If you were to ask 100 people if they would willingly submit themselves to the most severe form of prison punishment, 100 percent of them would say, “Absolutely not.” However, we might be guilty of unknowingly subjecting ourselves to a strict treatment typically reserved for the worst criminals.
A few weeks ago, I saw this tweet from Leonard Sweet, and it’s been on my mind ever since:
One of my greatest concerns for incoming freshmen is that they can become so consumed with their studies that they shut themselves in a dorm room or a cubicle at the library for the majority of the semester. For those who do, I’m never surprised when they say that their university experience hasn’t been a good one. They are struggling with self-imposed loneliness.
While it’s easy to pinpoint how university students self-impose solitary confinement, leaders can be just as guilty. If leaders don’t intentionally connect with other people, it’s quite easy to get caught up in our responsibilities and work so that we neglect the human interaction each and every one of us so desperately needs.
A recent study by the National Mental Health Association points to the benefits of intentionally connecting with people:
- Increased happiness. In the study, a key difference between very happy people and less-happy people was good relationships.
- Better health. Loneliness was associated with a higher risk of high blood pressure in a recent study of older people.
- A longer life. People with strong social and community ties were two to three times less likely to die during the nine-year study.
Learning the importance of interacting and connecting with people is an essential lesson for university students and leaders. Although it’s easy to “hole up to yourself” in university, you’re only condemning yourself to “prison.”
So how can we avoid putting ourselves in prison?
Here are just a few ideas:
- Make a list of the people you want to contact regularly. If necessary, add a reminder to your calendar.
- Commit to a certain amount of time to interact with people each day or week—without cell phones, iPods, or other distracting contraptions.
- Listen really well. Repeat what you heard to make sure you understood.
- Ask for specific kinds of help. Even the best of friends can’t read your mind.
Solitary confinement is the most severe form of prison punishment. Don’t willingly subject yourself to the same consequences by forgetting to interact with other people.
How do you intentionally make time to connect with others? What benefits have you seen from doing so?