Anthony Robbins, author of the best-selling book Awaken the Giant Within (which I just ordered online), once said that the quality of your life is in direct proportion to the quality of your relationships. If you are frequently around those that see the glass as half-empty, take you for granted (or, worse, use you for something that you have that they want…or you may have heard “I’ll be your friend if…”) and that make you feel worse about yourself, this will begin to negatively impact you and your life. On the other hand, if you hang out and associate with positive-minded people that bring you up when you’re down and value you as much as you value them, you are more likely to lead a better and happier life.
I’m going to offer some pointers on how you can make friends and form relationships so that you can improve the quality of your life. In order to form any friendship or relationship to begin with, there are certain things to look out for. Studies have shown that throughout life, no matter what age you might be, people look for two key factors in their friendships: kindness and common interests. Looking at kindness, have you ever heard the saying “treat others the way you want to be treated”? How about “you’ll attract more flies with honey than vinegar”? Knowing and understanding why it is important to be caring, polite and nice as opposed to careless, rude and cruel will improve your interactions with others. If people can comfortably approach you before talking to you and they feel like a better person after speaking to you, you are more likely to have better quality relationships and continued friendships. Another key factor to continued friendships is common interests. Having things that both of you can talk about for hours on end will create a strong foundation for your friendship. When a friendship has a strong foundation, it can last a long time regardless of any distance and you can easily pick up where you left off when you reunite. As an example, one of my friends that I’ve known for over 15 years has a vast knowledge of movies, just like me. He and I constantly talk about movies and see movies together which allows our friendship to keep going even after long periods of not seeing each other in person. Another reason that having the same taste in movies is a great thing to have is that we watch movies throughout our lives. You might like Pokemon or Legos as a kid, but as you grow older, you may not find these things as interesting and you and your friend(s) will have to find another common interest to keep the friendship alive and well.
In addition to kindness and common interests, social skills are another key element to making and keeping friends. Unfortunately, social skills are something many if not all people with autism struggle with. Body language or nonverbal communication, for example, is something people with autism do not learn necessarily by experience or interacting with people. When body language makes up over 90% of communication, it is imperative that people with autism learn about what constitutes body language and what it conveys because once they are taught about these things, they may have a better chance of forming and keeping friends.
I often use memory aids or ‘mnemonics’ to remember a lot of items and one of the very first body language memory aids I learned as a young kid was SOFTEN:
-Smile (just like how laughter is contagious, if you smile, others are likely to smile back and it is a very easy way to brighten someone’s day)
-Open (keeping your shoulders back instead of hunched forward and your arms down instead of crossed will make you appear interested and receptive to what others are saying)
-Forward (leaning slightly towards the person that is talking is an indicator that the other person has your attention)
-Touch (this can range from a short and friendly pat on the back or shoulder as one would do when saying “good job!” to a long touch on the lower arm to comfort someone that is sad and telling them “I’m here for you” without saying a word)
Eye contact (this is a big one for people with autism as they may not always look at someone when they are speaking or being spoken to…it is said that the eyes are the window to the soul and looking at the person speaking is generally seen as a sign of respect and that you are paying attention)
Nod (slight up and down movement of the head while someone is speaking is another sign that you are paying attention and (hopefully) agreeing with what the person is saying)
If you can start integrating SOFTEN into your conversations while maintaining kindness and seeking connections through common interests, you, too, can start improving the quality of your relationships and your life in the process. After all, Jim Rohn once said you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with…so make sure you are frequently hanging around winners that make you feel like a winner! It’s also worth noting that, as great as it would be to be friends for life with everyone you meet, your circle of friends will frequently change overtime. People eventually grow older, develop other interests, move to different parts of the world, get married, have children, etc. and this is nothing to be sad or ashamed of, but rather embraced and accepted as a sign of growth and opportunity for something new. If you manage to know and stay friends with someone since a very young age, more power to you both!
Tune in next week when we go a step beyond friendship and enter the wonderful world of dating!