Year-End Reflection Part 3 | Our Connection Bucket

In this illuminating episode, we dive deep into the power of human connection for a fulfilling life. Jonathan shares insights from decades of research showing our most important relationships are key to wellbeing. We explore how to take stock of your Connection bucket and nurture the few deep bonds that matter most. Learn simple but profound practices to be more present with loved ones, keep your bucket full in tough times, and cultivate chosen family.

If you want to feel more connected, this episode will inspire you to take small steps that ripple into big changes. Strengthening your core relationships could be the best investment you make next year!

If you’re open to it, record your own responses and email them to [email protected]. We may include your reflections in an episode. I’m excited to share this powerful process over the coming weeks to help us all step into the new year with intention.

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Episode Transcript:

Jonathan Fields: [00:00:02] So here’s my question how connected or disconnected have you felt to yourself, to your friends, to your family, your loved ones, to people who really matter to you over the course of this year? Right. This has been a very challenging year on the connection front for so many coming out of the last three years, I think so many of us just figured we’d drop back into our relationships with the same level of depth and zest and joy. But for many, reconnecting has actually been a real struggle and for a wide variety of reasons, from technology to the state of the world, and really just all the things that are swirling around us, and the fact that we are still emerging from a season of profound disruption and trying to figure out how to be with each other again, which is why, in part three of our special month-long year-end reflection series, we’re tapping into the wisdom of the good Life buckets to better understand how this last year has impacted us in three critical areas vitality, connection, and contribution. And today, we’re doing a deep dive into your connection bucket. Now, if you missed our opening episode in this special bonus year-end reflection series or last week’s part two on the Vitality Bucket, you’ll definitely want to cue those up to listen to as well, because I share the basic model of the Good Life buckets and why they’re so powerful in helping us both understand how the key areas of our lives are doing, and also giving us the information needed to really look ahead and make whatever changes or shifts we want to in order to come back to life in all areas of life in the year to come.


Jonathan Fields: [00:01:42] And then last week we went deep into the topic of vitality or your vitality bucket, what it is and is not. And I shared a powerful journaling exercise to tap as a year-end reflection and planning tool, and you can find links to those first two year-end reflection episodes in the show. Notes. Today, in part three of our year-end reflection series, we’re diving into your connection bucket, asking what it can tell us about this last year, about the state of your relationships. Some of this stuff is going to be maybe fairly obvious, but there’s probably a bunch that you haven’t thought about too. And then we’ll explore what I call the five clarifying questions that I’ll invite you to ask yourself and journal on. And then I’ll share my own personal assessment for my connection bucket this year, how I’m feeling about the state of my own relationships, and what I’m planning to do about it in the year to come. So excited to share this third installment of our year-end reflection series on the Connection Bucket. I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life Project.


Jonathan Fields: [00:02:48] Okay. So let’s talk about this thing we call the connection bucket. Right. And again remember the three different buckets we have vitality connection contribution. The idea is these are three core areas of life. When they’re all filled or pretty close to full, then life gets really good. When they all start to dwindle or even one starts to dwindle, we start to struggle and we’re not often entirely sure why. So honing in on the three different buckets in the levels can be super helpful in helping us process the year we’ve just been through and understand why it felt the way that it felt, but also plan for the year to come. So let’s talk about that connection bucket. When we talk about the connection bucket, what we’re really talking about here is the depth and quality of our most important relationships. Now this is fascinating. I have had the great, great honor and privilege over more than a decade now of sitting down with some of the most accomplished, smartest researchers, leaders of industry, of science, of art, of relationships, of all these different things and good life project over the period that we’ve been doing this. And one of the more recent conversations that I had actually happened with a guy named Robert Waldinger. Now he was the curator or one of the most recent curators for one of the longest-run studies on human flourishing in history. The study went about 80 years, and it tracked a group of people across different seasons of their life.


Jonathan Fields: [00:04:27] And it measured so many different aspects of their life, from their physical well-being to their work to their relationships to just. And it measured all sorts of medical things about them. It measured the relationship qualities. It taught not just to them but to those around them. And the idea was to try and figure out what are the fundamental contributors to a life well lived. And yes, there are all the different things that we talk about here. But Waldinger brought to the surface one supercritical thing, which is, he said, in all the different metrics that they looked at over a period of multiple generations. And by the way, this study was focused on a fairly narrow group of people, but it has been replicated with broader demographics more recently, and the results are largely the same. But when he was asked, like, is there anything that really stands out as determinative? And when I talked to him about it, he basically said, yeah, it’s about the state of our relationships. It is your connection bucket is maybe the single most important one, because a lot of other stuff might not be going right and you may not have control over. But the depth and quality of our relationships is a huge determinant of the quality of our lives. How full or empty your connection bucket is is critically important in this context.


Jonathan Fields: [00:05:47] So when we talk about the connection bucket, then what are those relationships that we’re talking about? What is the connectedness that really matters in our ability to fill our connection buckets or understand what goes into it and what might be affecting it, both positive and negative. One of the things that comes to mind first is friends. Friends are critically important. There’s so much research on this now that when we feel like we don’t have any friends. And by the way, there’s an epidemic of loneliness and isolation that is only getting worse these days, where people say they actually don’t have a single close friend. There’s a profound effect on our ability to feel like we’re living good lives, and that also has a ripple on effect on our health, our well-being, our state of mind and body, and even our ability to work in the way that we want to work. Friends can make a huge difference. The thing is, we don’t need a lot of friends. This isn’t about shallow and wide here. What the research also shows is that this is not a volume game. We’re talking about one or 2 or 3 people who you just feel genuinely close to, who know you really well and are there for you when you need them, and you feel the same way about them, right? We don’t need a crew or a squad or a group or a ton of different people.


Jonathan Fields: [00:07:09] We just need a small number where we can go deep and we feel like they’ve got us and we’ve got them. And we also think about expanding beyond friends. We think about family. Or I’d like to actually say family and chosen family. The reason is for some of us, when we think about our, you know, like our family, whether it’s biological or adopted, whatever is the case for you, we have mixed feelings about them. Some folks think about their family, and they actually don’t feel super connected to them at all or like they know them or support them in any meaningful way. Whereas others think about their family and they feel like they. Are the closest people to them ever. They make their lives so much better. Now we have differing abilities to control that, but what we do have is the ability to control and to bring together what I would call chosen family. And we’re seeing that happen a lot more. And those are people who rise above the level of what we would call friends and actually feel like this is the family that we would bring together if we had the ability to choose who it was going to be and travel with them as a family for life. And I’m seeing more and more people actually be really intentional about bringing together chosen family and knowing that this is a group of people.


Jonathan Fields: [00:08:28] This is my they look at them as my family, and I love this because it gives us agency and says, whether you love and feel everything that you want to feel from the family who you came up with or not, that we all still have this ability to bring together to to cultivate our own sense of chosen family no matter where we travel. So friends and family and chosen family. Other things that go into the connection bucket are community. And very often community is the driver of the feeling of belonging. Belonging is such a critical physiological and psychological need. It is one of the core needs for human flourishing. And it’s this sense that we are known and we know others and that we have shared values, shared history, shared interests, shared lens, and that we can show up in a group of people or a community, and we don’t have to do anything or change anything about ourselves to fit in. We simply can show up as we are, who we are all of ourselves, and know that we will be welcomed, celebrated and embraced. And that is, in my mind, what really creates that sense of belonging that often happens in community with others like minded others. So this is another really critical thing that goes into filling that connection bucket. So we’ve talked about friends, family, chosen family, community in the sense of belonging that can come with it.


Jonathan Fields: [00:10:05] What about this thing called love. So love of course can happen across friends and family and chosen family and all these different categories. But what about that particular type of love that often is known as romantic love? So is this a need to have in order to actually be able to fill your connection bucket, or is it a nice to have? And what increasingly I’m seeing in the literature is that, of course, it’s amazing when you have that in your life, when you have that person, you know, like your person, and there’s a sense of deep and profound connection and romantic love, which oftentimes over time evolves into friendship, love companionate love and attachment love. But romantic love is the thing that tends to be idealized as the pinnacle of a sense of just hyper-connectedness. Like, if you really want to fill your connection bucket, you’ve got to have that person. And what the data shows is that’s actually not true. Is it nice to have that in the mix? Of course, it’s fantastic when you have that, but is it a must have? Can you actually fill your connection bucket and feel really good and connected to others on all the ways that make a difference, but not have that romantic relationship? And the answer is yes, you actually can. It is a beautiful thing to add to it, but is also it doesn’t limit your ability to fill your connection bucket if you don’t have that.


Jonathan Fields: [00:11:32] So you don’t have to feel left out or feel like you’re not able to get the level of connection bucket filling that you want to have just because that might not be a part of your life at this moment in time. Now, another thing that we think about when we think about connection is your sense of connection to yourself. So many of us are actually not at home in our own skin either, because we know ourselves and we’re not comfortable with that, or because we really don’t know ourselves. We’ve never actually done the work to say, who am I? What matters to me? What are my values, my beliefs? What are my passions and my interests? We feel disconnected from our sense of self, from our sense of identity. Maybe we were never connected to it, or maybe something happened in life that drew us away from it. Many times, adult parents or caregivers report feeling this sense of, well, I felt deeply connected to myself. But as I’ve shifted roles and I’m more focused on more of my energies going towards being there for others and feeling increasingly disconnected from that sense of self, and that can really have an effect. So it’s not just about your sense of connection to others, but also our sense. Of connection to ourselves that can make a difference.


Jonathan Fields: [00:12:51] Our ability to fill our connection buckets. Now, we’ve also been talking largely about other human beings here. But it doesn’t just have to be that. Other ways to add to your connection bucket are a sense of connectedness to animals. Many people feel more connected to pets or animals around them that are in their care than they do to other human beings in their immediate families, and that’s actually okay. Connection, deep sense of connection and love and affection towards animals. That’s great. It’s another way to fill your connection bucket. Some folks get a really powerful sense of connection from the environment around them, especially from nature. I know I’m in Boulder, Colorado. I’m a hiker. I love being out in nature on a regular basis, and I feel like a sense of deep and profound connection when I am immersed in nature and natural environments that can be in the mountains, in the forest, on the trails, it can also be on the beach or near water. Both of those have a really similar effect in me. It’s not just about filling my vitality bucket and improving my state of mind, which it does. There’s a sense of connectedness, connectedness to the land, to to energy around me, to nature that really changes me in a meaningful way. And that also leads us to a bigger, more profound sense. If it isn’t within your experience or your beliefs, a sense of connectedness to Source or God, or the Akashic field or the universe, however you may describe or name or define that sense of being connected to and a part of something bigger than yourself, that, if it is a part of your experience, can be another powerful way to help fill your buckets.


Jonathan Fields: [00:14:34] So these are all the different types of things that I think about when I’m looking at what goes into filling your connection bucket. And as we did last week, after the break, I will return and we’re going to revisit the five clarifying questions and how to use them to get a beat on where your connection bucket has been. Um, had a process. What’s contributed to that? And do a little bit of planning, and I’m going to share my own answer to the five clarifying questions when it comes to my connection bucket. I’ll see you back here in just a moment. So we’re going to dive into the five clarifying questions. Now if you’ve been listening along, if you tuned into last week’s episode where we talked about the Vitality Bucket, I introduced these five questions. But I’ll introduce them to you again, along with a journaling exercise that we’re going to use as a urine reflection. When it comes to your connection bucket, the five clarifying questions are when you think about your connection bucket. And you can either do this broadly as your connection bucket in general, or pick any or all of the different contributors that I just talked about.


Jonathan Fields: [00:15:45] And these contributors are all listed in a PDF, one sheet that you can download. You’ll find a link just right there in the show notes that has all three buckets, the different elements that contribute to each, and the five clarifying questions to each one of them. So you don’t have to memorize any of this, but you can ask these five clarifying questions either, generally in the context of your connection bucket, or you can literally go to each single contributor and do it in the context of that. It takes a little more work, a little more effort, but you’ll also get more value and clarity and understanding by doing that. The five clarifying questions are. When you think about your connection bucket, what level is it at now? Rank it from 1 to 10. Where has it been over the last year? Think about a high, low and average. What have been the main contributors to this level both within and outside of your control? Are you content with both the average levels for the year and where it is right now? And what, if anything, might you think about changing as you prepare to plan for the year to come? Now, when I shared my sort of journaling response to this in our last year-end reflection episode, I just picked a single quality from the Vitality Bucket.


Jonathan Fields: [00:16:54] But for the sort of like demonstration purposes, this time I’ll just talk to you about the connection bucket in general. So I’ll answer these five clarifying questions in the context of my connection bucket more broadly, and how it’s been affected over the course of this year. So we start out with those five clarifying questions. When I think about my connection bucket, what level is it at now? Rank it from 1 to 10. And if I think about this at this particular moment in time, I would probably say that my connection bucket is at about. I’m going to actually go pretty strong here and say it’s at about a nine. It’s feeling really good right now. It’s feeling very full. Like my connection bucket feels like it’s it is bubbling over. And that brings us to the second clarifying question, which is where has my connection bucket been over the last year? And I think about if I reflect over the last 12 months or so, like the high, the low and the average, well, I think the high would probably be pretty close to where it is right now, to be honest with you. You know, I think there’s always probably a room to feel more connected. So I’m always hesitant to like say it’s a ten, maybe it’s like eight and a half or nine. I think the low, though, was probably somewhere more around a five for me.


Jonathan Fields: [00:18:16] And there, you know. Am I happy about that? No. But if I’m being really honest and I think back about, well, what’s happened throughout the course of this year, what have been the different factors that have allowed me or stopped me from connecting them? Yeah, if I’m being really honest, there were probably moments where I felt relatively disconnected and it was down around a five. And if I think about what the average has been, though for the whole year. I’d say that’s probably about a seven and a half. So solid, but definitely room for improvement. Now that brings me to the third clarifying question. And that is when I think about my connection bucket. What had been the main contributors to the level both within and outside of my control? And I think about a few things here, both on the plus side and on the minus side. On the plus side, you know what has allowed it to feel like? Well, I’m sitting at about an eight and a half or nine right now. I’m feeling really good about it. And for much of the year it’s been really good. And I feel like a lot of that has been a renewed intentionality around doing things that would make me feel more connected, both to myself and to those who I really care deeply about. So I think coming out of the last three years, where there’s a much stronger sense of isolation, both physical like physical space, it was difficult to be around people, but also psychologically and emotionally.


Jonathan Fields: [00:19:39] I realized the toll that that took on me, and I wanted to make this year a year where I really felt like the relationships in my life that mattered most to me were being celebrated and nourished and elevated, and that led me to be more proactive. I believe in making sure that I was always reaching out, so I, I don’t want to say I made it an actual short list of the folks who would, you know, be closest to me and most important to me in all those different categories I described before, but it kind of mentally did a run through, and what I would do on, on a weekly basis was I would check in and ask myself. How in touch with how connected do I feel to these different people who I claim to hold dear in my life, do these different relationships? It’s my immediate family. My wife, my daughter, my parents, my sister. Then there’s, you know, a small handful of just very close friends and then a broader community around me. And what I did was I got really intentional about making sure that every single week I was proactively doing things to make sure that those relationships that matter most were being nurtured, whether that was scheduling time for phone calls or for zooms.


Jonathan Fields: [00:20:52] There are a handful of friends where we’ve kind of gotten into the practice of random, unscheduled, unplanned calls, which is really weird in this day and age where everyone’s like, oh, let’s, let’s schedule a time to call. Like when I was a kid, nobody scheduled times to call. We just hung out, you know, we went to somebody’s house. We just picked up the phone. Hey, can somebody talk? We’ve gotten so rigid and so scheduled. Now that I feel like, you know, our ability to just connect spontaneously when we feel it has kind of broken down a lot. So I have a small group of friends where we just randomly call each other and we could be out hiking, we could be doing something else. And so often it is such a surprise and a delight that I love doing that. And I love receiving that from those who are close to me. And it made a real difference. And also just being sure that on a weekly basis, the people I cared most about, I was in touch with. And I noticed that they started to be more in touch with me. And I think there’s a ripple effect. When you start to get more proactive about filling your connection bucket, others start to feel that and they start to become more proactive too and start reaching back out to you. And it creates a really beautiful upward connection spiral.


Jonathan Fields: [00:22:01] What about things that are not within my control then? Well, as I mentioned in last week’s year-end reflection, I spent a solid chunk of the summer dealing with illness, and that really took me out in a lot of different ways. I didn’t have the emotional or the physical bandwidth to really relate to other people. So there was a window in the middle of the year where I felt more disconnected, and I think that’s where I reported more of a five out of ten on my connection bucket. And I think a lot of the reason actually had to do with the level of my vitality bucket being really low, because I was dealing with that and I was struggling, and it just didn’t leave me the energetic or emotional bandwidth to be able to really deepen into and nourish my relationships. I was thankful to have people who loved me, who were there for me and checked in on me and supported me. I just didn’t have a lot of outward energy to give during that window of time. So I pulled back a bit and it was definitely an interesting challenge for me, and one that I’ve been reflecting on more and more, and also been reflecting on how grateful that I am that there were a number of folks who genuinely were there for me and loved me and checked in on me, even though they knew that I didn’t really have the ability to spend a lot of energy reciprocating.


Jonathan Fields: [00:23:21] And I think that’s something that you learn about, like really close family-level friends over time, is that it’s not a checklist type of thing. Like, nobody’s keeping score here. We’re just here for each other. And that brings us to the fourth of those clarifying questions. And that is, am I content with both the average levels for the year and where I am now? And I think I would have to answer that with a yes. I’m really content with where it is right now. I feel deeply connected to those I love and those around me. I’m in regular touch with them. Um. I’m much more intentional about my ability to be in touch and also more broadly like those other things. I don’t own a pet, but I am deeply connected to a sense of nature, and I’ve invested a lot more in being much more committed to feeling that sense of connection, and a bigger sense that I am a part of something larger than myself, a broader energy that that is there and supports us. And that brings us to the fifth clarifying question, which is what, if anything, might I think about changing as I prepare to plan for the year to come? So if I think about the current state of my connection bucket and that being like, like pretty topped off right now, would I change a lot? I don’t think so.


Jonathan Fields: [00:24:37] I think I put a lot of practices into place over the course of this year that have made a real difference, that have helped me raise the level of my connection bucket and also keep it fairly high. What I would think about is, you know, for those moments where you don’t see life coming and they kind of knock you to your knees and they make it harder to connect, which, as I shared, was a season of this year at least. Are there things or practices or tools or mechanisms that I could put in place in advance so that if and when something like that happens down the road, that I have these checks that will bring me back and keep me checking in and resource to support other people, and also make sure that the connections that I do have are there for me as well. And that’s something that I don’t have an answer to right now, but it’s spinning in my head and I will probably think more about and see what I can brainstorm between now and the end of the year to set myself up. Even better to keep my connection bucket topped off in the year to come. So that is the connection bucket. That is the five clarifying questions. And that’s how I would sort of like move through this journaling exercise with the five clarifying questions more broadly in the sense of the connection bucket.


Jonathan Fields: [00:26:00] And as I mentioned, you can either do this broadly for the connection bucket or if you really have it in you, it’ll take more work and more effort, but you’ll get a lot more specific detail. You can literally go element by element in the connection bucket and ask the five clarifying questions about each one of them. You know, you can look at family, friends, chosen family, animals, self-connection, all these different things. Choose the one that feels best for you, and also choose the one that you feel like you can actually do. And if that means that you only have ten minutes to do it more broadly for the connection bucket, do that. It’s much more useful and it’ll give you some really valuable Intel as you start to think about closing the books on this year and setting up next year to live your best life possible. So excited to be able to dive into that with you. And I am excited to be back here with you for the final of our four year-end reflection episodes, episode four next week, where we’re going to dive into the contribution bucket together and think about. This thing called the work, and also maybe redefine what we even mean when we use the word work and how we can fill that bucket in the year to come. I’ll see you all then. Take care.


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