Have you ever heard the saying, “it’s who you know, not what you know”?

This comment is true in more ways than we realize.  Our social networks and interpersonal connections have a huge impact on our health and wellbeing.

Science is beginning to reveal the effects that community, or a lack thereof, can have on us.  In fact, research is showing that social stress, such as rejection and isolation, negatively affects the immune system, accelerates cognitive decline and is a stronger predictor of chronic disease than typical factors like smoking, excessive alcohol use and a sedentary lifestyle.

This makes sense because our survival is dependent upon our relationships.  Without a tribe or community, we can’t ensure our safety or wellbeing.  Being part of a group gives us access to protection, resources and skill sets that we wouldn’t otherwise have on our own. You know the saying; ’it takes a village…”

On a personal note, I’ve started attending fitness classes at my gym instead of working out on my own.  It’s a nice change of pace and I find that group energy, combined with the instructor’s knowledge and motivating cues, is more fun and I work out harder.  The bonus:  I get better results too!

For the most part, this has been a positive experience – except for one class I attended recently.

On this particular day, the instructor showed up and without acknowledging anyone in the room, she began hurriedly setting up for our session, and then proceeded to turn the music on and immediately directed us into the exercise activities, without uttering a simple “Hi” or “Welcome”!

It was a small group and I could tell everyone was somewhat taken aback.  She didn’t seem to notice.

Since we were there to work out and not make small talk, we quickly put on our ‘game faces’ and proceeded to get involved but the energy was lower than usual and something felt off-kilter.  At various points there was considerable confusion as to what we were doing next, even though she had already explained it.

I knew exactly what was going on.  No welcome had been made and no rapport had been established with her or between the participants…it was just “shoot, ready, aim!”

From a neuroscience and brain functioning perspective, this is not conducive to best learning practises or performance levels.

Our brain has a quick process, kind of like check boxes it needs to tick off, to ensure we are ready, aligned and connected, so we can think clearly, make decisions, self express, take effective action and get into the zone of optimal performance.  And believe it or not, it hinges on our relationships!

Between the part of our brain that is responsible for our physical safety, and the higher academic part of our brain, there is the midbrain.  This area is focused on our relating, or lack thereof, with others.

Did you know that your sense of safety and comfort comes not only from knowing that your basic physical needs are met such as air, water, food, shelter, clothing;  it is also determined by how connected you feel with those people in your environment?

Whether a store clerk, a neighbour, a fitness instructor, a classmate or a co-worker, the quality of those connections and interactions can make or break how you feel and show up in the world.

With busy lives and full schedules it can be easy to skim the surface of our existence and barely look someone in the eye, never mind, establish rapport.  Add in technology as our main means of communication, and interpersonal experiences take a back seat.  This is having a significantly negative impact on our health and wellbeing.

Make a Conscious Decision to Connect

If you notice this happening in your own life, and want to do something about it, a great way to start is to simply make an effort to smile and say hello to the people you encounter throughout your day. That may be the person you walk by on the street, a colleague in the elevator, or a cashier at the grocery store.

Each and every person is an opportunity to bring connection to the world and make it a more warm and welcoming place to be.  And you never know, a simple smile and hello could easily lead to a more meaningful connection, a timely exchange of information or dinner plans!

A little goes a long way.  As an example, the next fitness class I attended, the instructor was warmly greeting people with a smile and an energetic hello as we came into the studio. It really set the tone, and there was a buzz of cheerful energy amongst the participants that beamed throughout the room and everyone was on fire with exercise enthusiasm and effort!

Want a Fit Brain and a Fit Life?   

Use this simple approach:  Build rapport with the people in your environment; do not ignore these many brain linking opportunities.