I lived in Manhattan for more than seven years, and on any given day I typically went to the same deli, the same coffee shop, the same ATM, and walked the same route to my office..
We’ve all been there, complacent in our comfort zone.
What would have happened if I had changed my routine? How would my life be different? What if I had dropped Starbucks and only gone to independent coffee shops? What would have happened if I had started taking tennis lessons on the roof of the club up the West Side Highway?
Who would I have met? How much would my net worth—by way of my network of people, places and things—gone up?
Sometimes change is self-motivated, and sometimes it is a result of outside influences. The best change comes when you look at ways you can proactively shake it up by identifying your barriers, changing your routine, trying events designed to meet new people, and getting outside of your comfort zone.
Ask yourself, “What is holding me back from meeting new people and breaking out of my routine and limitations?” Grab a journal or a notebook and write down any negative statements that come to mind. It may seem odd to write down your thoughts and feelings, but do not worry—there are no right or wrong answers.
The goal of old networking was a transactional meeting, not a transformational process. For example, career growth happened when a superior left the company and vacated a seat, not because of personal growth. If the wait for a promotion was too long, one might have dusted off a résumé or tried to make a move.
The new model of networking is based on a foundation of self-discovery and the pursuit of long-term relationships based on shared values and mutual interests and not on changes happening at your office or with superiors. In the new model you connect via values and interests—not job titles—to build stronger, more productive, and more relevant relationships.
Writing down fearful and anxiety-provoking thoughts helps us become conscious of and identify hardwired reactions that feed our negative self-talk; by writing down those fears, we become more aware of their origins and their effects on us. By talking to others about a negative issue, setting a positive goal, and working toward that goal by tracking our actions, we introduce behavioral change.
Barriers can be big, such as having an overwhelming fear of people, or small, such as an inner voice always saying “I can’t,” “It won’t,” or “I never.”
Your path to self-improvement is your own, and it’s up to you to take the actions you need to be the best you can be. If you focus on yourself first, meeting people and making new connections will become increasingly easier.
Once you know what’s holding you back, create a list of actions to replace or rid yourself of behaviors and actions that are holding you back. If you need to lose weight, look at your diet and fitness routine. If you need to wean yourself off an email addiction, don’t leave your cellular phone on your night table. Figure out what works for you, and focus on the goal of self-improvement and positive growth. Breaking down barriers will help build your confidence and enable you to be more present for the exciting adventures that lie ahead.
If you’re like me, finding your foundation will require some moderate shifts in conduct and planning. Common challenges include addiction, loss of self-esteem due to unemployment, fear of change, feeling anxious over one’s physical appearance, financial problems, social awkwardness, and so forth. Addressing them will help you experience positive change and make connecting with others an easier and more enjoyable process. I worked hard to break those barriers, and you can break yours too.
If you change your perspective, overwhelming situations can be transformed into learning opportunities—as it was for me back then, but I didn’t see it that way. Now when I experience negative thinking, I take a walk, read, or lounge in the bath, which helps to reset my point of view.
A change of a routine can be as small as taking a new route to work or as large as taking up a new hobby or moving to a new city. Tapping into new or long-neglected activities can bring joy and provide powerful, authentic opportunities for making new connections. Solid, long-lasting networks are built through defining common interests and places where we can relate to others and feel a sense of belonging.
Another way to shake it up is to go to events and programs specifically designed for meeting new people. From meet-ups, speed dating, and speed networking to good old-fashioned civic clubs, you might be surprised what you can learn about yourself and the types of people you can meet. If you’re worried about the potential time commitment, ask a friend to join you so you’ll be positively productive.
Go online or look in your community paper for event listings, classes, or three other activities that you can do to shake it up and step closer to your passions. For example, if one of your passions is food, consider taking or teaching a cooking class or touring a local food market. Make a commitment to shake it up three ways in a month.
I’ve also made connections that have changed my life at political fund-raisers, benefits, film festivals, dinner parties, on Twitter, through work collaborations, and more. Because time and schedules are precious, you need to shake it up in ways that fit with your goals, your life, and your current activities. Push your boundaries and challenge yourself; the people you meet could change your life.
If you’re hesitant to get started, shake it up by changing just one small thing. For example, try a different coffee shop. Take an earlier bus to work. Make time to photograph your favorite building, bridge, or piece of public art. Consider how small changes can make a big impact.
Also, before becoming involved in any activity, consider the potential relationship and emotional return of your actions and decisions. As you can see, growth and positive change can happen when you least expect it.
Regardless of if you want to make major or minor shifts in your networking, it’s important to learn to work outside your comfort zone and explore uncharted situations. Take action, start a conversation when you’re feeling uncomfortable, or ask someone to join an activity: the results may happily surprise you.[Ed. Note: Porter Gale is a start-up advisor, public speaker and former VP of Marketing at Virgin America. She is the author of Your Network Is Your Net Worth, a clear guide on how to bring value yourself and others through the powerful currency of relationships.]