We’re experiencing an epidemic of loneliness these days. That might seem odd since, thanks to technology, we are more digitally connected than ever. But after years on our screens, a pandemic, and social changes, many of us are struggling to find where we belong.
The past decade has taught us that we all need real-life connections, the kind that involve face-to-face interactions, messy conversations, and even healthy conflict. These relationships improve our mood and our well-being. They propel us to find purpose and meaning in our lives.
If you are feeling lonely or a lack of belonging, I have some good news for you: It’s never too late to improve your communication skills so you can experience more connection. At Denizen Communication, we teach people how to engage positively and authentically with others, personally and professionally, to create better and more fulfilling relationships.
To get started, I have one simple piece of advice. Remove news and social media notifications from your phone. If you have them on other devices, remove them there as well.
I know it might feel like you are missing a game-changing message, comment, or headline. You’re not. That comment on a social media post can wait. That news story will be there later and, once you are no longer startled by it, will be less likely to distract you or cause your pulse to race.
The pings on your phone were designed to grab your attention, induce a dopamine rush, and get you coming back for more. Once hooked, notifications distract you from a walk, a good book, a conversation with a loved one, a new buddy, or just plain boredom. Yes, boredom.
Let me share a story. Growing up in the 1980s, my family took a lot of long car rides. Two activities got me through them. The first was making up very long songs that drove my sibling bonkers but got my creative juices flowing. The second was a game I played when it was raining. I would follow a raindrop that landed on the window and see if it would reach the bottom, merging with other raindrops as it descended. You have no idea how long that kept me occupied. When eventually it didn’t, I found other things to do.
A few years ago, I realized I was afraid of being bored. I needed constant dopamine hits and reached for my phone all day long. I lost hours and hours mindlessly scrolling. I felt empty, lonely, and sometimes even slightly sick to my stomach.
Once I removed social media and news notifications from my phone, I saw a change. I picked up a book. I called an old friend. I wrote. I worked out. On rainy days, I started watching the raindrops on the windows again. I stopped wasting time staring at a device that was not going to bring me happiness.
These days, I gaze out the window each morning for a few minutes of mindfulness and notice how my eye muscles feel different when I look into the distance. The phone sits somewhere else, so I can avoid that automatic reach for it when my mind inevitably wanders.
After you turn off notifications, you will likely feel discomfort during those first few weeks. Have a magazine handy or your walking shoes. Go see a movie on your own. Play Jenga with friends or family or against yourself if you live alone. Make a list of the things you might do now that you are no longer mindlessly scrolling or feeling as much despair over the state of the world.
As you experience more downtime, you may notice you now have space in your life for some new friends. Or you may decide it is time to apply for a new job. If your communication skills are rusty, reach out to us. We will practice with you until you feel confident and ready.
The work is hard. But it’s doable and fun, and the results are so worth it: greater connection, improved well-being, and more ease in your life and relationships.
Photo credit: Warren Wong/@wflwong