In the “Science of Making Friends,” Wall Street Journal writer Elizabeth Bernstein describes going on a series of “friend dates” in an effort to expand her circle of connections.

She explains how looking with intention is key to making new friends and building relationships as an adult. Making friends gets harder as we get older, which is a shame because research shows that cultivating friendships helps us stay happier and healthier by reducing the risks of depression and lowering blood pressure and stress levels.

Why is it so difficult to make new friends as an adult?

Unlike kids, we are more inhibited and less willing to appear vulnerable. We also have less time to pursue new friendships and are more apt to stick with people and situations we already know and are comfortable with.

Yet, in order to make new friends, we need to broaden our horizons. We need to stop spending all our time with people who are just like us.

The same goes for our business relationships.

Have you ever gone to a networking event and spent the entire time talking with your coworkers and colleagues? Attended a business luncheon where every table was filled with people who already knew one other?

It’s human nature to want to stick close to the people you know. But in order to thrive (and not just survive) you need to take a deep breath and put yourself out into the world.

In my new book The Connector’s Way, I write about Robert Hanson, a middle-aged insurance agency owner who is struggling to keep his business afloat. With the help of his mentor Albert Cheevers, Robert meets people from different walks of life and from outside his normal social circles. One of the people he meets is Janice, a waitress who takes the time to get to know her regular customers. She has much to teach Robert, and others like him, about genuine customer service.

Albert and Janice are just two of the characters who help Robert Hanson look at things from a different perspective. They exemplify Rule #2 from the book’s Seven Rules for Building Business One Relationship at a Time, which is this: Seek out individuals who expose you to new ways of thinking.

Here a few simple yet powerful things you can do:

  1. Commit to meeting three to five new people at every networking or business event. By the end of the year, you’ll know dozens of people you would not have met if you had just hung out with your coworkers and friends.
  1. Join a group or volunteer for an organization just for fun. Pursuing a personal passion that has absolutely nothing to do with business (whether it’s bird watching or hang gliding) doesn’t just invigorate the mind and the spirit, it also introduces you a diverse group of people.
  1. Be a leader. Think about the groups, associations, and community service organizations that you belong to. Do they interest you enough to see yourself in a leadership position? If not, concentrate your efforts on those that are most important to you. Taking on a leadership position and serving it well is the single best way to develop the bonds that lead to business opportunities and referrals.

Good luck building your business one relationship at a time…most importantly, remember to have fun!