June 11, 2018

In the much-awaited heist film Ocean’s 8, out now, Sandra Bullock’s Debbie Ocean plots to steal a $150,000,000 necklace off an actress’s neck at the Met Gala.

It’s an absurd, risky scheme—and one that she can only pull off once she assembles a team of eight skilled friends. Ocean taps each woman for her specific talent—Awkwafina plays a pickpocket, Rihanna a hacker, Mindy Kaling a jeweler—and together, they try to make the grab.

At Shine, we advise against breaking the law. But you can pick up a few tips from the movie—namely, building a powerful support system by finding friends that energize you. Think of it as an emotional support network: a group of friends and mentors who lift you up when you’re low, and motivate you to reach for goals you’ve set—or, ones you’d never imagine. (See: stealing a $150 mil necklace.)

“Friends influence our sense of identity,” says Melody Wilding, L.M.S.W. “The best way to grow and develop is to surround yourself with people who expose you to new ideas, activities, and ways of seeing the world.”

"The best way to grow and develop is to surround yourself with people who expose you to new ideas, activities, and ways of seeing the world."
- Melody Wilding, L.C.S.W.

That might mean a friend to hype you up when things feel stalled, someone who can help you slow down and breathe, and another who keeps you dreaming and scheming. These pals can help you live a fuller, more energized life, and you can help them do the same.

Here, how to build your network.

1. Ask Yourself the Tough Questions

“Building a support network starts with knowing yourself,” Wilding says. “For example: Do you prefer to keep up a big group of friends or favor a smaller number of close connections? Look for people who match your style as well as those who complement it.”

Translation: You want to be comfortable with those in your network, but not so comfortable that you close yourself off from new ideas or perspectives. Try to find friends who push you out of your comfort zone a little, whether that’s by questioning your ideas or leading by example.

And make sure your crew complements the energy you’re looking for or looking to shake off. Research shows that stress and anxiety are contagious. But on the flip side: joy is also contagious.

While you want to support your crew through their lows, remember that their energy will rub off on you, too. Take note of what you need, and be sure your friends help you protect and recharge your energy as needed.

2. Court Potential Pals

In Ocean’s 8, getting the team members to agree to the heist requires some convincing. The same goes for constructing a network.

“Building deeper relationships of any kind requires consistency and trust,” says Wilding. “Think of dating, for instance: You start off trading pleasantries, then gradually start sharing more about yourself. You may see each other only on weekends, which progresses to a few times a week. Friendships follow a similar progression. You can turn a casual acquaintance into a good friend by taking the lead.”

We often think of friendships as unfolding naturally—if you like someone, you’ll just magically become good friends. But building friendships often takes work, says Wilding, and setting down a strong foundation from the get-go can mean a better, more dependable relationship down the road.

Building friendships often takes work.

To take those first steps, Wilding says, “Gradually be more vulnerable. Share stories about your life, your hopes, and your struggles. Your candidness paves the way for trust to develop and a true friendship to form. Test the waters with lunch or grabbing coffee. Then, move your way [from lunch] to introducing them to your larger group of friends, or even your family.”

And in today’s digital age, a source of support—and inspiration—doesn’t always have to be a living, breathing human. Some people turn to podcasts to find answers and kinship. Books can make a reader feel seen and included. Even social media can help—studies have found that when chronic disease patients use social media, for example, the interactions are often linked to improved patient care. The point: Don’t be afraid to look for support where you may not expect it.

3. Choose Quality Over Quantity

Be careful not to overextend yourself. “Keep your bandwidth in mind,” Wilding says. “Research suggests there’s a cognitive limit to the number of people we can maintain good relationships with, known as Dunbar’s number.”

Anthropologist and psychologist Robin Dunbar claims that our inner most circle of friends tends to max out at five. In the movie, that magic number is eight—any higher, and the heist would have gotten too messy. The same goes for your relationships: Sure, it’s great to be sociable with a variety of people, but when you build a support network you’ll want to be choosy. Like Ocean, look for friends with different skills and energy.

“If you’re focused on your career right now, maybe you focus on cultivating strong connections at the workplace while staying in touch with a few best friends outside of the office—those you can truly make a commitment to stay in touch with amidst your busy schedule,” Wilding suggests.

But if you’re trying to branch out from your work life, or make friends in a new neighborhood, focus on those who get you up and out on a Friday night.

4. Return the Favor

Building a support network is only half the battle—if you have friends you can turn to, but aren’t there for them, all you’re left with is a handful of fragile, one-sided relationships. “A good friend once said to me, ‘If you want high-esteem, do something esteemable,’” Wilding says.

This goes for friendships, too. Show your support by celebrating your friends' accomplishments. Make it a point to reach out regularly, even if it’s just with small touches: Writing warm comments on their Instagrams, texting to see how they’re doing, sending them an article you think they’d like.

Show your support by celebrating your friends' accomplishments.

These are little ways to show you’ll be there when they need you. And when they do, listen more than you talk. A good friend helps others feel safe and validated.

Read next: Why We All Need—and Deserve—Our Own Hype Person