The Friendship Factor: Get Closer To Those You Care For

If we build more windows and fewer walls, we will have more friends.Friendship is one of the most rewarding aspects of life, but real, deep friendships don’t just naturally come along. When I was growing up, we moved many times, and it was difficult for me to really build deep friendships. Plus, I wasn’t comfortable with “being real” about myself.

I first read The Friendship Factor by Alan Loy McGinnis when I was in college (yep, way back in the 1980s) and my copy of the book is now dog-eared, highlighted and well-used. It gave me some concrete steps to develop deep friendships, and of course, living in one place for more than 20 years has helped too!

No matter what your life story has been, you probably have experienced at least some difficulty in a relationship. I don’t think any of us are exempt from that. Subtitled “How to Get Closer to the People You Care For,” The Friendship Factor asks you these questions:

  • Do you have at least one person nearby whom you can call on in times of personal distress?
  • Do you have several people whom you can visit with little advance warning without apology?
  • Do you have people who will lend you money if you need it, or those who will care for you in practical ways if the need arises?

McGinnis writes that if your response is largely negative, it may be that “your friendships are being impeded by your social life! Some people immerse themselves in such a whirl of parties and social affairs that there is no opportunity to establish a close relationship.”

Here are four (plus one!) of my favorite tips from McGinnis that I have used and will continue to be purposeful about as I develop friendships with both young and old:

  1. Assign top priority to your relationships. “Why do we seldom relate at such a deep level? Why is there such a shortage of friendship? One simple reason: We do not devote ourselves sufficiently to it. If our relationships are the most valuable commodity we can own in this world, one would expect that everyone everywhere would assign friendship highest priority.”
  2. Cultivate transparency. “People with deep and lasting friendships may be introverts, extroverts, young, old, dull, intelligent, homely, good-looking; but the one characteristic they always have in common is openness. The human personality has a natural built-in inclination to reveal itself. When that inclination is blocked and we close ourselves to others, we get into emotional difficulties.”
  3. Dare to talk about your affection. “For fear of seeming sentimental, many of us hold back expressions of warmth and thereby miss out on rich and profound friendships. We say ‘thanks’ when we mean ‘God bless you’ and ‘so long’ when we mean ‘I’ll miss you a lot.’ Why are we so reluctant to say openly that we care for another? There is the possibility that our overture of warmth will not be reciprocated and we will be rejected…. But those who are loved widely are usually those who throw caution to the winds and declare their love freely.”
  4. Learn the gestures of love. “The best relationships are built upon the accumulated layers of acts of kindness. Small acts of kindness demonstrate that you haven’t taken your loved one for granted.”
  5. Create space in your relationships. McGinnis writes about the tendency to control others, and he says this villain frequently masquerades as love. “The overly protective mother will say, ‘Honey, I’m just doing this for your own good,’ and the man who constantly corrects his friend thinks, ‘It’s all for his benefit.’ But the effect is always to suffocate, and I have never known a person who did not try to flee from manipulators. Those who have successful friendships allow their loved ones room. Rather than possessing their friends, they try to help them expand and grow and become free.”

I’m thankful for learning these steps to deeper friendships, and I hope they help you too!

Purchase a copy of The Friendship Factor by Alan Loy McGinnis on Amazon. It’s also available for Kindle. 

 

 

24-Hour Challenge Without Media Panics College Students

This challenge will teach you balance and offer you awareness about your media intake. Why don’t you try it?

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Every year in Media and Society class, I assign my students a 24-Hour Challenge of doing without any electronic media, including:

  • texting, email, websites and anything viewed via their smartphones
  • social media (SnapChat, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube)
  • music via a digital device (some have listened to vinyl)
  • TV shows, Netflix, movies

Students always panic when they hear about this assignment. I explain that if they need to use their smartphones for work, do so, but then put the device right back down. The students are not to use media for entertainment, to relieve boredom, to kill time, etc.

Then, they write a response paper reflecting on the difficulties they experienced, their level of anxiety, how dependent they are on media for information and for their sense of themselves, and yes, hopefully, what they learned about themselves.

Here are four common themes expressed by the 24-Hour Challengers:

 1.  Students don’t realize how many times a day they pick up their phones or how much time they spend on them.

“After being given this challenge, I felt that with a little determination I wouldn’t have a problem going 24 hours without using electronic media. I was wrong. It’s mind opening that it took an assignment like this to see how much (and often) media enters my life.”

“By doing this 24-hour challenge, I saw just how much I depend on these little computers on a day-to-day basis. I cannot wake up in time for class or work unless I set an alarm, I cannot get in contact with any of my friends or my significant other unless I text them, and I cannot even dress appropriately for the weather without checking the weather app.”

2.  Students report feeling anxiety from not being in the loop with their friends. 

“While it was nice to disconnect from the media for a day, it made me feel disconnected as well. I was constantly wondering what my friends were saying on our group chat and if anything exciting had happened on Facebook or Snapchat.”

My “anxiety came from not being in contact with the people I was going to meet up with that day. The thought of potentially having plans change without my knowledge stressed me out. I didn’t want to be the person that showed up at this place at that time, when we were now supposed to go to that place at that time, or have the plans be canceled altogether.”

“I have always been a caretaker and the one to help people through their problems. Almost immediately after I got my first cellphone, I took on the role of always being available for anyone to talk to. I felt uncomfortable telling the few people I talk to consistently that I would be unavailable.”

3.  Students don’t know what to do with boredom.

“The car rides were what made me the most anxious. Usually I will have something playing on the radio but I was forced to sit in silence and listen only to my thoughts, which in a way was therapeutic. It allowed for me to think about my own health and well being instead of becoming distracted by the new hits. I also noticed I was more alert while driving since my mind was solely focused on the road.”

“After about 15 minutes of this, I began to get bored. I started to feel a little sorry for myself, and it was then that I decided to add on to the challenge. I challenged myself to go through the rest of the day without complaining, no matter how much I wanted to.”

“I also made it a mission that whenever I would wait for something or pass time, I would not look at my phone and instead I would just be present in the world and make the most of it.”

4.  Students realize that disconnecting from media makes their lives less convenient. 

“I was doing pretty well up until lunchtime when I went to make one of those Stouffer’s Italian Bread Pizzas when I realized that the box with the directions had been thrown away some time ago. Not knowing how long to cook it and what to set the oven temperature to, I ended up looking it up on the good ol’ Google Chrome. The 24-hour challenge had turned into the four-hour challenge. Not bad, right?”

“I had to use my laptop for a quick minute to write down one recipe I had on my laptop because I needed to see what I needed to get from the market.”

And now some final comments the students expressed about the challenge itself:

“As a whole, this assignment was challenging, yet fun. I am now going to try and take a step back and unplug from the social media world more. I have to surprisingly admit, I did feel refreshed after turning off the craziness of the media world for 24-hours.”

“I would not choose to do this challenge again unless I was in great need of a media cleanse. I missed being able to listen to music and chat with my friends and do simple things such as check my email.”

“During a normal day, I am very connected to social media…. Without the media I would not be able to keep up with the world around me, and I would be very lost and confused. In the future, I intend to find the line between too much media and too little media to help me in my everyday life.”

So I’ve done this challenge occasionally, and I admit it can be difficult. But overall, it’s very helpful. It’s nice to unplug, to not know the latest hysteria trending on Twitter, to hear the sounds of nature around me, to be quiet, to be present.

It’s also nice to plug back in, but this challenge will teach you balance and offer you awareness about your media intake. Why don’t you try it?

Set Yourself Free: 4 Practices From A Recovering Worryholic

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Worry. Anxiety. Sleepless Nights.

Sound familiar?

I’m a Type A Perfectionist, and I’ve spent too many nights, waking up:

  • hoping my plans for the next day go OK
  • wondering if I offended someone with what I said
  • worrying about the safety of my loved ones
  • pondering over exact details of this and that
  • And on and on and on.

And what did all the worrying accomplish? Zilch. Nothing. Nada. Just many tired days filled with yawns, Diet Coke, restless legs and cat naps.

From the time I was a teen, I can remember counting sheep and memorizing scripture to try to soothe those worrisome thoughts. Now that I’m in my 50s, I’ve gone through a period of transformation. I’m working to be the person God made me to be. I’m learning to be comfortable in my own skin. I’m trying to live a life of joy, peace and mercy.

Here are four life practices for “setting myself free”:

1. Focus on work and activities that bring me joy.

My identity was always placed on my work. What was I accomplishing? How was I advancing? But much of that work placed me in stressful positions that didn’t bring me joy.

What brought me joy was working with students. Teaching. Motivating. Encouraging. One of my favorite days of the year is graduation, and I always reflect on what my students have accomplished and how they have matured since they walked into class as freshmen. That brings me happiness. So I gave up several directorial roles (and the additional salary) and went back full-time to the classroom. I’m poorer financially, but much richer personally.

2. Stop trying to please other people.

In addition to my perfectionist tendencies, I’ve also been a people pleaser — trying to please anyone and everyone around me. That’s hard work — and it’s impossible.

Now I focus on pleasing those I’m closest to. Sure I would like everyone to like me. But as much as I’ve tried, that’s impossible. Other people have their own issues, their own backgrounds, their own insecurities — and not everyone is going to like me. So my goal each day is to live with integrity and to support those near me. That’s doable!

3. Enjoy a prayer walk several days per week.

Oh my goodness. This practice has truly changed my outlook. I walk. I think. I pray. I meditate.

I’ve made this practice a priority. In cold weather. In hot weather. When I tell myself, I don’t have time, I make time. Being still and meditating is difficult for a Type A person like me, but a walking meditation works.

I try to “see the sky,” which helps me put life into perspective. That nagging worry becomes the cardinal flying in the sky. I don’t focus on the cardinal flitting in and out, up and down. I focus on the permanence and beauty of the sky.

As I walk, I pray for those who are suffering and grieving. I pray for my daughter to make wise decisions in her life. I pray for family and friends. I pray for myself to stop and “be” and not just “do.”

4. Control my thoughts and rest in God.

I’ve learned that anxiety is a lifestyle. It’s a habit, an addiction, even a sin? Over time, I’ve learned to rely on the following techniques to change my thinking.

I memorize scriptures, such as:

 “Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.” Psalm 62:5-8 
“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6: 25-34
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer…” Philippians 4: 6-7
“Do not let your hearts be troubled….” John 14: 1-4

I reflect on quotes like these:

“If you pray why worry. If you worry, why pray?”
“Worrying is praying about what you don’t want to happen.”
“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.”

Truly all that has helped, but nothing has helped me more than resting. Resting in the promise of God. I surrender. I unclench my hands and open my palms to the sky. I rest in Him. So now when worrisome thoughts enter my head, I address them with, “No. Not today. Not now. I rely on my God.”

 

4 Signs Of A True Friend

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I’ve always been intrigued by friendships. Curious thoughts such as:

  • Why do we form bonds with certain individuals, but we don’t really “click” with others?
  • How and why do women form friendships differently than men?
  • How can I be the best friend I can be?

In college, I read Alan Loy McGinnis’ book, “The Friendship Factor,” and it really impacted my life. I think I’ll write a blog on that at a later date!

But since I just returned from a Girls’ Weekend in Malibu, California, with my two besties, I’ve been reflecting on what makes us connect with each other. We talked about this together, so here’s our “4 signs of a true friend”:

  1. A true friend will always seek to do what is in your best interest.
    She wants what is best for YOU — not necessarily what is best for her. Both my friends moved miles away from me in the past few years, but I knew that was best for them and their life circumstances. I rooted for them — even if I knew it would be hard for me.
  2. A true friend accepts you for who you are and doesn’t try to change you. She will know you and love you anyway. So you repeat yourself all the time? Your friend will love you anyway. You worry too much and can’t let it go? She will love you anyway. You root for the heated rival of her favorite sports team? She will love you anyway!
  3. A true friend is real about herself. She doesn’t wear a mask around you or try to be that “perfect” person. In fact, “perfect” people are boring. It’s so much more fun to be around someone who owns up to her mistakes, faults and worries. Being real — we can all relate to that!
  4. A true friend puts God first — before you and before herself. If her focus is on God — on something bigger than this life — then she will be true to you. She will walk beside you even when times are tough. She will have perspective when you hurt her and don’t live up to her expectations. She will persevere with you. She won’t judge you. She will love you!

I’m thankful for my two best friends. Very thankful. I hope to be a “true friend” to them each and every day. And I pray that you find your “true friend” too.