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The Mindful Networker

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Living in Chicago, networking is an essential part of my everyday life. Not only does it help to grow my brand but it also allows me to connect with a community “or tribe” of support. Did you know 85 percent of all jobs are filled via networking? This means networking is essential for growing your business.

Luckily, I have found a way to not make networking all about booze, unhealthy foods and the typical business card hand off. I think of networking as more of an experience to meet new and interesting people and expand my “network.”

As a registered dietitian and professional speaker on mindful living, I have found the best way to establish meaningful relationships at these networking functions is by taking a mindfulness approach. It’s about not over indulging in the “bad stuff” that comes with these functions or thinking of your next networking event as “work” or a “chore.”

Six Tips for Being a Mindful Networker

1. Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone

One of the best ways to practice mindfulness is to get out of your comfort zone. AKA: networking.

One of the most important steps to personal greatness is personal growth. But growth feels awkward. To grow, you have to embrace the discomfortIt feels awkward. It’s uncomfortable. But to unleash your potential, and expand your abilities, you have to embrace change and discomfort as a part of the journey.

Do you think you can transform your body without a little sweating or healthy food preparation?  We wish right? But, in order for change to truly happen, we have to get a little uncomfortable. That’s when growth happens and where we have the biggest reward.

2. Plan Ahead

The definition of networking is to interact with other people, to exchange information, develop contacts and further one’s career. This is the main reason you network. It’s not because of the booze and unhealthy food. Sure, that’s a big part of it since food is social, but it is not everything.

Plan ahead for these events and work them into your lifestyle. Of course, no one wants to network every single night of the week, but if you plan ahead for these events every so often, it will allow you to make the most of your experience.

Sure, you may want to indulge a bit at these occasions, so plan ahead.

I use a little secret called the 80/20 Rule. This means 80 percent of the time, I make healthy lifestyle choices and 20 percent of the time I make room for the things I love or networking functions. Typically, Monday through Friday I find ways to work in daily movement, eat healthy foods, cook more meals at home, drink half my body weight in ounces of water per day and get seven to eight hours of sleep each night. That means that come the weekend or at that next networking function, I can indulge a bit, have a little fun fun.

Use this rule when planning various networking functions. This gives you four meals out of the week where you can splurge a bit or have a glass of wine or a burger at your next networking function.

3. Determine What’s Worth it

Do you really need that beer or glass of wine during a one- or two-hour networking event? How about those French fries or sliders?

Perhaps you aren’t sure how to network without a cocktail in your hand and need the liquid courage or confidence to socialize. News flash: The courage came when you made your way to the networking event and the confidence came when you walked through the door. That’s the hardest part. The rest is easy breezy. Everyone is there to grow his or her network and get to know someone new. Immediately start talking to someone you have never met or join the conversation of the first group you see. Don’t think about it; just do it.

If you must have a drink, go to the bar and get a Pellegrino (sparkling water) with lemon or a lime. No one will know you aren’t drinking and you won’t feel the pressure from others to have a cocktail.

Also, most “networkers” know it is nearly impossible to drink, eat small bites and socialize all at the same time. Contrary to popular belief, multi-tasking is not productive. It makes our mind wander and does not allow us to be fully present or engaged. Don’t worry about grabbing those unhealthy bites. I promise you won’t starve to death. Instead, eat something healthy before or after your networking event.

4. The One-Bite Rule

If you feel you must eat the food at your next function, go with the one-bite rule. That means you savor your very first bite. Really taste it, chew it and determine whether it is truly worth it. Remember: There are so many amazingly delicious things in this world that you should never waste it on something that is so not worth it. Again, plan ahead for your 20 percent and make it count.

5. Find The Right Network

Did you know you are an average of the five people you surround yourself with the most? Find a network where you can surround yourself with people who have similar goals and lifestyles. Networking events come in all shapes and sizes.

For me, my “network of five” includes my husband, yoga community, Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce, family and closest friends. Who makes up your top five? What are your favorite networking groups?

6. Explore New Ways To Network

Networking groups and associations strive to give members what they want. First and foremost, they want their members to feel engaged and feel a part of their community. Living healthier is one of the most powerful ways to feel more engaged, happier and present.

Suggest healthier networking ideas to the staff or board members of your group. Some ideas include:

  • Yoga and Wine Tasting
  • Walking Food Tour
  • Farmer’s Market Tour and Tasting
  • Food Demonstrations
  • Kombucha Tea Tasting
  • BYOB (Bring Your Own Beverage or Buddy Events)
  • Coffee/Tea Tasting
  • Health & Wellness Speakers
  • Gym Hosted Networking Events
  • Small Business Tours

Another great way to “liven” up your networking events is to get involved or join your association’s planning committee or board.

Bottom line is that networking events are an essential piece to growing your brand and company. It is also makes for a great way to establish a presence in your community. Take a mindfulness approach when it comes to networking and try to find the right “network” for you. I guarantee it will be well worth your time and money.