You make a lot of friends in college. But what about after? For many people, it can be hard to make new friends as they get older and their social circles shrink down to family members or work colleagues. But making friends is vital to happiness and has been linked to a longer life span and a joyful and healthier life. Here is a 3-step strategy to making new friends:
1. Reduce social anxiety
Most of us kind of know already how to make friends. You go out and talk with people, right? Knowing how doesn’t always make it easier though. Talking to people can make our palms sweat and make us feel awkward. Social anxiety is the fear of social situations or interactions with others that causes a person distress, discomfort, panic attacks, nausea, etc.
If you want to make friends but are struggling with this problem then there are ways you can make it easier on yourself:
Reduce coffee intake
The jury’s out — coffee makes you anxious. It can be tasty. But the delicious taste is the taste of sweet addiction. And the strong emotional resistance to stop it is the shackles of addiction.
Coffee can increase productivity. However, it comes at a cost. Coffee also decreases serotonin, the chemical that makes us feel calm and content. Instead, it increases dopamine, which increases stress and adrenaline. Caffeine has been clearly linked to anxiety and many people specifically report that it contributes to their social anxiety. So it may not be doing you any favors in making friends.
Cut social media and excessive screen use
Screen use can suck up a large amount of time. One may question, what did people do before we spend all our waking hours in front of a screen? Well, hanging out with others used to be a main source of entertainment. Now that we spend so much time on social media and screens, our real-life interactions are reduced.
To make matters worse, social media can give us the false illusion of being connected — while being lonelier than ever. The constant stimulation does not give us enough time to connect with our true boredom and loneliness. Boredom and loneliness should lead to frustration. Frustration is evolutionarily designed to lead to action. But when we distract ourselves with screens, we can numb the frustration. And numbing frustration is not necessarily a good thing. Feeling lonely and bored should eventually become frustrating enough that it gives us the energy and courage required to make a change. And in terms of feeling lonely, that change should be in the form of reaching out to other people.
Prime your mindset to be social
To meet new people it can be helpful to consider your mindset. One of the most important things to create a positive atmosphere with others is the mindset that you enter the activity with. If your first impression is smiling and greeting everyone, it will create a much more “warm energy” in the group. Other people will be more likely to be warm to you as well, which can really foster a positive, social feedback loop.
A few minutes of priming yourself before entering a new social situation can make wonders for improving your social mindset. Try to think back on a social situation where you felt comfortable, confident, and had fun. How did you feel? What happened? Who were you with? Get in touch with those memories to help you get into that same mindset.
A great way to connect to those feelings can be to listen to certain music. For example, it could be songs that you remember from fun, social moments in your past. Or it can be songs that make you feel happy or authentic. Whatever it is that helps you feel your best. Make sure to listen to that kind of music right before entering the new social situation.
Having the right social mindset can do wonders in creating an environment that is more prone to lead to warmer and closer connections more quickly.
2. Meet new people
Okay, so now to the obvious part — you need to meet some new people. And making new friends, from strangers, takes time. This is the reason why it happens more easily at school or at work — you spend so much time there. With enough time, friendships tend to grow. So to make new friends you need to find a way to spend time with new people. And the key to creating enough time with a new group of people is to find an activity that happens regularly.
Finding a regular activity can also help reduce having to rely on willpower too much. Making friends can be initially draining and take a lot of effort. So you don’t want to rely on willpower at every move. It can make it too tempting to take the path of least resistance and not put it in that effort.
Find activities in real life to meet new people
People often make friends because they share similar interests. Hobbies can be a great way to make friends withlike-minded people with who you share values and interests. Chances are high that there will, at least be someone in the new group, that you can become friends with. I’ve found that when you meet someone at a specific activity, it will likely turn out that you have other things in common, beyond that activity.
A shared-interest activity can also reduce the pressure during the initial conversation, as the activity can serve as a natural ice breaker.
Some examples of activities to meet new people are:
- rock-climbing gym
- a class for learning a new language or skill, for example woodworking
- taking a class at your local university
- co-working space
- volunteering (dog shelter, homeless shelter)
Here are some more ideas on where to meet new friends.
If the activity does not lead to any new connections, try looking for a different group/activity.
Live with others
Another great option to surround yourself with new people is by living together. This can be ideal for younger people but probably not an option for many. However, it might be worth considering, as it can be an effective way to create community. Living together with others can also make other parts of life easier, as you can share chores such as raising children, cleaning, and cooking.
Highlight who you are
Finding people that have the potential to become your friends is obviously a two-way street. You do not only have to like each other — you also need to find each other. The best way to help other potential friends find you is to highlight who you are. Don’t be afraid to express what you find interesting or what your values are. Try to show what kind of humor you have. Also, show your quirks. So make sure to clearly highlight who you are — that will make the process of finding like-minded people much faster.
3. Host a weekly event
Once you’ve met new interesting people you need to find a way to include them in your life.
Again, one of the best ways to make friends is to create some sort of regularity in it. To transform a new friendship into a close connection, you need to spend time together. One of the best ways to do this is to create a regular event by being a host! As a host, you can set your own schedule. Invite your new and already-existing friends to your place by creating a standing invitation for a weekly event.
Some ideas of weekly events to host are:
- Following a weekly tv-show
- Taco Tuesday
- Saturday brunch
Try to be consistent with your weekly event. It might be a little awkward at first if you are not used to hosting. But awkwardness is a natural, and necessary, part of making friends.
So commit to your weekly schedule — embrace the awkwardness — but stick with it. With time it will become a natural part of your week. And seeing people regularly can create great friendships for life. Putting in that effort can be one of the best investments you can make.