Dear Friends and Clients,

Sally sought coaching because she felt like her career was stalled, and so was her life. She didn’t want to leave the security of her job as a government scientist, but she didn’t like her co-workers and was tired of feeling isolated.

A dedicated researcher, Sally worked long hours in a lab, often by herself. She tried to avoid spending time with her colleagues because she found them to be too critical and competitive. Sally lived alone, many miles from her family and small hometown. At the end of the day, she would eat in front of the TV and then collapse into bed. Weekends were devoted mostly to errands, household tasks and background reading for work.

During coaching, a big “aha” moment for Sally came when she noticed that she was perpetually lonely. She missed her family and close friends, and also the supportive communities that she had taken for granted in earlier phases of her life.

Sally became aware that her loneliness had contributed to changes in her attitude and behavior. Once an upbeat, positive person, she had become pessimistic and distrustful of her colleagues. She had fallen into a negative feedback loop, where her sense of disconnection reinforced her pessimism and reluctance to reach out to others. Loneliness was making her feel helpless, hopeless and too tired to change.

Sally took steps to address her chronic loneliness. She now manages her social connections, just as she has learned to manage her work habits and her exercise program.

Loneliness is a widespread and debilitating problem often exacerbated by demanding work schedules. But, as I’ll discuss in this issue, each of us can take steps to foster a sense of connection and banish loneliness for ourselves, and others as well.

Warm Wishes, Bev

Address Loneliness to
Energize Your Career
& Enhance Your Life

March 17, 2009 * Number 100

We humans need to feel connected to other people. When we don’t have enough meaningful interaction with others, we say that we are “lonely.” And when our loneliness continues, we can lose our sense of well being, find ourselves behaving differently and perhaps even become sick.

By better understanding how loneliness works, we can address our own needs for connection. Beyond that, being aware of the impact of loneliness might help us to understand and respond to some of the attitudes and behaviors we see around us.

A recent book provides a fascinating look at scientific research that sheds new light on how we experience loneliness and what we can do about it. In Loneliness,” authors John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick describe how loneliness is a bigger problem than most of us ever expected. And they offer some suggestions for overcoming loneliness.

Here are findings and suggestions from the book:
  • There are broad differences among people related to the need for social interconnection. But whatever the level of our need, our well being suffers if our particular need for social connection is not met.

  • We all need three types of social connection:

    • Personal affirmation from intimate friends and family members,
    • Broader relations with a wider circle of friends and contacts, and
    • Collective connectedness with broad groups or associations.
  • Loneliness is a kind of “social pain” that is experienced in the same part of the brain that experiences physical pain. Chronic loneliness is associated with many conditions, including depression, anxiety, hostility and introversion. And loneliness can lead to weight gain, lost sleep and many other factors that undermine our health.

  • Continuing loneliness can settle into a persistent, self-reinforcing loop of negative thoughts, sensations and behaviors. A distinguishing characteristic of the chronically lonely is a feeling that they are doomed to social failure.

  • People who are low in loneliness tend to be fully available to whatever genuine social interaction is appropriate at the moment. In other words, they are open to others, and they seek out and contribute to social situations and relationships. Even though they may feel quite shy, they show a genuine interest in other human beings, expecting nothing in return.
  • To feel less isolated, the authors of “Loneliness” suggest that you “EASE your way to social connection”:
    • E for extend yourself: Starting small, find ways to reach out to others. This might just mean saying, “what a lovely day” to the grocery store clerk. Practice small social gestures without any expectation of feedback.

    • A for action plan: Recognize that you are not a victim, and that you can change your situation by changing you thoughts, expectations and behaviors toward others. Choose where to invest your social energy, and look for charitable or other activities where you can start forging connections.

    • S for selection: The solution to loneliness is not quantity but quality of relationships. Don’t come on too strong, but instead practice listening so that you will recognize which prospective relationships are promising.

    • Expect the best: Try to be positive and undemanding. With practice you can learn to let go of pessimism and self-protective, isolating behavior.

Want more ideas for managing your energy? In addition to providing executive coaching, Bev is available to speak about a broad range of issues related to your work life. Visit her website at www.ClearWaysConsulting.com or email to Bev directly. Bev is associated with Executive Coaching & Consulting Associates.

Bev’s Tips for a Better Work Life is published on the first and third Tuesday of each month by Beverly E. Jones of ClearWays Consulting, LLC.   Bev is a lawyer and former executive who now coaches accomplished executives and other professionals to bring new direction, energy and enjoyment to their work lives.

Copyright ©2009, ClearWays Consulting, LLC  & Beverly E. Jones

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