In March 2021, I joined my first Odyssey experience— a facilitated group discussion with strangers on the internet. I had met the facilitator, Nick, a month earlier, when we started working together, but it was my first time meeting Kirk and Daniel. I was feeling a bit nervous and asked myself things like, “Who are these people?”, “What will they think of me?”, “Are these people my age?”, “Is my zoom background ok?”, and “What if I say something embarrassing?”. My legs were shaking.
Nick started with check-in questions that each group member is supposed to answer. They covered jobs, relationships, security, finances, family, and our present state of mind. These questions helped us express where we were in life at that moment. One by one, Nick read the questions and shared his answers. He then asked me to go next, then Kirk, and then Daniel.
Although Nick modeled how to share our answers, I was still nervous about how much I should share. He talked about his work and finances, but skipped over talking about his family and his relationships. I thought about a recent fight with my dad. Should I share that? When I started speaking, I talked about my friends, a trip I went on, and how I was sleeping lately. When I was about halfway through, I realized my nervousness was gone and I felt comfortable.
Although the check-in questions and answers established a certain level of comfort within the group, I knew this was just the beginning. I knew there would be more sharing, deeper conversations, but I did not know how it was all going to work. I knew a game was involved, which I was looking forward to. But what kind of game? What kind of tasks or questions did I have to face?
After we completed our check-in questions, it was game time. I love playing games. During our group meetings we played many “connection games,” which were tools to help us share and connect with one another. The game at my first group session was one Nick called the Google Game. To play the game, each person performs a Google search on each other (for example: Nick would say “Daniel and first pet”, as a if it was possible to search Google for “Madhav” + “first pet” and get answer, and then Daniel would share what comes up.
Nick asked Kirk “Kirk + job” and Kirk told us about interviewing for new jobs. Daniel googled “Madhav + love”. I froze. I thought about my high school relationship. I was hesitant to speak about the relationship because it was a sensitive and difficult topic for me, but I decided to talk about it anyway. I told them the story, and how I felt about it. When I finished, Daniel shared about one of his relationships and breakups. Afterwards, Nick shared, followed by Kirk, who both had similar experiences. I found relief in sharing my story and listening to others share theirs. A burden was lifted off my chest. I no longer felt the weight of being alone. I realized I wasn’t the only one who experienced the feelings I did. More importantly, I felt seen and heard and there was no judgement attached.
It's interesting how 45 minutes before the game ended we were just four disconnected strangers who knew nothing about each other. With the help of just one connection game in our group meeting we opened up pathways for communication and started building a meaningful connection with each other. Suddenly, we were talking about our most important and intimate relationship. We learned a lot about each other, but more importantly, we learned about ourselves. It was a great experience. In this group, I was able to let down my guard with people I just met, and it didn’t feel strange. It was relaxing, supportive, and fun!
How did that happen?
It turns out that building authentic connections within a group requires a few ingredients: a leader or facilitator, the framework of a game, and a structure for effective communication. First, the leader or facilitator, who must also participate, sets the tone, sets the expectations, and keeps the game moving so everyone has an equal opportunity to share. Then, gamifying a process creates a relaxing and fun atmosphere that reduces anxiety and nervousness. Finally, a structure for communication makes it easy for participants to express their feelings in a way that is easy for both speakers and listeners to follow.
Through a gamified discussion, I felt like I found a group of new friends. Moments ago, we were strangers. We were all feeling anxious and afraid to reveal aspects of ourselves that we learned to hide from the world. I was able to share my vulnerabilities in a safe space and listen to other experiences, which made me feel less alone. Within an hour, my group experience with a bunch of strangers turned into newly formed friendships with people who understood each other.
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I asked myself, can I replicate a similar experience for others and help them create deep connections with strangers? As it turns out, yes I can!
Today, Nick and I run hundreds of group discussions and connection experiences. Each group meeting has a theme and a specific purpose. Through each meeting we have relevant discussions and activities that fulfill the theme and purpose we lay out for our members.
If you want to form meaningful relationships with others or if you’re looking for a safe and supportive space to talk about your struggles, consider joining one of our groups. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.