Resolved: Going Tech-Free to Strengthen Your Relationships in 2017

The calendar is rolling toward 2017, so maybe you’ve been thinking some about New Year’s resolutions. We have one to suggest: Reconnect with your friends and family in real life instead of just through social media.

“Relationships are built on understanding the other person and who they are, what they are and what they might need from you. All those things need to take place in the real world,” says Larry Rosen, a professor emeritus of psychology at California State University and co-author of “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World.”

If you’re ready to get back to clicking face-to-face instead of just clicking a “like” button, here’s how to put that resolution into action.

Get More Specific About Your Needs

Figure out who you want to reach out to and how often. Does your vision include planning a big bash to bring everyone together? Or dedicating more one-on-one time with your family members or close friends? 

Simply telling yourself that you’re going to spend more quality time with loved ones isn’t going to get it done, says Kevin Gilliland, a clinical psychologist and executive director of Innovation360 in Dallas. “Pick a few people to focus on first — not your whole social circle,” he says. “Be realistic. If you’re trying to reconnect with a friend who lives across town and has three small children, aim for face-to-face time once a month or every other month.”

Prepare yourself to follow through on your resolution by sharing your plans. Tell the people you hope to reconnect with as well as an “outsider” to your plan — someone close to you who will hold you accountable and keep you on track, Gilliland says.

Make Concrete Plans

How many times have you told someone “We need to get together soon,” but it never actually happens? We all have busy lives, which is why scheduling is so important. Schedule time for yourself to make plans.

“Set reminders once a month to plan a get together with a particular friend,” says Rhonda Milrad, founder and chief relationship adviser at Relationup, an app that offers live relationship advice. That makes it much more likely that you’ll follow through on that coffee date.

Once you’ve reach out to someone, make specific plans with them. Vague plans like “Let’s do something this weekend” can easily fade into another missed opportunity; it’s much harder for that to happen if you’ve bought tickets, made reservations or set a time and place, Milrad says.

Do Something Physical

Do you want to get in better shape? Combine two resolutions into one by planning physical activities with a loved one. Sharing your workout with someone can motivate you and make you feel better in general.

“Serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine and endorphins are naturally occurring neurotransmitters in our bodies, and part of their purpose is to make us feel good,” Gilliland says. “Production of these naturally occurring stimulants is at its peak when we engage in physical activity.”

Arrange a weekly gym date with a friend, go on a hike together, join a pickup basketball game or take the kids out to play Frisbee in the park. Even a walk through the neighborhood with a friend once a week is a great opportunity to get yourself up and moving while enjoying tech-free time with your favorite people.

Try Something New

If there’s a hobby or activity you’ve always wanted to try or did once and want to do again, organize it with someone special. Try bonding over an activity like a wine and painting class or indoor rock climbing, Milrad says.

“You are enjoying each other’s company while having a memorable time,” she says. “The uniqueness of the experience coupled with the fun of being together creates a rich memory that gets stored in your brain differently than a more familiar and predictable event.”

Doing something novel can spark a deeper level of connection, particularly for couples looking to spend some tech-free time together, Gilliland says. “Engaging in a new shared activity, whether it’s ballroom dancing, bowling or wine tasting, is a very effective way for husbands and wives to reignite their bond,” he says.

Try Something Old

There’s plenty of old-fashioned ways to get together that shouldn’t be overlooked, and you don’t need to wait for a special occasion. Invite people over for the game, throw a BBQ, or host a dinner party.

If you’ve got kids and find yourself always busy, chances are you have a friend or relative in the same boat. Ask them to join you when you’re knocking out common errands like grocery shopping, or invite them along when you’re taking the kids to the museum or park.

And, of course, you can always meet someone for coffee when you have an hour here or there to spend. However you choose to spend real-world time with your loved ones, the important thing to remember is that you’re building deeper relationships.