Relationships are like bank accounts. We make deposits and withdraws all the time. If we make several deposits but find nothing to withdraw, we feel cheated. Conversely, we cheat others when we take several withdraws without making any deposits.
Relationships are intended to be win-win. When the costs of a relationship out-weigh the benefits for one of the parties, that relationship will likely end.
Some of our current relationships should end immediately. However, other relationships in our life are vital, and should be treated as such.
This article is intended to challenge your entire approach to your relationships. The purpose is to help you get clear on who should be in your life, and how create fulfilling relationships with them.
The challenge is, we can get complacent and lazy in our relationships. We often take our loved ones for granted. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by life and go into survival mode.
Our relationships are the most important part of our life. No other success can compensate for failure with our loved ones. Yet, we see it all the time — people spending their entire lives pursuing happiness only to realize happiness was always right in front of them. They entirely missed the point. They missed the most important moments of their lives, which they can never get back.
Are you missing the point?
With this short list, your relationships will radically change.
- Move Beyond Relationships That No Longer Make Sense
One of the biggest strains on relationships is forcing them to be what they used to be. Certain relationships simply don’t make sense anymore. Backing off does not devalue or dishonor how important they once were.
One year ago, I moved from Salt Lake City to South Carolina for graduate school. So much has changed in my world during this past year. My wife and I became foster parents. We’ve both been working on graduate degrees. We’ve spent considerable time working on the interior and exterior of our home. We’ve grown closer together during our time away. But we’ve also changed and become different people through the process.
Coming back to Salt Lake, I feel a gap between myself and those I used to relate deeply with. We no longer connect on the same level. Our lives have gone in different directions and are moving at different speeds.
It’s nice to reminisce about the past, but awkward pretending everything is the same. Don’t be afraid to simply say, “I can no longer put the energy into this relationship I once did. I will always love you and what we had. But my life and priorities have changed.” This may be painful in the moment. But better to have a short-term loss and long-term gain than the other way around.
- Stop Talking So Much
I used to tell my wife, Lauren, everything that was going on in my life. How things were going at school. How much I disliked working in my office. How things were going with my writing and blogging. We’d have the dreaded and useless, “How was your day?” conversations.
Why do we feel the need to continually rehash the past?
She doesn’t need or want to know all of these details. In truth, all she wants to know is that she is number one in my life and that she and the kids are being provided for and protected by me. Actually, those details get in the way of living in the present moment with her. So I’m done telling her about these things. Instead, we talk about what matters to us.
I recently took a two day hiatus to visit a friend in Sun Valley, Idaho. We had some amazing times, like doing a gorgeous 50 mile bike ride. Yet, I feel no need to rehash that experience to my wife or to anyone else for that matter (not even my FB friends).
Can’t that experience with my friend be good enough?
Do I really need to relive it over and over?
Can’t we relish our moments and then move onto the next ones?
Instead of spending a considerable amount of time talking about the past, we’d be better off applying Jerry Seinfeld’s wisdom of talking about nothing. Not every conversation needs to be about our work or the things we do every day. We could spend our moments simply enjoying small talk or even silence while doing recreational activity. We could have conversations that are relevant to the people we are presently with.
- Listen Better
We spend 70 to 80 percent of our waking hours in some form of communication. Of that time, we spend about 9 percent writing, 16 percent reading, 30 percent speaking, and 45 percent listening. Despite the amount of time we spend listening, countless research studies confirm that most of us are poor and inefficient listeners. Further studies have found that after listening to a 10-minute oral presentation, we only retain and remember 50 percent or less of the content. After 2 days, we remember less than 25 percent of what we heard.
This is not surprising. We spend our formative education learning how to speak, read, and writing. Yet, we’ve never really been taught how to listen. This is also true of informal training. There are countless workshops that teach people how to become excellent speakers and writers. But very few focused on listening.
Another challenge is that we think at about 400 words per minute while we speak at about 125 words per minute. When we are listening to someone speak, we are only using 25 percent of our mental capacity. The other 75 percent is generally used in a mental wandering. Thus, true listening takes intense concentration and care.
The 10 worst listening habits we all fall into include:
- Finding the subject matter uninteresting
- Pre-judging and criticizing the delivery or appearance of the speaker
- Becoming over stimulated either by agreeing or disagreeing
- Listening only for facts and missing the fundamental idea being presented
- Trying to outline everything being said and missing the main point
- Pretending to pay attention while periodically saying, “Uh huh,” and “Yeah!”
- Allowing or creating distractions
- Listening to things that are easy to comprehend and avoiding more difficult concepts
- Letting emotional words like Democrat or Republican get in the way of the main point
- Wasting thought power—the differential between thought speed and speaking speed
10 strategies for improving listening are as follows:
- Face the speaker and maintain eye contact
- Be attentive, but relaxed
- Keep an open mind
- Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying
- Don’t interrupt and don’t impose your “solutions”
- Wait for the speaker to pause to ask clarifying questions
- Ask questions only to ensure understanding
- Try to feel what the speaker is feeling
- Give the speaker regular feedback
- Pay attention to what isn’t said—to nonverbal cues
- Perform Rather Than Promise
“Words can be twisted into any shape. Promises can be made to lull the heart and seduce the soul. In the final analysis, words mean nothing. They are labels we give things in an effort to wrap our puny little brains around their underlying natures, when ninety-nine percent of the time the totality of the reality is an entirely different beast. The wisest man is the silent one. Examine his actions. Judge him by them.” ― Karen Marie Moning
People love making promises. We frequently tell our bosses and loved ones we’re going to be better. Most of the time, these promises are shallow and manifest far less than we promised.
Rather than promise, just show up and execute. As Rick Yancey has said, “Some things you don’t have to promise. You just do.”
- Say “I Love You” More
“The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.”—Harriet Beecher Stowe
According to Dr. Aaron Ben-Zeév, one of the world’s leading experts in the study of emotions—when it comes to saying, “I love you,” there’s often an emphasis on timing. We believe we must wait for certain occasions to say it. In some cases, such as dating, this may be true.
However, in most cases, this is paralysis by analysis. We need to stop over-thinking our relationships and start living and loving.
I once knew a Polynesian missionary who told everyone he loved them. I asked him why he did it. What he told me changed my life. “When I tell people I love them, it not only changes them, but it changes me. Simply by saying the words, I feel more love for that person. I’ve been telling people all around me I love them. They feel treasured by me. Those who know me have come to expect it. When I forget to say it, they miss it.”
Often we assume the people in our lives must know how much we love them. But we should never assume—we should let them know. Wrote William Shakespeare, “They do not love that do not show their love.” We will never regret the kind words spoken or the affection shown. Rather, we will feel intense regret if such things are omitted from our loved ones.
- Detach From The Need For A Particular Result
When Lauren and I became foster parents, we felt a lot of uncertainty.
Would these kids be ours forever?
Should we not get too attached, just in case they end up going back to their parents or to someone else?
How do we love them without all of us getting hurt?
Then one night, after putting the kids to sleep, Lauren and I talked. We decided our concerns didn’t matter.
Why would we hold back our love at the risk it will end shorter than we anticipated? All the more reason to maximize the time we do have. If short-term, than we better make it memorable and impactful. If long-term, why defer happiness until some unknown time in the future?
Professor Harold Hill, one of the principal characters in the Meredith Willson’s timeless musical comedy, The Music Man, voices a caution: “You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you’ve collected a lot of empty yesterdays.”
That night, Lauren and I decided to love these kids as if they are going to be ours forever. No matter what the end result will be, we are going to embrace every moment.
- Write Handwritten Notes, Often
The messages of handwritten letters impact deeper and are remembered longer than electronic messages. There is no comparison to this traditional form of conversation.Handwritten messages are so powerful that people often keep these notes for a long time. Sometimes a lifetime.
Jack Canfield has taught that writing 3-5 handwritten notes per day will change your relationships. In our email world, it can seem inefficient to hand-write and mail a letter. But relationships aren’t about efficiency.
Not only will handwriting letters change your relationships, it will change you. Research has shown that writing by hand increases brain development and cognition more than typing can. Consequently, the things you write will be seared into your own memory as well, allowing both you and the recipient to reflect back on cherished moments.
Writing handwritten notes spices up your relationships, adding an element of fun. It’s exciting placing kind and loving notes in random places for your loved ones to find. Put a note under the windshield wipers of your loved one’s car to find after a hard days’ work. Hidden, wait til they come out and watch them from across the street. You’ll see their eyes light up and smile spread.
Other fun places include:
- In the fridge
- In the closet
- On the computer keyboard
- In their shoe
- In their wallet
- The mail box
- Anywhere that makes the experience a surprise.
- Be Either 100% On Or 100% Off
Tim Ferriss recently blogged about burnout. He explained that burnout can happen when we take our work with us everywhere. Tim avoids burnout by being 100% on when he’s working, and 100% off when he’s not. When he goes on mini-vacations, he completely unplugs and fully embraces his off-time.
This is so hard to do in our hyper connected world. However, until we master this, we’ll be both burned out by our work and relationships.
Unplugging goes beyond just leaving work at work. It means unplugging from email, social media, and other electronics while we’re with our loved ones. Leaving our phone in our car when we get home and dealing with it on our way to work the next day.
Very few things are as urgent as they seem. Unplugging not only tells your loved ones you care, but it fosters respect in those you work with. Your colleagues will respect your time more when they know you yourself respect it.
- Be More Generous
Scientific American recently reported on a study which found that being stingy can facilitate higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Not only does genorisity reduce stress, but research has found that giving and unselfishness can even lower the risk of early death. Conversely, holding back and hoarding promote feelings of shame.
It is a natural and cosmic law that when you’re grateful and generous, the world becomes your oyster. You’ll have more than you can possibly give away. There is only lack to those who live in fear of scarcity. As Joe Polish has said, “The world gives to the givers and takes from the takers.” What you focus on expands.
- Choose Not To Be Offended
You’re driving down the road and make a wrong move. The person next to you honks their horn and gives you the bird while screaming at you.
This is not about you. It’s about them. The truth is, you can’t offend another person. Being offended is a reaction.
The book, The Anatomy of Peace, explains the fundamental reason some people are quick to anger while others are in control. It all comes down to the condition of our heart—whether we are at war with ourselves or at peace.
In the book, the author tells the story of a Lou Herbert, a sixteen year old boy. Lou’s family had had one family car for several years—a red farm truck. Then one day, the family got a new car. Lou was eager to show his friends, and sensing his son’s excitement, Lou’s father let him take it.
When Lou stepped into the car, he turned on the engine and felt a jolt of excitement. Before leaving, he remembered leaving his wallet in the house. When he came back outside, to his horror, the car was gone. “Didn’t I put it in park?!” he screamed in his mind. He saw fresh tire tracks down the driveway and off the bank into a nearby river. He ran over and saw headlights facing him as the car got sucked under the
When Lou walked back into his house, he saw his father facing away from him in his armchair reading the newspaper. Lou just stood there speechless. “Forget something else?” his father said. “No.” Lou said, feeling cornered with nowhere to hide. “Dad…” he couldn’t bring himself to speak. “Dad, I—the car..” he trailed off. “I must have forgotten to set the break. The car, dad! It’s in the river! I’m so sorry!” he said bursting into sobs.
What happened will be forever seared in Lou’s memory. His dad didn’t turn around and didn’t even lower his newspaper. While turning the right corner of the newspaper page, he said calmly, “Well, I guess you’ll have to take the truck then.” In that moment, Lou realized his father’s heart was at peace.
How often do we let the most insignificant things push us over the limit?
How often do we explode in fury?
How quick are we to anger?
Call To Action
Reading a post like this and doing nothing about it is like hearing a lecture without experiencing a lab. It’s like being briefed on a field trip but never taking the field trip. Knowledge is not power. It’s only potential power until it is properly applied.
This may terrify you, but you need to reach out to the people who no longer make sense in your life. Let them know how much you value and honor them—but that you need to put your time and energy else at this time. Don’t hesitate to do this. Pull out your phone right now or shoot an email. Just do it.
Lastly, write 3-5 handwritten letters today to important people in your life. Don’t make them long. Just meaningful and sincere.
If you were inspired by this post and want more content in the future, please subscribe to my updates. You’ll also get a free digital version of my book Slipstream Time Hacking. Thanks for reading!
Benjamin Hardy is the foster parent of three children and the author of Slipstream Time Hacking. He’s pursuing his Ph.D. in organizational psychology. To learn more about Mr. Hardy, visit www.benjaminhardy.com or connect with him on Twitter.