Getting Started Guide

Ten Simple and Powerful Practices of Amazing Friends

“Friendship is not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.”

— Muhammad Ali

We’re in a friendship crisis. Three quarters of Americans are not truly satisfied with their friendships.[1] Paradoxically, in an age of Facebook and always-on connections, a growing body of research is proving what many of us already feel deep in our gut: we’re actually lonelier and more isolated than ever before.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. There is a better path forward.

Lifeboat is a movement of people re-investing in deep friendships. We’re not offering grand solutions or complex schemes, but instead, simple things that work.

In the Getting Started Guide, we explore 10 practical findings from the art and science of friendship. Check out what we’ve learned from the academic geeks, philosophers and psychologists. Then try out some simple, yet powerful practices that can make you a better friend.

You can do these practices in any order and at any time. Go ahead. Take the friendship challenge and dive in!

Lifeboat Practices

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Lifeboat Practice 1: Go Deep, Not Wide

Go Deep, Not Wide

Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert says that the number one predictor of happiness is the strength of your bonds with your friends and family. It’s not about the number of people you associate with. It’s about the quality of those relationships [2].

But can you do both? Can you enjoy quality relationships with lots of people? The hard truth is no.

Maintaining quality relationships with a large group of people is very difficult. Nurturing relationships takes time, emotional energy and cognitive capacity—all of which are limited.

Anthropological research suggests that due to the limits of human brain capacity, we can only maintain casual social relationships with less than 150 individuals—a principle known as Dunbar’s number [3].

But 150 is still too many people for deep relationships. Strong bonds tend to occur in what psychologists refer to as sympathy groups—groups of 10-15 people. If we try to nurture deep relationships with any more, we simply begin to overload [4].

So that’s the Lifeboat metaphor. In order to be truly great friends, we have to make the hard choice of focusing more intensively on a smaller group of people. It doesn’t mean we ignore everyone else or neglect fruitful networks. But we do invest ourselves more openly, deeply and purposefully with a handful of friends, our Lifeboaters.

Quick Plan

Write down the names of a few people in your life that you would like to invest more time and energy with (We’ve found 5-8 people is most manageable). If that feels like too many, just pick one person to start.

  • Also note that this group can and will be dynamic. Friends change as life changes.

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Practice 2 - V is for Vulnerable

V Is For Vulnerability

You might be a superhero, but in order to have deep friendships you have to let your Kryptonite flag fly to those who matter most, your Lifeboat friends.

Psychologist and relationship expert Beverley Fehr says that the primary hallmark of friendship is intimate self-disclosure—or showing vulnerability[1].

Showing vulnerability is how we get closer with people and requires gradually revealing more intimate information about ourselves. This gradual reveal helps increase trust, support and loyalty—key factors in friendship.

But showing vulnerability is a hard dance for many of us. We worry about putting ourselves out there for people to see. We worry about saddling people with our baggage. We worry that it will be awkward or uncomfortable. We worry that it isn’t the right time.

But showing imperfections, asking for help, being human—that’s what builds and deepens friendship.

So of course, celebrate that promotion with your friends. But don’t forget to share the challenges in your life with the people who matter to you as well. That’s the stuff that will bring you closer.

Act Now

Ask a friend for something this week:

  • Need some advice on how to handle a tough discussion with your boss? Talk to a friend.
  • Want some new inspiration in your life? Ask a friend to do some new activity with you.
  • Struggling with your partner? Ask a friend for advice.

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Lifeboat Practice 3 - Give one percent more

Give One Percent More

When asked what makes life most meaningful, Americans mention friends more frequently than family, religious faith and occupational success. Yet the average American adult spends only 4% of their time with friends (down from 30% as a teenager) [6].

It makes perfect sense. As we get older family, work and other demands occupy an increasing amount of our time and brain space.

But other less meaningful activities also zap our time. This writer has been known to get sucked into marathons of America’s Next Top Model Cycle 18. And while Tyra is fierce, she’s not one of my friends.

At Lifeboat, we propose one small additional investment of time with Lifeboat friends each week. It doesn’t have to be big—think an extra phone call, a lunch date, a quick postcard dropped in the mail…

A one percent additional investment weekly in your close group of friends will pay back dividends in rewards. Social scientists and Lifeboat practitioners say you’ll feel more connected, more grounded and more supported—ready to tackle the grown up challenges that await with friends who have your back.

Act Now

Give one additional percent of your time to close friends each week.

1% of “waking” time each week equals about 1 hour and 30 minutes. What can you do differently to make a little more room for friends?

  • Opt out of an episode of Fringe and 30 rock.
  • Play hooky from one useless meeting at work this week.
  • Choose an easy dinner over making that double roasted rhubarb arugula bruschetta.
  • Check out some productivity Lifehacks that might make other tasks go quicker.
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Practice 4: Get On The Trust Train

Get On The Trust Train

Mick Jagger might not be able to get satisfaction, but you can. And the secret is trust.

Psychologists have found that the most satisfying and rewarding relationships are ones built on mutual trust — a belief in the integrity, strength and dependability of a friendship or partnership [6].

A cornerstone of trust is consistency and reliability over time.

The hard part is that over time part. You see, trust can easily be lost in small dribs and drabs that can seem unnoticeable, but add up.

Every interaction is one that either builds or diminishes trust. Keeping dates, showing up on time, and staying true to your word are all important trust builders. Maybe Mick should give it a whirl?

Practical Tip

  • Be mindful of how small actions (both yours and others) influence your relationships.
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Practice 5: Break Friendship Inertia

Break Friendship Inertia

One of the primary predictors of friendship is…proximity. Yes, we are friends with people simply because they live closer to us than others.

And we’re not talking about big distances here. Researchers have found that people in an apartment complex are better friends with people living on the same floor and best friends with people living right next door [5].

The proximity phenomenon is just one of several fateful factors that influence who we have as friends [7].

And while there is nothing wrong with letting the universe work its magic by meeting friends at work, through school or in the apartment leasing office, it’s important not to rely on fate alone.

Actively looking for friends who bring out our best selves and introduce us to new and different perspectives can create very rewarding and deep relationships [8].

Making conscious decisions about who you seek out, why you seek them out and how you seek them out can make your friendships align more clearly with who you are and with who you want to be.

Marketing guru Seth Godin writes, “Who you hang out with determines what you dream about and what you collide with. And the collisions and the dreams lead to your changes. And the changes are what you become. Change the outcome by changing your circle.”

Quick Plan

  • Think about one person in your distant orbit who you want to bring closer and make a plan to do it.
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Practice 6: Show up for your Lifeboat

Show up for your Lifeboat

Getting together with friends in adulthood can feel like trying to launch a spaceship. The schedule is set three weeks in advance. The systems are checked. And then, inevitably someone calls and says, “Houston, we have a conflict.”

At Lifeboat, we simplify this process by planning our social activities around a handful of core friends. When they call, we show up. When we call, they show up. The Lifeboat lens helps prioritize time and keeps the people who matter most front and center.

No fuss, no muss and no cancelled missions – just quality time with friends.

Act Now

  • Do something last minute with a Lifeboat friend this week.
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Practice 7: Be an Activator

Be an Activator

Some people rock at initiating activities with friends. Others don’t.

If you find yourself in the latter category, think about initiating activities as a skill that you can and should practice.

Recent social science shows that forming close friendships requires skills that are different than just being liked. In a nutshell, they found that the biggest difference between people who are well-liked and don’t have close friends and people who are not well-liked who do is the ability to initiate activities [9].

It’s really that simple.

Act Now

Initiate an activity with a Lifeboat friend this week.

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The Internet is not the 'Easy Button'

The Internet is not the ‘Easy Button’

The Internet is awesome. But it’s not the friendship easy button.

We’re still experimenting with how online networks can best enrich our lives. And one of Lifeboat’s biggest concerns is the ease with which the Internet allows us to exchange intimacy of relationships for convenience and broad reach.

For many people technology is providing a placeholder – a way to avoid the challenges of relationships, while still feeling connected. We’ve replaced sharing our thoughts, fears, hopes and vulnerabilities with a small group of people with sharing photos, news articles and funny videos with the world [9].

There’s nothing wrong with the latter — as long as we’re also doing the former.

Practical Tip

  • Engage with friends in a well-balanced way. And don’t forget to update your Lifeboat friends with things going on in your life independently of Facebook.
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Practice 9: Do Something Remarkable

Do Something Remarkable

Friendships can’t be all meat and potatoes. Sometimes you want a chocolate sundae with sprinkles, whipped cream and a super sweet maraschino cherry on top.

So plan for it. Think about doing some remarkable activity each year with your Lifeboat friends (in groups or one-on-one). Go camping. Take a yoga workshop together. Scheme up a big party. Walk across the whole of your city in a day taking pictures and exploring the nooks and crannies together.

Friendships should be fun.

Practical Tip

  • List one remarkable activity you’d like to do with each of your Lifeboat friends.
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Practice 10: Welcome Aboard

Tell People They are in Your Lifeboat

The core philosophy of Lifeboat is purposefully investing more deeply with a small group of people.

Telling those people how meaningful they are is an important practice — whether it’s framed as Lifeboat or not.

Too often we take for granted that people know how much we care for them for many valid reasons.

  • We believe our care is evident through our actions.
  • We worry our sentiment won’t be reciprocated when verbalized.
  • We’re not comfortable sharing words of affirmation with friends, a particularly tough struggle for men.

This practice, however, is transformative. We’ve personally experienced that validating our investment and care in a friendship through words creates trust and alignment, which has allowed us to break through walls and get deeper with those we care about.

And for those who are cringing as they read this, remember, this doesn’t have to be wimpy. This practice, when done in a way that reflects you and your style, is the stuff of courageous friends.

Practical Tip

  • Tell a friend how important they are to you in a way that reflects you.


Want to dive deeper into Lifeboat?

Lifeboat is a movement of people investing in deep friendships and this Getting Started Guide is just the beginning of the journey.

If you want to dive deeper into Lifeboat, become an Insider and we’ll send you fresh friend advice, tips and inspiration to help you become a self-assured friendship pioneer. It’s 100% free and 100% fun.

References

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  1. State of Friendship in America, 2013. Lifeboat.
  2. Gilbert, D. (2005). Stumbling on happiness. (First Vintage Books Edition, January 2007). New York. Random House.
  3. Dunbar, R. (1998). Grooming, gossip, and the evolution of language. Cambridge. Harvard University Press.
  4. Adams, P. (2012). Grouped: How small groups of friends are the key to influence on the social web. Berkeley. New Riders.
  5. Fehr, B. (1996). Friendship processes. Sage Publications.
  6. McGinnis, A. (2004). The friendship factor: How to get closer to the people you care for. Minneapolis. Augsburg Books.
  7. Back, M., Schmukle, S., Egloff, B. (2008). Becoming Friends by Chance. Psychological Science, 19 (5), 439–440.
  8. Rusbult, C. (2005). The Michelangelo Phenomenon in Close Relationships. Tesser, A., Wood, J., Staple, D. (Eds.) On Building, Defending, and Regulating the Self. New York. Psychology Press.
  9. Neyfakh, L. (2012, September 2). How kids make friends – and why it matters: New research from psychologists unlocks the mysterious, complicated, strangely adult way that children connect. Boston Globe.
  10. Marche, S. (May 2012). Is Facebook making us lonely? The Atlantic.