Do you feel lonely? Do you want to feel more connected? Many people feel lonely, or are searching for that sense of belonging to a group that resonates with them. Sometimes it’s that there have been some major life changes happening and they’ve let go of their past relationships, friendships or groups where they used to feel comfortable, and now they might not be sure where they belong anymore. Sometimes it’s that they’ve grown beyond their current groups and are looking for something different than where they’ve been before, but it can feel lonely at first and might feel as if one is searching in the unknown. Some people just don’t know how to connect with others, or feel different and not really a part of any particular group.
For me, I was living with my fiancé, had pretty great family relationships and got along with my work colleagues, but I felt lonely all the time. Even though I was surrounded by people who supported and cared for me, I didn’t feel connected to anything or anyone. I didn’t feel as if I belonged anywhere. Have you ever felt like that too, and not known where it’s coming from or what to do about it? That was me. I felt lost and let myself get caught up in my work so that I could always be busy, distracting myself from the emotional sadness. I fooled myself into believing that I was doing OK in every area of life because I was successful in my career.
But I was wearing myself down. It was becoming exhausting keeping up a life that I didn’t feel I fit into. I just didn’t think I could keep going that way, and I didn’t want to be a burden on those around me. So I started facing up to my fears and getting really honest with myself. I started by asking myself, what am I so afraid of? What do I really want in life? And What can I do about it.
The Fears Behind Loneliness
Sometimes people hold the belief that they should be perfect, or at least look like they’re perfect. I used to think this about myself, and at the same time, I was acutely aware of all my flaws and imperfections. I knew that it was not logical to hold myself to impossible standards, but I didn’t know how not to. I thought, “if I can’t be perfect, then I must at least look like I am”. So I stopped doing things where I believed that there was a chance I could risk having all my imperfections exposed. This wasn’t really a conscious choice that I made, it was more like an unconscious pattern that my brain was following at the time, so I wasn’t really aware that I was doing it. Do you notice a similar pattern? Maybe you’ve stopped doing new or different activities for fun, or maybe you’ve stopped looking for new things to learn or new places to go. For some people this can look like they’re repeating the same old thing every day, not getting out of their comfort zone, even a little bit. Sometimes it’s that you stop going on dates (or don’t even start), or that you don’t go and meet new people or change up your Friday night-in at the movies.
I would think things like “I should join a local hiking group and meet people that way. I like hiking.” But even though I might join the groups, I wouldn’t show up to the hikes because I was afraid. Afraid that I wasn’t fit enough, young enough, socially skilled enough, just not enough. Some people might think things like “I should join a dating site, or ask a mentor out for coffee” but then they become scared of making a mistake, being disappointed, wasting their time or making a fool of themselves.
Do you want help with Sadness, Procrastination, Self-Sabotage, Confidence or Motivation?
Often all the excuses and reasons your mind comes up with to not do the thing that you know will help you, is because of a fear of failing or being rejected in some way. Many people who can relate to this, like I used to, tend to struggle with feelings of self-doubt, lack of self-worth or self-esteem. Sometimes to the point of continuously choosing what is comfortable in the moment, and thereby staying in a place of isolation and disconnection I was doing this for so long without even realising it. Can you relate? The good news is that you can do something about it now, using the very same steps that I learned along my journey towards experiencing deeper and more meaningful connections.
Re-Create Your Meanings
What I didn’t realise all those years ago, before I began the journey, was that just because I might feel embarrassed, rejected, or make a mistake, that doesn’t mean that I am (or anyone is) less of a person. In fact, since people really have little control over other people’s thoughts about them, it’s even more important that you turn your focus onto what you can control, like your own thoughts about yourself. That’s what I did. I began to practise turning my negative thought patterns into positives and actively looking for the “silver linings”, choosing to create different meanings for myself. For example, if I made a mistake or “failed” at something, I would take a step back, separating myself from the emotion, and look at the situation objectively. I would ask myself “what worked for me and what did I do well? What didn’t work and where can I improve? Overall what have I learned?
By doing this, I was able to see that in every situation, even the worst case, I was always learning something, and that meant that I was improving over time. That meant I was always moving forward, which is not failing, that’s succeeding! Another little trick I use to change my negative thoughts into more positive ones, is by playing a game. Whenever I think of something that appears negative, I ask myself “in what situation could that actually be a positive?” For example, if I was thinking unconsciously “Oh no. I said something and everyone laughed at me. How embarrassing.” I would say to myself consciously “ OK so everyone laughed at me. Maybe I’m actually pretty funny. At least I know I can be entertaining.” or I might try “OK. So that might have sounded silly. Now I know that I can handle situations like this and make others feel more comfortable.” You can do this with anything and have a little fun with it – it doesn’t need to be so serious!
Get To Know Yourself
Part of getting out of your comfort zone and facing those fears and negative thoughts, means getting honest with ones-self and being willing to embrace some emotional vulnerability. Sometimes this might mean facing feelings of sadness, disappointment,anger and guilt, or even pride, self-acceptance and gratitude, as you get really honest with your inner self about where you are at and how you are showing up in the world. Even though this can be an emotionally challenging thing to do, it is one of the most courageous things you can do in your life. By opening up to yourself and allowing yourself to be vulnerable for a moment, you create the opportunity to grow and to move towards creating more deeper and more meaningful connections. Sometimes the feeling of disconnect and loneliness, could be because you’ve disconnected from yourself.
I can tell you honestly from experience, that it gets easier the more you practise, and it helps you to build resilience and the strength to say “yes” to yourself when others might have said “no”. For me, I began to feel stronger and more courageous. I was more aligned with the person I wanted to be. I began to see that how others perceived me to be and how they responded to me in any given moment, was not necessarily a statement of my worth and value, but more a reflection of their worldview. And the thing about a person’s world-view, is that it is shaped by so many variables and likely has very little (if anything) to do with me or you at all. The more I remembered this, the easier it was for me to not take things so personally, instead focusing on my own personal feedback that I gave to myself (when I would ask “what worked for me and what did I do well? What didn’t work and where can I improve? Overall what have I learned?).
One of the ways that I began to get to know myself better, was that I started to take myself out on dates. Instead of focusing on how I could find people to connect with, I focused on doing things that I enjoyed and having fun. I learned how to be more comfortable in my own body without the distraction of my mobile phone, or even a book or alcohol. I would go to the movies on my own, find cafes with beautiful views and take myself out to brunch. I went and got my nails or my hair done, and occasionally a massage or a sauna and spa. I would make a point of practising my social skills and positive thinking in each of these activities, whilst actually having fun too.
Those are just some of the things that I did, and for you it might be different. It’s important to do things that nourish you and help you to feel more at ease within yourself, especially if you’ve been focusing on facing your inner fears and getting out of comfort zone. Some people like to get outdoors and be active doing things like surfing or rock climbing or playing a sport. Others might like to go to a play, the movies or a museum, take a tram or a ferry and see a part of the city you live in, spend time at book-shops and cafes or the local markets. An old friend of mine used to not really know what they liked to do or what helped them to feel energised, so they joined a bunch of local meetup groups and tried a different activity with a different group of people every week. She often discovered a new fun activity, something new she found out she was good at, and she always got to use her new connecting skills and meet interesting people. Eventually she re-learned what she liked to do for fun, and the types of people she liked to be around, and so she started to do those things more and more often, getting a little more outside of her comfort zone. Hint: you can even make a list of the things that you feel fill up your energy cup and nourish your inner child, so that you can refer to it daily and use it as a reminder to show yourself that you are OK just as you are and that you care about you. Get into your playful self and enjoy!
How Many Different Ways Can You Connect?
Connection to me is really made up of so many moments of connecting. We’ve already talked about some of the ways that you can be in a place of feeling more connection in your life, but what are some more ways that you can increase those moments of connecting? I know that when I’m really appreciating what I’m grateful for in life, I feel more connected to life. What about connecting with others? Could it be as simple as smiling as you walk past, making eye contact and saying hello, maybe even leading into a conversation? Could it be that you’re engaging in more activities that you enjoy and where you feel most connected, that you’ll meet others there too who are doing the same thing? Some people might prefer getting on the phone or Skype with somebody, maybe re-connecting with an old friend or catching up with family.
I used to find Meetups and join interest groups where I could go and practise connecting with people in a safe space. You could connect with your neighbours, talk to other dog owners when you’re out walking the dog, or say hi to fellow parents at the playground. Even though you might not be building a deep and meaningful connection with every single person you speak to, you are finding ways to increase your moments of connecting and that’s what counts. It’s all about each of the moments of connecting. Every one of them is an opportunity and has the potential to grow into something more than you could ever imagine. And all it takes is getting out of your comfort zone on the regular, and practising a little self-love and acceptance.
For me, it’s not about connecting all the time or being grateful all the time, or even loving myself all the time. It’s not even about having fun all the time. It’s about making progress and increasing the positives you get to experience each day. So, get out there and begin! You might even notice positive changes in other areas of your life, like your career and your health, your relationships and connections with your friends and family, just like I have.