This Thing Called Love
By: Ayla Khosroshahi
In an ode to Valentine’s day having just past, we thought to take a moment to talk about “this crazy little thing called love.” Specifically, we are exploring social connection: why it’s a vital component to healthy living, and how to enrich our relationships.
Why is social connection important?
We are wired to connect. Social connection is a scientific necessity for positive growth. In a socially supportive environment, the brain performs optimally – creativity increases and emotions stabilize. Science shows us that the brain’s threat response is not limited to our physical safety. The brain’s threat response is also triggered by social conflict and negative affect (i.e. sadness, anxiety, depression, etc.). This means that the brain responds to feeling hungry and feeling lonely in similar ways. Social situations that trigger a threat response provide a more intense neural impact than when the brain’s reward circuitry is activated. This means the brain holds onto the threat longer than the reward, ultimately draining the brain of precious energy.
- Healthy bonds decrease: Physical Pains, Anxiety, Depression
- Healthy bonds Increase: Emotional Stability, Enthusiasm, Energy, Better Sleep, Fairness, Moral Judgement, Resiliency, Creativity, Determination, Attention
These are just some of the reasons why supportive social connections are a vital component to healthy living. We must acknowledge and celebrate, ourselves and others, to enrich our relationships and facilitate growth.
How can we love each other better?
Here are some MINDSHIFT perspectives on making better social connections and healthier relationships. These generous and courageous acts build stronger bonds.
- Appreciate who is there for you.
We sometimes take those who do the most for us for granted. We often end up expending our energy dealing with troublesome relationships, while forgetting those that matter most. Appreciate your silent heros – those who are always there for you, supporting you, and making you better. Don’t waste your time mending toxic relationships – instead, invest in, and celebrate those that are beautiful. This strengthens your gratitude muscles and your supportive relationships.
Try this: Ask yourself: Who in my life inspires the best version of me? Who in my life supports my growth and evolution? Who can I depend on, no matter what? These are the relationships you should celebrate!
- More than thank you.
Spend time catching people doing things right, and acknowledge them for it. That means you have to look for it, notice it, and say something about it. When we show gratitude towards another person, our dopamine levels increase and excite the reward and pleasure centres of the brain. This is crucial for positive social bonding. ‘Thank-you’ alone isn’t enough. Studies show that for all of the gratitude centers of the brain to fire you need to go deeper by articulating why you are thankful. This not only acknowledges what is going right, it also encourages more positive behaviour.
Try this: Say thank you; explain why; and highlight any growth and learning that was inspired.
Take it further: Apply this same principle to “I love you”; explain why; and highlight any growth and learning that was inspired.
- Communicate your needs.
Mind reading should never be expected (even for a MINDSHIFT Ninja). Most challenges arise when people do not clearly communicate their needs. People can’t help when they don’t know what is wrong, and what you need from them. Assuming is an unproductive, unaccountable, and disrespectful act. Take responsibility for your needs, and learn to communicate them appropriately. By bringing mindfulness to your thoughts, feelings, and needs, you strengthen your self-awareness and personal accountability. By clearly communicating your needs, you build more supportive relationships.
Try this: Ask yourself, what is actually bothering me? What do I need? What do I want to do about it? How can I communicate this to others so that they can support me?
- Watch what you say.
Did you know that studies have shown that we can only accept one negative comment in approximately ten comments said without signalling the emotional center of our brain to go into threat response? 1/10 – that means for 100 things you say to someone only 10 can be negative! Long term criticism, without solution-focused dialogue (more on this below), not only inhibits personal growth and motivation, it also deters trust in relationships. If you are not careful with your feedback you can end up always looking for, and only communicating about, the things that are going wrong – in others and with yourself. This is not healthy for the brain – or the body.
Try this: Before you say something negative, ask yourself: How does my comment add value? How does my comment help? Is there a way for me to communicate my needs, without criticism? Is there a way for me to highlight what is going right, instead of what is going wrong?
- Solution-focused dialogue.
When something goes wrong we are usually aware of it. Don’t fixate on problems – it’s not motivating, helpful, or necessary. Strive towards a solution-focused dialogue – clarify the dilemma, explain your position, and steer the discussion towards the next step. Keep the brain focused on moving forward. This will reinforce what is working – instead of what is not. Train your brain to look for a ways forward when faced with a challenge – this entices your personal creativity and empowers those around you.
Try this: In any situation train your brain to look for the steps taken, positive emotions, and growth you have witnessed. When faced with a challenge, start with asking yourself how can we solve this?
These approaches not only strengthen social bonds, they support conflict resolution, and spark learning opportunities.
Now, it’s time to MINDSHIFT:
Apply the principles above to yourself. Be mindful of how you talk, think, and reflect to yourself – be conscious of your personal narrative. Remember, your beliefs are just your thoughts repeated, so choose carefully.
What new insights have you gained? We would love to hear from you.
Curious for more? Try these articles:
The Anatomy of Peace
The Challenge of Change: How Neuroscience Can Help
Social Pain and the Brain: Controversies, Questions, and Where to Go from Here
The Neuroscience of Social Pain