We all know how to take good care of ourselves by now: eat right, work out, get enough sleep. But let’s talk about the role human connection plays in our well-being and ability to thrive.
In 2010, an influential meta-analysis of social isolation and its effect on mortality studied 148 separate case studies with 300 participants over seven years. The analysis determined that a lack of social connection is a greater risk factor to health than smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure.1 The study further revealed that strong social connections strengthen our immune system, help us recover from illnesses faster, lower anxiety and depression, increase self-esteem and empathy for others, create trust, cooperation, and generate an inter-person feedback loop of “social, emotional, and physical well-being.”2 And strong social connections can lead to a 50 percent increased chance of longevity. The buddy system increases our lifespan! This study has been backed by numerous studies since, which have rendered the same results.
Even as little as three hundred years back, living to age 35 was considered the norm. Advancements in science and medicine have been credited with the drastic jump in lifespan in the 20th century, but we are learning that human connection has played a major role, too—especially now that we are seeing the effects of what’s been called “the isolation crisis.”
Social connectedness has been dropping since the early 2000s. In the 1980s, the average adult claimed to have three close friends. Today, 75% of Americans say they have one close friend, with 25% claiming to have no one to confide in.3 If isolation is as detrimental to our health as smoking and physical inactivity, it’s safe to assume it’s one of the culprits responsible for our decrease in longevity.
We must change this! And I’m not just talking to Boomers or my generation or Millennials or Gen Zs. Our youth are more socially isolated than ever, and more sedentary. We all need to connect more, on behalf of our health and longevity and the upcoming generations’. We must lead by example, and the most effective way to do this, based on the stats, is through exercise.
Finding a support system as you embark on your journey up the physical mountain is vital to your success because it means you’ve gone public with your goal. It’s out there. No turning back now. Shit just got real.
You’re not going to hit the snooze if someone is waiting for you at the gym. You don’t want to be the person who no-shows or can’t keep their word or becomes known as the flake. It’s one thing to lie to yourself with all those left-brained rationalizations—it’s another to lie to a coach or friend.
It’s human nature to collaborate in order to survive and thrive. For almost all human history, we’ve been hunters and gatherers, relying on community and sharing in basic, common goals. Banding together meant staying alive.4 You had to pull your weight. People counted on you. It sometimes meant the difference between life and death.
In today’s times, your workout partner isn’t likely to die of malnutrition or a spear to the heart if you blow off your Monday morning trail run. But being a disappointment stings just enough that we try to avoid it. It triggers guilt and self-loathing and a string of negative self-talk. It breaks trust. And people lose faith in you.
For those reasons and more, having a person or team that relies on you creates responsibility and breeds trust. Accountability becomes the razor-sharp knife that carves the grooves of a new routine into your lifestyle faster than even journaling can. Writing down your goals makes you accountable to “you.” Involving others on this journey makes you accountable to your destiny. Having backup like this has played out time and again in my own life. I owe so much to so many.
But keep in mind, if you’re part of a team, you adopt their ways, good and bad. That is what a cultural norm is.
If you get involved in small group training at your local gym and everyone gossips, your workout partners expect you to follow suit. If you play in a men’s rec hockey league and everyone goes out for beers and burgers after the matches, even those who don’t love drinking partake. A family is a team. Your coworkers are a team. There are all kinds of teams in your life. Are they benefitting you? Are you lifting them to greater heights?
As an example, Navy SEALs exercise harder than any team I know. Their focus on excellence is relentless and their attention to detail is unprecedented. Having the back of the guy next to you is the core of their value system. Turning a new, challenging action into an SOP (standard operating procedure) was how we succeeded at being uncommon in the SEALs. For instance, after our 7:00 a.m. operations meeting, the entire team would go out to the “grinder” to work out together. That began a series of physical and mental actions to forge our bodies and minds. Once we embraced the suck after a year, we were fire-breathing dragons with an open, confident mindset and the fittest bodies in the world.
What is your version of becoming a fire-breathing dragon? Hopefully, you’re testing your limits now and you’re envisioning that person in your visualizations of your future self. Commit to the goal and find a mentor, buddy, or team—or create one—and make it happen!
Once you have a team and routine in place, you won’t think twice about it. Then, a year from now you’ll be your own version of a fire-breathing dragon. Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates said: “Everyone needs a coach. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a basketball player, a tennis player, a gymnast, or a bridge player.” I’ve worked to embody this philosophy throughout my life, and I recommend you do, too. It’s been so satisfying!
Who’s your team? Who lifts you up and helps you be your best, boldest, fire-breathing self? In my next blog post, I’ll go over how to source the right people and resources to begin creating your platform for success.