“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what youdid, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

Most people want meaningful connections and deeper relationships.

Whether with spouses, family members, co-workers, lovers or old friends, relationships have the power to make us feel happy, frustrated, or miserable.

But despite our best wishes, most of us struggle to get closer to the people in our lives.

We walk through life behind an invisible, self-imposed wall. It’s our self-protection to keep us from getting hurt.

“Can’t be vulnerable,” our subconscious mind warns us. “Can’t get hurt.”

And when we let down our defenses, and open ourselves up completely, often we don’t know what to do or say? What then?

With these competing feelings and desires, it’s no wonder we aren’t forming stronger bonds with our connections.

Simply put, it’s hard work.

Or is it?

Small Actions Create Big Change

In a fascinating video, Stranger Things stars Joe Keery and Gaten Matarazzo complete friendship tests. The first test is to stare into each other’s eyes while giving compliments.

What’s interesting is how awkwardly the exercise begins, but they quickly start to compliment each other more freely and naturally. They both marvel at the power of deep eye contact combined with kind words, and how rarely this is practiced in real life.

I’ve dedicated this past year trying to improve my relationships, after realizing I’m getting older, and more keenly aware of how fleeting friendships can be.

In the beginning, I took stock of all my relationships. It was pretty depressing.

Friends — I had a handful of genuine relationships. If I’m being honest, I didn’t have more quality friendships because I didn’t try hard enough to maintain the friendships I once had.

Family — I’m blessed with a terrific family, but I wanted to be closer to those I love.

Colleagues — Basically, most of my professional connections came from my most recent job. In other words, I didn’t stay in contact with anyone else.

At first, I blamed it on my introversion, a lousy excuse.

I knew I had to make some changes.

“Almost all of our sorrows spring out of our relations with other people” — Arthur Schopenhauer

Our relationships bring us happiness or sorrow — which one is largely up to us.

I want closer relationships because:

· I want to do more for the people I love.

· I want the people in my life to know, unequivocally, how much I care for them.

· I want them to enjoy being with me and know I enjoy being with them.

So, how are my relationships now? They are noticeably better and improving every day. And that makes me truly happy.

Are my relationships where I want them to be? No. I don’t think they ever will be. There is always room for improvement, so there is always work to do.

What have I learned? It’s not that hard to improve your relationships. By simply developing a few habits, and focusing on the right things, you can improve your relationships dramatically.

It’s really incredible when you think about it. Just a few changes in your daily routine can result in a remarkable difference in the strength of your relationships.

“The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives.”– Tony Robbins

Just a few changes get the ol’ momentum ball rolling. And then it’s addicting, as you begin to notice your relationships evolve and improve.

Why it is Important to Build Stronger Relationships:

1. Relationships are perhaps the biggest component of our happiness.

All of us, even introverts like me, enjoy real connections with other human beings, whether it’s love, a true moment of friendship, or a moment between strangers brightening each other’s day.

Even with the rise of social media, texting and other forms of digital communications, we inherently want to connect deeply and genuinely with real people in a real way.

“The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.”– Joseph Priestley

2. Strong relationships lead to better health. There is a definitive connection between positive relationships and better health.

According to Psych Central, “Past research has shown that individuals with supportive and rewarding relationships have better mental health, higher levels of subjective well-being, and lower rates of morbidity and mortality.”

One study even states that a lack of social relationships has the same effect on your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

3. Relationships inspire trust and loyalty. When you share a strong connection with someone, you have their back, and they have yours.

We’re more willing to open ourselves up and be vulnerable when we know it’s safe.

It’s comforting to know you have a supportive group of friends, willing to lend a hand if you ever need it.

4. Strong relationships build strong teams.

I was fortunate enough to have two excellent parents.

· They worked well together as a team to raise my brother and me.

· They were unified in their goals for what they wanted for us.

· They were outstanding communicators and respected each other enough to avoid undermine each other.

· They were consistent, even tireless, in their efforts.

These are good qualities for parents, but also for entrepreneurs, co-workers, managers, friends, teachers, and any other relationship where teamwork is valued.

When you have a strong relationship with someone, you feel unbeatable as a team.

5. Relationships are part of your legacy. When you look back on your life, it’s your relationships you will treasure.

When I die, I want the people in my life to know I was always there for them. Hopefully, they’ll know I listened to them and provided encouragement when they needed it. I made them feel good. Most importantly, I want them to know I loved them.

Those I leave behind will know these things only if they are true.

And that’s why we’re here right now, making a few daily changes so we can improve the depth of our relationships and strengthen our connections.

Said Ziad K. Abdelnour:

“Time decides who you meet in your life, your heart decides who you want in your life, and your behavior decides who stays in your life.”

Obviously then, it’s worth it put in the effort, and thankfully, it’s not that hard.

Here are some of the best practices to start improving your relationships today.

Small Habits to Create Deeper Connections With the People in Your Life

1. Be a good listener. It’s human nature to talk about ourselves. But what good is it if the other person isn’t listening?

Listen attentively, be present and in the moment.

“Whenever you interact with people, don’t be there primarily as a function or a role, but as a field of conscious Presence.” Eckhart Tolle

When you speak with someone, you should be able to follow up on important topics from your last conversation with them. This is impossible unless your ears are active and your mind is taking notes of what is said.

2. Pay attention to what they are not saying.

“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”-Peter Drucker

To be really present in the moment, you have to actively listen to what is being said, but also to what isn’t being said.

People unknowingly communicate with facial expressions and body language. Do their words match what they’re saying?

Just by being present in the moment, you can really understand them better which can lead to more meaning conversations and a deeper connection.

Good friends are understanding. They just “get” you, right?

A great way to better understand people is to take notice of underlying questions which aren’t being asked.

For example, a friend might ask how you knew when you were in love with your significant other. But maybe what she really wants to talk about is the seriousness of her new relationship.

Answering underlying questions is a great habit to cultivate if you want to build trust and to truly know those you care about.

3. Remember what is important to other people.

Few things strengthen a bond faster than a shared interest.

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”– Dale Carnegie

I recently had an appointment with a doctor as a new patient. It was a purely professional meeting until he mentioned he enjoys cycling. I like cycling as well and we ended up talking for nearly an hour about biking in the area, the best routes, and our favorite experiences.

When I left his office, I had made a new friend. Even if our relationship never extends beyond a professional nature, we now have a connection which will enrich our conversations and time spent together. That is something we can build upon.

Even if you don’t share common interests, it’s important to find out what’s important to people in order to know them.

Build better relationships by following up and showing genuine interest in the important things for those in your life.

In short, be a good friend.

“They do not love that do not show their love” —

William Shakespeare

4. Don’t just say — Do!

Telling someone you love them is important. But if you want to build great relationships, you must act on your words.

· Give her a gift when she least expects it.

· Leave him a love note, just because.

· Or simply let your guard down and open up to someone you care about.

Showing your love puts meaning and credibility behind your words to strengthen your connections.

5. Be your best you.

People gravitate to those who are positive, confident, and humble.

Be the kind of friend you want in others. Don’t gossip and look for the best in others.

Be a true friend, and be there when they need it.

Of course, it’s impossible to be positive and confident 100% of the time, especially if we’re going through a trying situation.

Just be honest. It’s ok to say something like, “Sorry I want to hear what you’re saying completely, but my attention is a little divided right now because of something I’m going through.”

A true friend will be there for you in your time of need as well.

6. Help first, before you are asked. This is an awesome trust-builder for all of your relationships.

Your wife just worked a 12-hour day? Have dinner ready for her when she gets home.

Got a friend going through a tough time? Ask them if they would like a healthy distraction like going to a movie or a game, or just taking a long walk.

A co-worker wants a promotion? Offer to teach them a skill that would be helpful or put in a good word with your boss.

7. Do things together

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation” — Plato

Sometimes relationships fall into a rut.

Maybe you’re in a routine in your marriage with work, family, and bills topping the priorities.

Sometimes with friends, we find we’re always talking about the same things.

Maybe it’s been so long since you’ve seen an old colleague that you don’t even know how to reconnect?

Shake it up. Go do something together that you both enjoy. Cross off a bucket item list together. Go create some memories. Even better, make it a tradition.

8. Value everyone.

Often times, we put greater emphasis on words that are spoken by the those in authority or power or even fame.

But people who are great at building friendships listen to everyone equally, no matter their position. They listen and consider the information strictly on its merits.

In the words of Albert Einstein:

“I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”

People who are good at creating connections understand that every relationship has value.

“Never above you, never below you, always beside you” — Walter Winchell

9. Follow up consistently. If you want to remain friends, you need to stay in touch.

Sometimes that means a quick text, just to say hello.

Other times, you might call and say, “Hey, it’s been awhile, let’s get together. It’d be good to hang out with you and catch up.”

The level of your communication depends on the relationship.

For casual connections, a thoughtful Facebook or Instagram comment or Instagram comment might be perfect. For closer relationships, a phone call or get-together is more appropriate.

“Your network is your net worth” — Unknown

Follow up with your business contacts as well.

Ultimately, we should look at our network contacts as friends, not just people we may need a favor from someday.

Ever had an old co-worker call you out of the blue after 4 years, asking you for help getting a job?

Don’t be that person who calls up their contacts only when they need something.

Pick 1 or 3 friends a day, including your business contacts, and just reach out to them and touch base.

It’s a small effort, but it’s what real friends do. Friends keep in touch. They follow up.

This simple process is how you build stronger, deeper connections.

10. Love your authentic self.

“Relationships do not cause pain and unhappiness. They bring out the pain and unhappiness that is already in you.” — Eckhart Tolle.

The most important relationship we have is with ourselves.

If you want to succeed in your relationships, you have to love the person in the mirror completely. You must accept your faults and insecurities and be ok with who you are.

Many people think they don’t deserve love. Perhaps they haven’t experienced unconditional love yet, and don’t know how to accept it.

William James said,

“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” — William James

Start with yourself. When you accept yourself, you create the space that allows for intimacy with others.

Here are a few things I’ve done to increase self-confidence and self-acceptance that will work for you too.

Take a minute to pray or meditate. It soothes the soul.

Keep a journal to document important things going on in your life.

Just the simple act of writing is a great form of expression to get things out of your system.

You’ll be surprised how much better you feel.

Make time for yourself.

Sometimes I go to the movies by myself or I ride my bike alone.

It’s my time to center myself, doing things I enjoy. I believe it makes me calmer and more relaxed.

Give yourself a break.

Stop holding yourself to the fire for past mistakes. Let it go. No one’s perfect, and no one expects perfection from you either.

When I feel confident and at peace with who I am, I’m more open and honest with people. I’m less afraid of being hurt.

“Truth is, everybody is going to hurt you; you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for.” — Bob Marley

The Bottom Line

If you’ve read this far, then clearly you want to get closer to those you love and improve the connections in your life.

The good news is, it’s not that hard.

Start small and commit to doing 1 or 2 things on this list every day. Aim to improve your connections by just 1% each day. In 100 days, your relationships will be 100% better.

Keep it going, and all your connections will continue to build in strength.

You never lose by loving. You always lose by holding back — Barbara De Angelis

I believe we were put on this earth to love and to be loved. Neither can happen in a cocoon, making our relationships the most important component of our lives.

So cherish them, nurture them and grow them.

Your best relationships are only a few daily habits away.

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