Monday, 16 April 2018 06:49

This Is How To Make Close Friends: 4 Surprising Secrets From Research

As you get older, it gets harder to find long-lasting friends.


by Eric Barker
Christopher Malcolm / Getty Images
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Before we commence with the festivities, I wanted to thank everyone for helping my first book become a Wall Street Journal bestseller. To check it out, click here.

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Forget pandas. Close friends are the real endangered species these days.

That’s a painful thing. And I don’t mean “sad-painful.” I mean “broken-arm-painful.” At least that’s how your brain sees it. Your grey matter experiences social pain the exact same way it does physical pain. So much so that Tylenol actually relieves feelings of rejection.

From The Neuroscience of Human Relationships:

The overlap of neuroanatomical processes involved in physical and social pain highlights the conservation of preexisting structures for later-evolving functions. The cingulate becomes activated when we, or those we love, experience physical pain as well as when we experience social exclusion (Davis et al., 1997; Koyama et al., 1998; Lenz et al., 1998; Panksepp, 2003b). The common underlying neurobiology of physical and social pain may help us to understand why the quality of our relationships has such a profound effect on our physical health (Robles & Kiecolt-Glaser, 2003). It also helps to explain why painkillers such as acetaminophen decrease anterior cingulate activation as well as the negative emotional impact of social rejection (Petrovic et al., 2002; DeWall et al., 2010).

A hospital noticed that a lot of child patients were dying. So they limited the tykes contact with others to protect the kids from catching anything. And the result was more children dying. When the kids were given extra social contact, that’s when the situation improved.

Sometimes a lack of affection can be worse than the danger of infection.

From The Neuroscience of Human Relationships:

In response to a high number of deaths, physicians attempted to keep the children safe from infectious diseases by separating them from one another and ordering that their handling be kept to a minimum. Yet they still died at such alarming rates that admission forms and death certificates were signed at intake for the sake of efficiency. It was not until the children were held, rocked, and allowed to interact with one another that their survival rate improved (Blum, 2002).

We need relationships. Critically. We are social animals at our core. But in the modern era we often don’t act like it. And we don’t get clear answers on how to improve the situation.

In many cases we make mistakes that prevent us from really connecting with others and end up with lukewarm friendships but no idea how to deepen them. Time to fix that.

Let’s get to it…

Put The “Ow!” In Hours
Aristotle said, “The desire for friendship comes quickly. Friendship does not.” And Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Friendship requires more time than poor busy men can usually command.”

And a recent study seems to back that up. Looks like making close friends takes a lot of time:

Logistic regressions offered 3-point estimates: 94 hr when acquaintances become casual friends, 164 hr when casual friends become friends, and 219 hr when friends become good/best friends. These numbers are likely conservative estimates due to the inclusion of both closed system and chosen relationships and due to the retrospective nature of the study.

With numbers like that, it’s amazing we have any friends at all. But the reason it takes that long is because we’re doing friendship wrong. We’re all scared and worried and it takes us a long time to really open up.

But what if you suddenly became fearless? Could you make a close friend in less than 219 hours?

Yeah. You could do it in 45 minutes.

From How to Have a Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavioral Science to Transform Your Working Life:

On a scale of 1 to 7, hundreds of volunteers rated their “deepest” relationship as a 4.65 for closeness. After talking about their answers to personal questions for forty-five minutes, random pairs rated their closeness as 3.82 – not all that much lower.

It’s called “reciprocal disclosure.” Arthur Aron created bonds between people that could last a lifetime with just 36 questions. The results were so powerful two study subjects subsequently got married.

I can hear people screaming right now: JUST GIMME THE QUESTIONS! GIMME THE QUESTIONS! GIMME!

Fine, fine. They’re here. But that’s not the point. Those questions aren’t magical. Everybody always says we need to listen, listen, listen to improve relationships. And there’s a reason for that: most of us are horrible listeners.

But it’s still only half the battle. Nobody ever made a good friend by interrogating people or turning a friendly meeting into a job interview.

We need to ask deep questions. And give our own deep responses. You gotta get personal. And then you need to escalate it and go deeper and get more personal. Hopes, dreams, feelings, regrets, memories.

Small talk isn’t neutral. Research shows it can actually harm friendships:

Notably, small talk predicted a reduction in friendship closeness from 6 weeks to 9 weeks. That is, friendships engaging in small talk become less close over time. These findings add another element to Dunbar’s (1996) assertion that time is a constraint to friendship development; namely, what people do with their time together uniquely explains the development of friendship closeness.

You gotta ask tough questions and give serious answers. It’s “Truth or Dare” — with no dares. If you feel uncomfortable, you’re doing it right. And it makes most of us feel very uncomfortable. And that’s why we need 219 hours to finally get around to it.

I know, you’re scared of being judged. Don’t be. You want to be judged. How close can you feel to people who don’t understand you at all? Studies show when we’re judgeable we’re happier and live more authentic lives.

From No One Understands You and What to Do About It:

Research consistently shows that people who are more judgeable are psychologically better adjusted—they are happier; are more satisfied with their personal and professional lives; have more lasting, positive relationships; and have a greater sense of purpose. They feel able to live more authentically and are more confident in their self-knowledge. This makes a lot of sense. If people are seeing you the way you see yourself, then you aren’t getting all the unsettling, self-doubt-inducing feedback that the chronically misunderstood have to endure. Life is simply easier and more rewarding when people “get you” and provide you with the opportunities and support that are a good fit for you.

By the way, when I walk through the automatic doors at the grocery store sometimes I pretend I’m opening them using The Force — just like I did when I was 8. Vulnerable me does silly things. Judge away.

Open up. Be vulnerable. Don’t be afraid. Unless you have thousands of hours to spare.

(To learn more about the science of a successful life, check out my bestselling book here.)

Alright, you’re putting yourself out there. And that’s something that can help everyone improve their friendships. But what is a strategy tailored for you that will take your friendships to the next level?

Practice Un-Safe Socializing
We all do little things to not feel exposed and vulnerable. They’re called “safety behaviors.” And in protecting us they also make it more difficult to connect with others.

Maybe you avoid eye contact. Maybe you brag to impress. Maybe you never compliment people or never initiate a conversation to avoid feeling stupid or rejected.

You know which ones you’re guilty of. When surveyed 92% of people could immediately identify which safety behaviors they engage in.

Now take a deep breath and before your next social interaction, test what happens when you don’t do them. This has been shown to reduce anxiety and make people much more likable.

(Thrive Global)

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