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  • Madeline Nielsen

4 Ways to be an Active Friend

Recently, I've been reflecting on areas in my life where I want to grow. I am someone who is blessed to have wonderful people in my life, and I want to better show my appreciation and admiration for them.

Self-improvement can feel like a vague, nebulous concept. Sometimes I get so caught up in my own head that I forget the importance of being present – of sharing myself with others, being consciously honest, and focusing on the moment at hand.

Here are a few things to implement in your daily life that I believe can strengthen relationships and encourage yourself and others to be more open, honest, and real.

1. Show that you’re listening:

Quality listening requires more than sitting back and letting your ears passively intake sound. When a friend is sharing something, you can make them feel at ease by nodding along (not to the point of excess, the bobble-head look is not what we’re going for), making eye contact (keeping cultural norms in mind), and keeping your body oriented towards them. If people feel like you’re truly listening to them, that can help them feel more comfortable being open and honest. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of looking up when you’re telling a story and knowing the people around you are invested in what you are saying. If you show people that you value their stories and experiences, you can help them feel comfortable opening up to you!

2. Update your friends on your life:

Sometimes, I forget to notify my friends about the daily happenings in my life. Maybe it’s a moment that slipped my mind, or maybe I feel like I don't want to bother people with random information about myself. However, after reflecting on this, I realized that random texts from friends are great! It’s nice to know a friend is thinking of me, and I want to know about their life too. Making a habit of texting or calling friends to let them know what you’ve got going on – and being open to receiving their updates in return(!) – can be a great way to connect. Of course, staying in touch like this doesn't come naturally for everyone. Try actively reminding yourself when you haven’t seen a friend in a while to share some news with them! Whether it's a big life event or a smaller one, update people! It’s possible they’ll even use it as an opportunity to update you on their lives too.

3. If you think of something positive, share it:

I cannot tell you how many times I see someone in the store or on the street and think, “Wow, I love her outfit,” or “Hey, I’ve read that book!” Even though I notice these small things in other people and appreciate them, I rarely share these thoughts. Maybe it’s because I feel like I don’t want to interrupt people or make them think, “Who is this person approaching me?” But again, these doubtful feelings are not founded in my real experiences – every time someone compliments me, be it a stranger or friend, it makes my DAY! Even with my closest friends, I sometimes forget to tell them that they are loved and cherished. It’s never a bad thing to be reminded of your good qualities and how appreciated you are by your friends. If you think someone in your class is incredibly intelligent, I’d recommend you tell them! Acknowledging and affirming good qualities costs nothing. Next time you see your friend, tell her that you noticed how kind she is or what great taste she has in music. If you see someone at the grocery store with amazing shoes, let them know! A little encouragement can go a long way toward making people feel safer, more confident, and more likely to spread those feelings around!

4. Be comfortable being vulnerable:

Being vulnerable can be tough. However, the next time a friend or acquaintance asks you “How are you?” and the real answer is “Stressed out, and a little hungry,” I encourage you to go ahead and say so! You don’t always have to respond with “fine” when someone asks you how you are – nobody is fine all of the time. If more people responded with their true feelings, then it wouldn't feel weird or vulnerable to do so! If you implement a little more vulnerability and honestly into your day-to-day life, it can encourage the people around you to as well. Bad days are a reality, and it’s counterproductive to pretend that they don't exist or are embarrassing. Everyone has bad days. Sharing those feelings can make it easier to get help, find support, and feel less alone. Revealing one’s challenges can be a wonderful way to connect with other people.

Honesty, vulnerability, and attentiveness to the present are all practices. It’s a process to become comfortable with yourself and share vulnerable things you typically wouldn't.I’d say it’s absolutely worthwhile to ingrain these practices into your daily life. I hope you find these ideas helpful and start practicing honesty and openness on the daily!

Madeline Nielsen is a member of the Columbia College class of 2020. She studies History. Madeline hails from Yellow Springs, Ohio. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, volunteering, doodling, talking about feelings, and trying new things. Madeline joined Barnard/Columbia Reflect as a facilitator in 2017. She became the chapter’s Reporter in 2018.


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