I want to share an experiment I did years ago when I was going through a difficult time. I was feeling very overwhelmed and stressed. My plate was overflowing. Emotionally I felt spent and was just able to meet my basic needs. I didn’t really want to reach out and talk to anyone or meet people. It was all I could do to go to work, pay my bills, eat, take care of my kids, and sleep.
For weeks I would go to the grocery store and roll my cart up and down the aisles gathering my things, not paying attention to anyone around me. I didn’t really look at anyone or make eye contact. I made my way to the counter, paid, and left. I had very little interaction with anybody. Nobody talked to me either.
I felt more and more isolated and alone.
One day, I decided to make a small effort to engage with others while in the store just to see what would happen. I chose to make eye contact with anyone who passed me, maybe even smile. I noticed when someone struggled to reach something and offered to help. Sometimes the effort was reciprocated and sometimes not. No judgment. I just wanted to see what would happen if I changed in a small way. In truth, that is all I felt able to do.
What happened was startling given the little effort I made. I often got a smile in response or a nod or a thank you. This small connection made me feel a little less isolated, a little more connected, a partner in a shared experience.
I realized that making a small effort to be open with my body language, noticing a stranger and offering a smile or glance in their direction seemed to convey a welcoming energy that encouraged a similar response in return.
If you are feeling lonely and are having a hard time meeting people, I encourage you to practice being open with your body language and to make small efforts to engage with others. Start with nonverbal communication. If you are up to it, try small talk to break the ice, register for an interesting class or outing. Take a chance and see what happens…