Humans are social creatures. Research has shown that solid relationships with others help us to be happier and even live longer. Apparently, it even supports our immune systems!
However, making and maintaining friendships requires executive function skills that some people struggle with. For starters, you need good future thinking skills because you must be able to plan your time in order to make friendships and maintain them.
Plus, in today’s busy world, there isn’t a lot of room for spontaneously connecting with others. I ran up against this challenge recently when I had the urge to invite friends to dinner on four days’ notice. But no one in my inner circle of friends was available!
Though most people are no longer isolating to avoid exposure to Covid, I have noticed that many of my clients who struggle with executive functioning are also still experiencing social isolation.
The hardest hit seems to be adults who live alone and work exclusively from home, followed by distance learning students. I have also observed many college-age adults who feel lonely once they get to campus. It is as if, when the circle of our lives shrunk, those of us on the more introverted side lost connections and the ability to maintain them.
In the same way that our immune systems had to strengthen after isolation, our executive functions connected to creating and maintaining social experiences may need a bit of practice too. The following three activities are great for sharpening those executive function skills of planning, task initiation and follow through – all important for socializing!
Inviting people over is a wonderful way to connect to others, and allows you to do so in the comfort of your own home. However, folks with executive function challenges may experience significant barriers. Many feel the need to clean the house first or worry about the diet restrictions of their guests. But don’t let those two things stop you!
To get past the barriers, break the process down into steps, using your planner, calendar and day plans.
Pick a date. Schedule a week or more into the future so you’ll have time to tidy up the house and figure out food. You might want to set up an alternative date too, so you are ready for scheduling conflicts.
Make a list of a few people. By choosing more than one, you increase the odds of successfully finding available friends. You don’t need a big group.
Invite your friends (this is the hardest part for me). Keep it simple. Text them, especially if they are the type that doesn’t check email regularly. And *gasp* you might actually call them! That worked for me the other day!
Get your home ready – but don’t stress. If you’ve got piles, here’s a game of tidying up. It’s part of what I call The Pile Strategy. Make a list of the messes you want to tidy up. Cut the list into strips. Put them in a bowl and then draw one. Set a timer for 5-10 minutes and work on finding homes for the things in the pile. You are aiming for progress, not completion. Little by little, there will be room for people to eat and sit down. Your house doesn’t have to be immaculate.
Keep the food simple. Ask people to bring some of the food, especially those who have very specific food limitations. You can pick food up ready-made or make it from scratch. If you like to cook, invite them to help you.
“What??” you ask. “Who answers the phone these days?” Well, a lot of us older folks love to talk on the phone! (I tend to do FaceTime.) Make a list of people you’d like to connect with better. You can make a game of it by putting their names in a bowl and drawing one each week. (I have enjoyed the calls that I have been making lately.)
Talking on the phone boosts that feeling of personal connectedness with others, without necessarily requiring us to go too far out of our comfort zone.
Another great way to feel connected with others is to create your own adventure! Look around for an upcoming event or activity in your area that you would like to share with someone else. Seeking novel memories is key to both creating and maintaining strong relationships. It is also a great source of dopamine! You can follow the steps for hosting a dinner party from above if you don’t have a person in your home to adventure with.
I hope these strategies inspire you to reach out and be with others during 2023. You’ll be happier, and a happy brain makes executive functioning easier.
How are you going to connect?
Marydee Sklar is the president of Executive Functioning Success and the creator of the Seeing My Time Program®. She is an educator and author of three books on executive functions, as well as a trainer and speaker. Marydee has more than twenty-five years of experience working with students and adults with executive function challenges.