I am noticing an increased amount of conversations about mindfulness, self-care and resilience nowadays. Words that a few years ago sounded scary today start to enter the common language and common habits too. But there is one major problem I have with all three: they are based on the idea that an individual on their own can help themselves out of a problem and find a way to thrive. In some cases, that’s true, especially when it comes to introverts and more sensitive people, however, let’s not forget that we are all social creatures. Many significant insights into life longevity and overall happiness who that people live longer, happier lives when surrounded by good, supportive networks fo friends. A few years ago I was experiencing a lot of overload in my life: work but also life-related tasks were piling up, the volume of content online increased and friends became busier and busier. I was looking for solutions in books and came across the Minimalists and their ebook on the topic. Not only did it help me with my work and life productivity and information overload but it also made me re-evaluate my support networks and realise their importance. So today I would like to share their tips on building a strong support network of valuable friends with the intention to maintain and nurture the important relationship and benefit from their value.
First of all, you will need to review your current network. An audit like this in itself is telling so do make time for it. It will build the basis of your initially planned but later intuitive strategy and choices (especially when it comes to spending your time wisely). Take a piece of paper and make three columns:
- Name – name all the people you are in touch with – think daily, weekly, monthly, annually. Think of your family, work, hobby, street, town, country, school and anything else that comes to your mind. Consider including your social media contacts too.
- Signifiers – mark in the second column each name based on importance in the following three groups: primary relationships (people who are “the primary characters in the movie of your life”), secondary relationships (relationships that you might consider of less value than primary for any reason), and finally periphery (final group of people who are there in the general public, you just know each other).
- Effect – this is a very important column: here you will need to decide for each listed name if the impact of that person on your life is positive, negative or neutral. For a second try not to think about the second column – actually in some cases you might realise that primary contact can have a negative impact on your life and hinder your growth – at this stage it’s a realisation and it it is really important, to be honest, so go ahead and just finish off the list this way.
Now look at the list and review it quickly – how many people are in the primary, secondary and periphery group? How many have a positive impact on your life and actually feed your growth and how many are neutral or hinder it? What is the percentage of primary contacts comparing to others?
Now you need to be very honest and think about how you spend your time. Chances are, for example, that you are talking to your neighbours or work colleagues daily, but you call your mum or brother only every few weeks. Think about it a little bit more: does it really make sense that you spend most of your time, effort and maybe even money on people who are in the periphery and often have a neutral impact on your life?
And so now you will need to ask yourself a very important question: what needs to change in this picture of your networks for your effort and time to actually make sense for you. Who should be in our primary group and what do you need to do to maintain a strong support network with those few people? How often should you reach out to them and what really brings you together? Is your secondary group really worth daily or maybe weekly contact? In what cases would those people also matter as a support network to you? What can you do about them? And finally: does your periphery group contain people who contribute to your growth? Is so, do you think maybe they should be in one of the first two groups and your relationship with them needs more work?
I know that putting people in categories is not right, but this is not what is suggested in this exercise. Nor will the results of this exercise remain static all throughout your life. However, with a bit of practice, you will learn few important things about your support network:
- Relationships matter – people have an impact on your life
- You need to manage your relationships – you need to invest time, effort, money, commitment into the relationships that actually support your wellbeing and your goals
- Your support network is the effect of your socialising efforts – so be smart about it and interact with people wisely.
- People are wonderful and can be terrible too – you cannot judge anyone but you can indeed measure the impact of people on your life and manage the relationships you are in.
I started working on my support network and today I am really pleased that I can start a new profession (counselling) which requires a lot of emotional resilience knowing that there are few people out there who will be able to hold the space for me when I need it. And also, the people who were close to me but really toxic, are no longer allowed to impact on my life and so my overall emotional wellbeing is much better and I will be able to support my future clients better as well.
I think humans are deeply social creatures – we need relationships and we are very affected by people too. So we need to manage our support networks wisely to enjoy their benefits and to be there for others too.
Good luck, let me know how it goes for you. It’s always work in progress, but trust me, it is so worth it!