett is the creator of Fit for Real Life where she brings together body, mind, and movement to help people become highly-charged and fit for real life. She coaches clients in-person, online, and through her foundational strength & mobility program, The Unbreakable Body. She holds a BS in Exercise Science and has worked as a fitness professional for 12 years. Her secret ingredient is always smoked paprika.
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