For the past year or so I've made an effort not to socialize. Sounds weird, but I figured that the only way I could really see just how much I could focus on SETT would be to cut out everything, even things that seemed somewhat important.
If really good friends invited me to something that seemed like it would constitute quality time, as opposed to just not-being-bored-time, I would go as an exception. Through those infrequent occasions, I'd meet new people once in a while. And sometimes these new people were just so amazing that I couldn't help but become friends with them, too.
For the first few years in San Francisco, I felt like I had tons of acquaintances, but only a few really good friends, and even those friends were people I knew before moving here. Even some of the people I hung out with a lot were just acquaintances-- our friendships never deepened, and when they moved away it didn't really feel like a loss.
Now I feel like I have no acquaintances and a lot of really good friends. There are a few people I hang out with who aren't really good friends yet, but it feels like things are moving in that direction.
I've learned two really valuable lessons from this process:
1. Acquaintances aren't free
Any time you spend with someone who isn't going to become a good friend is time you AREN'T spending with someone who might become a good friend. By pruning back time with people like that, you give yourself more mental energy for new people who might become good friends, and more time to deepen your friendships with existing friends.
This sounds like a subtle truism, but the effect has been dramatic in my life. Eliminating acquaintances was so powerful that even while actively trying not to make new friends, I made a bunch of great ones.
As a society I feel like we're far too concerned with filling our time, a function served by acquaintances, and not concerned enough with filling our minds/hearts, which is what good friends are for. The average level of conversation in my life has spiked upwards, as has the inspiration and motivation I get from those I spend time with.
Also, realize that you're on both sides of the equation. For many people, you're the acquaintance who will never become a friend. By spending less time with that person, you're helping him move towards building great friendships.
2. There's a Pattern
Unexpectedly, removing acquaintances removed the noise and left the signal. Whereas before I couldn't have described concrete patterns in who I hang out with, now they're clear as day.
The primary defining feature of my friends is that they are good people. Really good people. Like, the kind of people whose everyday actions are so positive and noble that I'm emotionally moved by them and inspired to be a better person.
Next most prominent is an unshakable sense of optimism. I just spent a couple minutes trying to think of a negative thing a friend has said recently, and I couldn't come up with a single one. I can think of examples of them dealing with breakups, death, financial setbacks, major illness, and seeing nothing but the best through all of these things.
Last, they're almost all entrepreneurs. I can think of a couple exceptions, but even they have pretty interesting jobs that they very intentionally chose and probably could be entrepreneurs if they chose to.
The interesting part in finding these patterns is that it reveals both my own aspirations and useful data for screening future friends. If I'm on the fence about spending time with someone, I might be more inclined to do it if they fit these patterns, and less likely if they didn't.
So what can you do with this information? For one, I'd suggest experimenting with spending less time with acquaintances, and spend no time making new ones. If you're overwhelmed socially, I'd try to find the common themes in people you do consider to be very good friends, and focus your energy only on people that fit those themes.
I'm incredibly grateful for all of the excellent friends I have, both new and old. If it's true that you become the product of the people you're closest with, I have an almost unfair advantage in life. I write this post in hopes that it will help others be as lucky.
Photo includes several of my really good friends (and a random Japanese girl who I convinced to climb the rock with us).
I land in Narita Airport, Japan, pull two thousand Yen out of the ATM, and get on the train for Tokyo. From memory I walk down familiar streets until I get to the New Zealand Embassy in northern Shibuya, where my friend Elliot lives. I haven't seen him in almost two years, and have only emailed a few times since then, but it's as if I never left. We joke around, walk to dinner, and make plans for the weekend.
The next day I pop my Japanese SIM card into my phone and call my friend Toby to let him know that I'm around. He tells me about a party he's throwing in Yoyogi park, so a couple other friends and I join him.
Nothing about these individual scenes is particularly noteworthy. That's the point. In various places around the world I have enough good friends that I can have a pretty normal life there while visiting.
"Kaizen" is a simple concept from the Japanese language, literally meaning 'Good Change'. That's it, nothing more. It can be big or small, quick or extremely time consuming, all it needs to be is a change for the better.
Japanese business leaders have adopted this term, and modified the concept slightly to being one of smaller steps, incremental change, over time, which leads to a much brighter outcome. It is this second usage that I'll talk about today.
I'm sure most of us know that Japanese culture is very . .. driven. Their ideals are high, their personal and societal expectations are high, and their demands on themselves and of others is high - its part of the reason why suicide rates are so elevated in that country. But there is another side to Japan, one that takes into account the betterment of a corporation, or society, as a whole. We can take this concept, and apply it at the personal level very effectively.
We as individuals can be very driven too - driven by our own personal desires, societal norms, parental expectations, job demands, internal voices that say you aren't good enough yet. We often are our own worst critics. I know myself I love photography, but I've often suffered from the fact that my pictures aren't good enough by my own standards, and that makes photography a self-defeating hobby for me. Well, at least it used to be, before I discovered the concept of Mindfulness.
Applying the concept of Kaizen to my life, it basically boils down to this - what small changes can I make in my life, that given sufficient time, will produce big rewards or positive changes? Its like applying the concept of compound interest to your personal life. Small steps, small changes, day after day, tend to build on each other. So lets look at some changes that I hope to make in my life, and how I expect them to compound over time