Streamline your friendships for greater life satisfaction.

We declutter our drawers, our cars and our closets. How often do we tidy up our social lives? They probably aren’t terribly streamlined, as pruning them sounds so … severe. It’s okay to take stock. Consider the research of esteemed anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who studies the evolutionary structure of social networks in primates. He’s found there’s a ceiling to just how many meaningful relationships at a time we can have, and it’s based on brain size. For humans, it tops out at 150—about the size of a small village. More than that, it’s simply too hard to maintain. For this week’s Healthy Habits, let’s look at the idea of streamlining your friendships.

  1. Remember the why.

    If you are exhausted by social obligations that don’t interest you, you’re not nurturing your own needs. And if you are hanging out with a bunch of people you don’t actually have time for, you’re neglecting the close friends you should be devoting your energy to.

  2. Detox.

    Any toxic relationships need to go, pronto. That’s anyone who makes you feel insecure, or who is overly negative, or who just doesn’t bring out your best self. Buh-bye, saboteurs, emotional vampires and narcissists!

  3. Rip off the band-aid.

    “I just don’t have time to meet up,” is fine to say and often truthful. But if a slow fade is more your style, by all means, gradually stop seeing the person as frequently, and then, not at all.

  4. Maintain.

    One in, one out. Ouch! This method works well for physical stuff—shirts, jeans, shoes. Some people use it for friendships, too. It sounds a bit harsh to me. But remember Robin Dunbar’s observation on our limits.

  5. Batch.

    Productivity experts suggest grouping together like activities, such as marketing or sales calls, so that you are only focusing attention on one type of thing at a time. Set aside a “batch” of time each week to reach out to your inner circle of friends. During this time, you might arrange dinner or drinks with a buddy, send emails or texts to touch base with another, call a third, etc. Having a designated social planning zone means you’ll have an engine of energy devoted to cultivating your closest ties.

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