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What I learned from sparking a conversation with a stranger

Updated: Jul 9, 2019

It’s month two in my 90-day NewVIEW NewCHALLENGE, a journey of self-reflection, self-improvement and self-actualization. I’m challenging participants to push themselves – and each other – far past their comfort zones on a quest to live their best lives. This July, we’re focusing on how we can nurture and improve our relationships.

Visit the NewVIEW NewCHALLENGE blog archive to catch up on posts related to June’s theme: health.

Many adults today report feeling isolated and lonely, which not only contributes to mental health issues like anxiety and depression, but can also negatively impact your physical health. With social media so prevalent in our lives, it seems like we should feel more connected than ever – but the truth is, when your face is stuck in a smartphone all the time, you miss out on the real, human connections that make life so rich and enjoyable.

When’s the last time you spoke to a stranger in line at the grocery store, or – let’s be honest – even made eye contact with someone in a waiting room? At the least, you’re missing out on much-needed human contact; and, at the most, you could be passing up an opportunity to begin a new friendship. That’s why it’s so essential to open ourselves up to making daily connections with other people.

I recently realized this was true in my own life, so I set out to spark up a conversation with the first stranger I came across one day. Nothing drastic. Just a simple act of reaching out to another person and connecting on a human level.

I stopped to pick up a quick bite on my way to a business meeting, and found myself in line next to a young man with blue hair, texting away. Normally, I would spend my time waiting in line doing something “productive” like responding to emails or updating my calendar. Normally, I wouldn’t speak to this person, for a number of reasons – not the least of which is that we couldn’t possibly have anything in common...right? But this day, I decided to make a change. This day, I said “hello.”

woman talking in coffee shop

Were we bffs after that? No, of course not. But guess what? I learned neither of us drink coffee. I learned he also believes in the importance of faith and family (he was buying coffee for his grandfather, whom he visits several times a week). I was blown away by how articulate and thoughtful this young man was, and I never would have realized this if I hadn’t sparked up a conversation.

I also took away three important life lessons that stayed with me long past that simple conversation:

1. Changing your perspective is critical

Having close friends and family is essential to our health and happiness, but we also need to open ourselves up to other perspectives and experiences outside our usual frame of reference. It enriches our lives, pushes us to think critically, builds empathy and ultimately makes us better people.

2. Our similarities often outweigh our differences

If we constantly fixate on the differences of others, we’re essentially putting up a wall around ourselves that separates us from the outside world. It may feel safer that way at first, but it can also get pretty lonely in there! When we shift focus to our similarities, we gain the capacity to form true connections with others, build friendships and increase our understanding.

3. Conversation builds community

If you mindfully set out to form connections with everyone you meet, pretty soon, it will seem like no one’s a stranger! How welcoming and warm the world would be if that were the case. The art of conversation has the power to build a community around you over time, supporting you through everything life might throw at you.

That’s why I’m challenging you to spark up a conversation with a stranger today. (Pro tip: a compliment is always a good ice breaker!) Join the NewVIEW NewCHALLENGE Facebook group to accept the challenge and get inspired by our amazing community.

No more operating on autopilot, tuning everyone out in public spaces and simply plowing through life. Take out those earbuds and make eye contact the next time you’re shopping. Put down your smartphone and say hello to the person next to you in the waiting room. Be more intentional in your everyday interactions and discover the possibilities that arise!

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