Relationship building and networking are important to entrepreneurs, but they may not come easy.
No, it’s not just you: Americans across the board are becoming lonelier.
According to a Cigna study released last May, 46 percent of American adults say they always or sometimes feel alone. Just 53 percent say they experience meaningful in-person interactions, like engaging in a deep conversation with a friend or family member, on a day-to-day basis.
For most young professionals, those social opportunities come naturally. For fresh-faced executives trying to build a business, they do not.
Restart Your Social Life
Social slow-downs happen for lots of reasons, but adults often experience them as they take on additional obligations. A full-time job, a car payment, a mortgage, kids: All of these things require additional time and effort. The tradeoff is that many ditch what they see as “nice-to-haves” — like happy hours, concerts, Sunday brunches with friends — for these must-haves.
After a long lack of social interaction, we tend to feel lonely. A study by Lisa F. Berkman and S. Leonard Syme found that people who were socially disconnected were three times more likely to die during the study than people who had strong social bonds. Loneliness impacts not just our emotional health, but also our mental and physical health.
The problem is that without regular use, social skills fade, just like any other type of skill. Adults, accustomed to feeling like they “should” know the answers, hesitate to interact with others when they feel socially rusty — creating a self-defeating cycle of isolation.
If you feel lonely but aren’t sure how to fix it, try the following:
1. Bring your social network into the real world.
Online social networking was meant to make us more connected. For many of us, it did exactly the opposite. Rather than use tools like Facebook as once-in-a-while ways to connect, we started to treat them as replacements for the real thing.
Rather than go cold turkey, wean yourself off online-only networks. Social apps like Mappen are safer because their purpose is to facilitate in-person interaction. Instead of plunging yourself straight into social situations with strangers, maintain a sense of control by interacting with familiar people in new settings.
2. Boot up a video game.
Gaming isn’t exactly the sort of thing CEOs tend to prioritize. But unlike social media, video games are actually proven to promote social skills. Although the American Psychological Association’s review considered games’ impact on children rather than adults, it suggested that video games could complement traditional mental health approaches. Social researcher Neil Howe noted that gamers actually tend to be more social than the people who make fun of them.
With that said, not all video games are equally helpful for social development. A single-player shooting game requires far fewer social skills than, say, World of Warcraft or Farmville. Whenever possible, opt for multiplayer matches in games that require collaboration and inter-team communication.
3. Get a pet.
Talking to your cat or dog doesn’t mean you’re crazy; in fact, a University of Chicago researcher says it may mean you’re smart. According to behavioral science professor Nicholas Epley, anthropomorphizing — or applying human traits to non-human entities, like pets — is an act of social cognition. In other words, it’s a low-pressure lesson in empathizing with others.
But pets’ social benefits don’t stop there. Researchers interested in how pets help people form social connections found that pet ownership is the third most popular way people meet their neighbors. According to the study, pet owners are 60 percent more likely than their peers to get to know neighbors they didn’t know before.
4. Practice interviewing people.
If you haven’t done much hiring, interviewing someone might sound like a stressful experience. But consider this: Your goal in an interview isn’t to socialize; it’s simply to gather information. Think of interviewing the same way you do all those other work tasks you don’t love to do: a job apart from your personal life.
Best of all, interviewing is a key business skill. While giving yourself some social training, you can gather blog content, learn more about customers’ needs, and build your bench of employees.
Loneliness is only a trap if you let it become one. Even if your social skills are rusty, they’re still there. But rusty machinery isn’t ready for primetime: Rather than force yourself into intimidating settings, take it easy at first. Chat with your cat. Play that guilty-pleasure game. Lean on your existing network. There’s no shame in skill-building, social or otherwise.