If you want to lose your friends: Start multilevel marketing. You know how this works: Make a list of all the people in your life, push whatever shitty product the MLM company is promoting, sign them up to do the same – and in the end: You lose a lot of money and your friends won’t take your calls anymore.
Ironically, you can use the same approach to make sure you always have friends in your life.
Loneliness is a problem for expats at the best of times. When you move to a foreign country and leave all your friends and family behind, you can feel pretty isolated. Now, during the pandemic, it’s even worse. My wife hasn’t seen her parents for over a year. And she can’t fly to Moscow with two small children – the risk of infection is too high.
I can see how hard this isolation is for her. Evgenia is a very outgoing person, who needs action and lots of people in her life. Now we are stuck at home and all her intellectual input comes from her husband’s lame jokes and the inspiring stories of Paw Patrol.
So, I thought about ways to bring her friends back into her life. And I came up with a Ponzi scheme of joy.
This scheme allows you to
- Escape isolation
- Actively strengthen your relationships
- Decide how often friends talk to you
Evgenia was pretty skeptical at first.
Here are the 3 steps you can take to always have friends in your life.
Step 1. Take a pen and a sheet of paper and write down everyone that brings joy into your life. “That’s stupid”, said Evgenia: “I know all my friends.” But since she loves me and there is no escape from our apartment, she did it anyway. “Done”, she said after she wrote down a dozen names. “Okay”, I answered and started to ask her questions about each name on the list:
“Where did you two met the first time?”
“Who else was in your band?”
“Weren’t there a few more people at your bridal shower?”
“With whom did you spend your breaks at Morgan Stanley?”
“Who else was at that concert?”
“Didn’t his sister come to our wedding, too?”
Pretty fast the list grew to about 40 people. People that Evgenia considers friends, but that she hasn’t thought of in this exercise. Remembering the good times that she had with this wonderful crowd, already cheered her up.
Step 2. “Now let’s go through each of these names. How often do you want to talk to them during this year?” Evgenia rolled her eyes. (Somehow, I get the feeling my loving wife is less impressed with my coaching skills, than most of my clients.) Her good friends where easy, but also a revelation: Even though these people were closest to her heart, she hardly ever called them: “I have no time. The kids need me. The laundry has to be done. There was always something.” Does this sound familiar to you?
I encouraged Evgenia to go on with the exercise and actually make a choice: How often do you want to talk to this friend this year? For many of them she decided 12x per year, some that she considered good friends just needed 4 calls to stay in touch, with some it would be joyful to check in – even when it was only once per year.
Pretty soon Evgenia found another objection: “That’s impossible. I will spend every day on the phone. I can’t possible call all of them.” Well, it turned out to be 128 calls. That’s roughly one call every three days. How would your life improve if you would speak to another one of your many friends every three days, instead of only the same three to four people? How refreshing would it be to hear a new story, instead of rehearsing the old ones over and over. (I have a handful of jokes that I must have told a hundred times – and my wife will hear them again and again for the next 30 to 40 years…)
By now Evgenia was in a very good mood. The prospect to talk to dozens of her friends during the year and to have grown up conversations every few days, made her happy.
Step 3. “How do you make sure, that this actually happens?”, I asked her. Evgenia answered at once: “Well, I simply call them. Where’s the problem?Why are you laughing? Stop laughing!! Really, cut it out!!!”
This is the part were nine out of ten good plans crash: Implementation. Let’s be honest. We humans are not exactly good with long-term plans. Most of us have trouble to follow through once the novelty fades and the million demands of daily life keep pushing our own happiness out of focus.
“Here is how you make sure, that you actually do this”, I said: “Buy my…” (Just kidding!!!) No, here is what you do: Setup a calendar alert. Simple. Start with the ones that you want to call twelve times per year. Simply set the calendar to monthly reminder. Then the ones that you want to talk to six or four times per year. Then the ones you are fine with just checking in. Spread them out over the year – and you have someone to talk to every few days.
“But some of these people, I haven’t talk to in ages. What do I tell them, why I suddenly call?”
This is a question that I get quite often, when I share this method during a coaching session. (I get international jobseeker in touch with decision makers at the companies they like.) I understand the question, because life teaches us to not be too open and vulnerable.
But the truth is. (That’s the whole sentence: The truth is.) You can simply be honest. That works nearly always and everywhere: “Hey, I realized we haven’t spoken in ages and that’s a shame. So, I just wanted to check in and hear how you’re doing.” Simple. Honest. KIND.
Bonus. There was one last question on Evgenia’s mind: “What do I say? You know me. I don’t like to talk myself.” (Might be that Evgenia didn’t actually say this, but I assume it’s true – and not that she simply doesn’t have a chance to say something, because I am constantly talking…)
“Well, you don’t need to say much when you call friends”, I answered: “Simply ask them about their life. What’s going on? What are they happy about? What are their worries?” Dale Carnegie said: “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.”
That is true and you can see that effect both in new and old relationships. Get interested in your friends’ lives. Ask them “why” instead of offering your own opinion (or judgement).
Pretty soon lost friends will call you again – and your life will be more colorful and diverse, even when you are currently stuck in your own four walls in a country far, far away.