Every night my friend Mary Ann does the unthinkable. She sets her alarm for 4:30 a.m. because every morning she gets up and walks three miles while the rest of the world sleeps.
How has Mary Ann managed to stick with this early morning fitness routine for so many years? Simple. She knows that someone is waiting for her. Two people have made a commitment to show up.
The secret of Mary Ann’s success is that she chooses to be accountable, not only to herself but to another person who shares her desire to become physically fit.
And how is this working out? Extremely well, she reports. The faster she and her buddy walk the louder they talk. And laugh. They even argue from time to time.
These friends share their lives and brainstorm their dreams. They get so involved they don’t notice the miles clicking away. The deep friendship that has resulted from this daily event not only makes the task possible, but it also makes it enjoyable.
Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, Calif., says the way to get involved in the behemoth-sized church is to get plugged-in to a small group made up of people whose life situations match their own.
“I believe the fellowship of a small group is core to a believer’s growth as a Christian. As a church grows bigger, it must also grow smaller,” says Warren.
Saddleback’s unprecedented growth can be attributed to countless small groups made up of members who share a common bond. It is in these small groups that members find care, support, and accountability.
People connect to Saddleback in a way they might not if they were lost in a sea of 15,000 faces week after week. Small groups offer a safe environment where people face the challenges in their lives and find the courage to choose change over comfort.
Nationally recognized consumer trends expert Faith Popcorn calls this need to connect “clanning,” and defines it this way: The inclination to join up, belong to, hang out with groups of like kinds, providing a secure feeling that our own belief systems will somehow be validated by consensus.
Clanning, says Popcorn, hitches us up with those who share our interests, our ideas, aspirations, and addictions. It says I’m a part of a group and I’m proud of it. I belong! Clanning is a rebound reaction to our overcommitted lives. The more fragmented our days, the more we need to ground ourselves by networking with those of the same mind.
Connecting has other benefits according to Michael Roizen, M.D., author of Real Age: Are You as Young as You Could Be?. Joining a group is one of the best ways to reduce stress. A church, athletic team, or support group—anything that gets you together with other people on a regular basis—can help make you younger. “Nothing ages you,” says Roizen, “like going through a major life event alone.”
In his research, Dr. Roizen found that four of the ten most stressful events in our lives are tied to our finances. Declaring bankruptcy, losing a job, changing jobs, and not being able to pay the bills—these financial woes can cause just as much stress as almost anything. They can also cause needless aging.
And if that’s not bad enough, financial upsets can trigger a series of other events that can age you as well, such as a divorce or a major depression. This is Dr. Roizen’s prescription to reduce stress and increase your life expectancy: Socialize. Find a place where you belong.
Whatever your life challenge might be—whether it is learning to live below your means, getting out of debt, debt-proofing your life, or building wealth on your ordinary income—you can be with others or choose to walk alone. You can find strength and courage in the company of like minds or you can live a life of isolation.
Would you like to increase the likelihood that you will reach the goals you’ve set for yourself and not drop out along the way? Find a “walking buddy.” Join a group. Connect with a clan.
Connecting with someone who cares and understands reduces stress and makes the journey more enjoyable. But even better than that—it increases the likelihood that you will stick with it and reach your goal.