Are New Friends Worth the Energy Output Required?

I hear from a lot of women who feel defeated in their friendship search, or simply feel like it cannot be a priority in their lives right now.  Many mistakenly think that friendship is the thing to cut when their lives get busy, express feeling guilty for asking their husbands to watch the kids so they can go spend time with a girlfriend, or conclude that since friendships are not happening naturally in their lives that they somehow just need to learn to live without a circle of friends. Maybe you've been there before? Maybe you're there now? Today I just wanted to poke my head in your inbox with a bit of a reminder about that pay-off.  You know the risks.  You know the difficulty.  You know the challenges.  You know the excuses to say no and give up.  You know how weary you feel.  Give me a moment to remind you what you're investing in!

Energy Output: The Investment can be Exhausting

It's a paradox that the actions that take energy also tend to reward us with the most energy. In many life moments, higher investments lead to higher pay-offs.

I mean, the very act of going to the gym is tiring for the vast majority of us, but the pay-off is, ironically, more energy. Most of us don't sit at work feeling fulfilled by the daily tasks and mountains of emails, but the sum total of that output seems to create a sense of achievement and meaning.  I know just on a recreation level that it would be easier and more comfortable to sit on my couch tonight watching TV, but that if I attend to my women's business group, I'll actually come home more rejuvenated than any show could provide. I've learned that most things in life aren't the easiest default option, but they do tend to be worth the investment.  And friendship is simply one of those things-- less meaningful in the beginning and a greater source of energy output, but the payoff is exponential.

Energy Input: The Payoff can be Exponential

Gallup's latest research revealed in the book, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements

shows that there are five universal, interconnected elements that together reveal your overall well-being.  Apparently, liking what you do every day (career wellbeing) is the most significant factor to your overall health and happiness, but guess what number 2 is? Yep, social wellbeing, also known as "Do you like who you're doing life with?"

While you have undoubtedly heard me quote all kinds of research about how important your circle of friends is to your life, the research just continues to inspire!

  • You're Influenced by Entire Network. Our wellbeing is impacted by our entire social network. You are 6% more likely to be happy if your friend's friend's friend--count them, three degrees removed!-- is happy. The reverse is just as true.
  • Friends Impact More Than money. Compare the above 6% increase to the 2% increase in happiness if your annual income goes up $10,000! "This led the study's authors to conclude that that the wellbeing of friends and relatives is a more effective predictor of happiness than earning more money."
  • Your Health Prevention is at Stake. People with few social connections are at twice the risk of dying from heart disease or of catching a common cold (even though they're arguably exposed to more germs!)
  • Proximity Matters. A friend who lives within a mile will have way more positive influence on your wellbeing than friends across the country. (Why GFC advocates making local friends even though it's not as easy as picking up the phone to talk to your BFF in your hometown! It's worth it!)
  • Friendships Especially Important in Aging Well. One study showed that in adults over the age of 50, that their memories declined at half the rate if they were socially active compared to those who were least social.
  • You Need More than One BFF! Every additional close friendship adds to your wellbeing. "Our research has found that people who have at least three or four very close friendships are healthier, have higher wellbeing, and are more engaged in their jobs."
  • The More Time Invested, the Happier You Are:
    Every hour of daily social interaction increases your happiness by 10%!

    The data shows that to have a thriving day you need six hours of daily social time!  Six hours?!?!?! That even surprised me! Apparently regardless of personality types and other variables-- those who are thriving in life are reporting an average of six hours every day of connecting which can include: talking to friends, socializing at work, being on the phone, communicating on facebook, etc. Across the board, every hour of social connection added to your day increases your happiness almost 10%! (Isn't it ironic how easy it is to cancel on a friend when we've a bad day or skip out on socializing when we're depressed, when in actuality, that very act of connecting will raise our spirits?)

I know it's tiring.  I know.  I know it's discouraging at times, I know.

But I also know that this is one investment that promises the biggest pay-off to your overall happiness and health. No small thing!

May you be reminded that your willingness to engage, to meet new people, to initiate the next get-together, to schedule women into your life and to foster these friendships over time is proving to raise your wellbeing! And don't we all want that? ______________ * All research listed in this blog can be found in the chapter on Social Wellbeing in Gallup's latest book, Wellbeing by Tom Rath & Jim Harter. Purchasing their book provides a code for your access to take their Wellbeing Assessment.

The Flywheel of Friendship

A Few Years Ago... During my first year in San Francisco I felt exhausted by the lack of comfortable and meaningful friendships.  Moving away from phenomenal friends in Southern California left me knowing what I was missing in my new city.  And certainly I was meeting people, but we all know how different it is to carry a conversation with friendly people versus hanging out with friends.

The best friends in the world may always be only a telephone call away, but that very act of calling means that we are left updating each other about our lives more than we are ever able to simply live life together, creating new memories.  A vast difference exists between calling to announce a pregnancy, a new romance, a heartbreak or job promotion versus attending a shower, meeting the new love interest, sharing ice cream on the couch or toasting the latest achievement.

But knowing that a circle of friends does more for giving us a sense of belonging in a new city than having a home or job, doesn't mean that friendships just happen. Two immediate problems surfaced for me in my friend search that first year:

  1. More Energy Spent: The first, it takes way more energy to connect with someone I barely know than it does for me to connect with a tried-and-true pal.  After a long and exhausting day, if given the choice to call my long-distance friend or go meet a new one, it was obvious which one I'd choose if left to my mood.  Surely it takes less exertion to converse with someone I know I already like than to spend time trying to audition others for the role. Plus, way easier to chat on the phone while I make dinner or surf facebook giving thumbs up than to stop somewhere on the way home, extending my day.
  2. Less Fulfillment Received: The second challenge was that even in the lunches-here-and-dinners-there with new acquaintances it was never as fulfilling as the conversations with my friends who already knew my history.  The lacking depth, comfort and ease with acquaintances just couldn't compare to what came naturally with those who had already lived life beside me.

One can see quite quickly how tempting it would be to simply rely on our former besties or our only friend than to try to expand the circle.  If ever given the choice between something familiar and something unknown-- it's human nature to stick with the former.  My potential friends couldn't compete.  They would inevitably always fall short-- through no fault of theirs other than I was measuring them against women who had an unfair advantage.

The Flywheel.

From the business cult classic book, Good to Great, comes the concept of the Flywheel. The author, Jim Collins, describes it perfectly:

Picture a huge, heavy flywheel--a massive metal disk mounted horizontally on an axle, about 30 feet in diameter, 2 feet thick, and weighing about 5,000 pounds.  Now imagine your task it to get that flywheel rotating on the axle as fast and long as possible.

Pushing with great effort, you get the flywheel to inch forward, moving almost imperceptibly at first.  You keep pushing and, after two or three hours of persistent effort, you get the flywheel to complete one entire turn.

My Flywheels

You keep pushing, and the flywheel begins to move a bit faster, and with continued great effort, you move it around a second rotation. You keep pushing in a consistent direction. Three turns... four...five... six...the flywheel builds up speed... keep pushing... nine...ten.. it builds momentum...eleven... twelve... moving faster with every turn..twenty...thirty...fifty...a hundred.

Then, at some point--breakthrough!  The momentum of the thing kicks in your's own heavy weight working for you. You're pushing no harder than during the first rotation, but he flywheel goes faster and faster. Each turn of the flywheel builds upon work done earlier, compounding your investment of effort.


My Friendship Flywheel now has a momentum that cannot be stopped, an intensity that produces more energy than it requires. It wasn't always this way.  But it is now.

I still get together at least once a year with my girlfriends from Southern Cal and try to call them occasionally, and now I am also surrounded by amazing women who know my day-to-day life, who cheer for me when we get together regularly, who remind me that I am decidedly not alone in this city.

The first few turns of your Friendship Flywheel may feel like too much work.  You may think it's not worth the awkwardness and exertion.  You might be tempted to think it's not meaningful enough to sacrifice time and energy to push.  It may feel like the movements are imperceptible right now.

But believe.  Believe in the investment.  Believe in the Friendship Flywheel.  Believe that it will get easier, stronger, faster.  Believe that what feels unnatural this year will feel natural next year.  Believe that every turn of the wheel pushes you to greater chances of being surrounded by community in the future. Believe that showing up at a ConnectingCircle this weekend may be but one push to ensure that you have a good friend in your life next March.  It all counts-- believe.

What is the hardest thing, in your opinion, about making new friends? What takes the most energy? When are you tempted to feel it's not worth it? What motivates you to keep trying?


p.s.  Just wanted to share that I'm now a Huffington Post blogger for women's friendship. Yay! You can sign up on their site get an email alert when I post a new article each week, if interested. (I'm trying to post both here and there once a week each.)





The 4-Week Consistency Challenge

I tend to do most of my reflection and goal-setting around my birthday every September more than I do around New Years; but without fail, something about January & February calls me to more routine, organization and simplicity. Organizing for our Energy Ironically, our energy seems to increase in what seems initially like counter-intuitive ways. While your temptation might be to step back from a schedule in order to find more energy, research says that the more routine we have in place, the less energy it takes to do what's important to us! So it's not about staying busy, but about creating a routine that regularly invites us to do the things we say are important to us. The more consistent the routine, the higher the pay-off and the less energy it takes from us.

Research shows you're more likely to work out if you do it at the same time every day rather than wait to feel the inspiration. It takes less energy to attend church regularly (because you end up planning your life around it) than it does to attend occasionally (because then you have to fit it into an already full weekend). It takes no more energy to bake an entire pan of brownies than it does to bake one, but obviously you have more to show at the end of one over the other. Sometimes stepping into more costs you little and gives you much.

I have benefited from this principle when it comes to establishing meaningful friendships in huge ways and can vouch that having it scheduled ensures maximum energy input, with minimal output.

Scheduling for our Friendships Every Tuesday night in my world is Girls Night. What that means is that there are five of us (who didn't all know each other when we started) who have committed to carving this into our lives each week. We switch homes weekly and the hostess makes the entree and everyone else bringing wine, dessert, cheese/bread & salad.

If I simply tried to get us all together without that schedule-- it would probably take a minimum of a dozen emails to find out everyone's schedule and it probably would have to be scheduled three weeks out to find a time that works for us all. Someone would also have to feel the pressure to come up with the plan, organizing an activity or restaurant. Each girl then would have to plan around this new and intruding event-- the moms finding baby-sitters, the office workers stressed about trying to get out on time, everyone feeling this big event and pouring emotional energy into anticipating it.

But simply placing it on the calendar every week actually takes less energy. All those planning details repeat themselves automatically-- so the effort actually decreases AND the benefits actually increase since our conversations become more consistent and intimate due to the regularity.

The things you do regularly benefit you the most. With a decreasing cost to you.

Schedule 4 Weeks of Friendship in February! Friendships do not happen easily when you see each other once a month haphazardly. They happen when you see each other over-and-over. It's why making friends in school felt easier. It's why we bond with people at work. It's why all friendship experts are constantly encouraging you to join something-- a book club, a network association, a cause.

This February, experiment with regularity. There are four weeks in the month so come up with a creative way to build up your friendships with a weekly get-together.

Three Planning Tips:

  1. Keep it the same all 4 Weeks: Don't use up your limited energy being too creative-- people like familiarity. Make it Taco Tuesday every week. Sunday Soup Night. Monday Happy Hour. Plan it once and reap the benefits of those plans all four weeks.
  2. Invite women you'd like to get to know better. If you know a lot of people-- invite over a group of girlfriends and simply say come as many weeks as you can this month. You'll bond. If you don't know many people, find 3-4 potential friends on the ClassifiedCircles postings on GirlFriendCircles and invite them to join you, giving them all permission to bring 1-2 others with them so you can all meet new friends!
  3. Keep it simple.This isn't about throwing a party that wows people. It's about connecting. So don't wear yourself out cleaning, cooking, menu-planning and dish-washing. Take-out on paper plates accomplishes the purpose just as well.

It might sound daunting up front, but the benefit--feeling a stronger sense of belonging and being known by friends-- is so worth it. And each week requires less work on your part to get the same benefit.

This February, invest your limited energy in ways that promise to bring you happiness, greater health and less stress by returning your energy tenfold. Build a bond with regularity.

p.s. I'd sooooo love to hear other ideas. Let us all know how you've done this before or how you intend to give it a try now!